The Three Worst Video Media Disasters Of 2014
It’s hard to believe, but this is the fifth consecutive year I’m naming the worst video media disaster of the year.
In 2010, the award went to British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward, who told cameras “I’d like my life back” after his company’s massive oil spill killed 11 workers.
In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) nabbed the award, for obvious reasons.
In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) became notorious for his claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
In 2013, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford nabbed the prize for making a vulgar comment about oral sex.
Who will join their ranks this year? Read on…
3. Bill Cosby’s Crisis Management Backfires
If Bill Cosby is innocent of the 20 or so accusations of rape and sexual assault being leveled against him, he is engaged in one of the worst reputation management strategies in recent memory.
Cosby’s media interviewing downfall began when he agreed to speak with NPR about his art collection. But when the interviewer asked him about the accusations, Cosby refused to speak, forcing the host to repeatedly inform listeners that his guest was simply shaking his head back and forth.
Shortly thereafter, The Associated Press released video of Cosby refusing to answer questions about the accusations on camera—and trying to intimidate the reporter by invoking his “integrity” and insisting that they “scuttle” that part of the interview. In so doing, the once-beloved television icon demonstrated how he exercises power behind the scenes.
It’s impossible to see how the 77-year-old reclaims his career and restores his reputation. His scheduled NBC program has been canceled, Netflix pulled a comeback special, and concert venues pulled out of scheduled stand-up dates. At this point, the accused serial rapist might consider himself lucky to be living life outside a prison cell.
2. Michael Bay Flees The Stage
This entry is less consequential than the other two on this list. But when Michael Bay—the director and producer whose films include Armageddon, Transformers, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—had a technical failure during a January speech at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, he lived the public speaking nightmare that keeps so many people up at night.
Bay fumbled when he realized his teleprompter wasn’t in the right place. And without a scriptwriter nearby, Bay was at a complete loss. So he stopped. And restarted. And stopped again. And then, when all else failed, he walked off the stage, accompanied only by a mumbled “I’m sorry.”
This one is painful to watch. (And credit goes to his interviewer, who tried to bail him out and treated the moment with respect.)
1. Donald Sterling’s Racist Tirade
When Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist comments about black basketball players, many people—including me—were conflicted about the violation of his privacy (the recordings were made without his knowledge). His comments were loathsome, but few of us would want our private comments to be leaked to the world.
All of those concerns flew out the window, however, when Sterling voluntarily agreed to an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. His feckless apology led quickly to another burst of racist comments, such as this one:
“Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people. And some of the African Americans, maybe I’ll get in trouble again, they don’t want to help anybody.”
He also took the opportunity to attack NBA legend Magic Johnson (who announced he was HIV positive in 1991) by insisting Johnson was a bad role model:
“Here is a man who…acts so holy. I mean he made love to every girl in every city in America. And he had AIDS, and when he had those AIDS, I went to my synagogue and I prayed for him…Is he an example for children?”
Shortly after this interview, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would force Sterling to sell the team. By the summer, Mr. Sterling was no longer the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.
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I love this blog and even when I don’t agree with you, Brad, I can see your point of view. But saying, “At this point, the accused serial rapist might consider himself lucky to be living life outside a prison cell” is a cheap shot.
The allegations against Cosby and his (non-) reaction are difficult to sort out because of the passage of time, changing mores regarding rape, the changing legal definition of rape, and the personalities involved.
Whether Cosby is “guilty” of some or all of the allegations we shall probably never know; but to suggest that he escaped prison by the skin of his teeth is laughable.
Thank you very much for your comment and your nice words about the blog. It’s particularly gratifying to hear that despite the fact that you don’t always agree with me, you still find my viewpoint worth reading.
After writing this post, I was aware that the very line you objected to might be controversial with some readers. For that reason, I gave a lot of thought to dropping the line altogether. After careful consideration (and several edits), I decided to keep it. Ultimately, I felt that since this blog is a reflection of my sensibilities, it would be honest to my views to include that sharp line that makes my thoughts about this case clear.
I disagree that the line is a “cheap shot.” First, Cosby’s legal team has been taking cheap shot after cheap shot toward the alleged victims. This New York Times article, titled “Cosby Team’s Strategy: Hush Accusers, Insult Them, Blame the Media,” has more about their strategy. They’ve also previously scoffed at the idea that a victim could be silent for decades before coming forward and strongly suggested that their silence proved they were lying and “shaking down” Cosby (of course, we know that it’s rather common and explainable for victims of sexual assault to remain silent for many years, and that their previous silence doesn’t undermine their claims). If journalism is supposed to be about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, I feel on solid ground to suggest that based on what I’ve seen in this case, Mr. Cosby may well be lucky to be a free man.
I consumed dozens if not hundreds of pages about these allegations (through news articles and interviews), and concluded for myself that Cosby is almost certainly guilty of something. Innocent people don’t typically standby and watch as their forthcoming sitcoms are canceled, their former television shows are pulled, and upcoming concerts and specials are jettisoned. They don’t allow their prestigious board memberships, their university associations, and scholarships in their name to be eliminated. And they don’t usually respond to false charges by shaking their head, threatening reporters, and having their lawyers pursue a scorched Earth policy. They simply come out and make a strong declarative statement: “All of these allegations against me are false, and I will do everything in my power to prove that.” Cosby hasn’t said that — even his lawyers retracted and reissued a statement that seemed to suggest that all of the previous charges were false (a legal settlement with one of the accusers prevented them from being able to say that) — and all of that has left me to conclude he’s guilty. I can’t know that, of course, and that’s the difficulty of these types of cases, but based on the available evidence, I believe it’s reasonable to form such a judgment. The final thing that persuades me is that if you look back to a decade ago, many women were already on the record (but ignored) about Cosby’s alleged assaults.
The bottom line here is that I understand your disagreement. My line is representative of my thoughts, but it’s also divisive. Thank you for allowing me to make my case.
I actually think Cosby is doing the right thing by remaining silent. If he says a word, it’s going to blow up and start the cycle all over again. His NPR hiccup was unfortunate but it was by no means a major blow.
Thank you for your comment. Please see my response to Pat, which in some measure also serves in part as a response to your viewpoint.
One thing I’d add is this: I disagree that silence is the best strategy if he’s innocent of all the allegations against him. But I know that many readers have disagreed with me on this point before, so I’ll just point out that Cosby went against his own attorney’s advice and did speak to another reporter, which backfired, in part because he said something many people found incendiary: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/16/bill-cosby-black-media-sexual-assault_n_6334336.html.
Thank you for reading the blog. I wish you and Pat a Happy New Year, and look forward to more exchanges throughout the year!