News cycles are moving quickly these days. With all of us spending more time at home than ever before, a single tweet, video clip, or email is making its rounds faster than ever before. When we’re the subject of media coverage, the way we handle ourselves in these situations can make or break the way we’re judged for years to come.
In our new series, we look at the subjects of widely covered news stories this week and how their reputations have been reshaped for the better and worse based on their response to these events.
This Week’s Reputation Losers
Twitter spent Memorial Day weekend in the hot seat after President Trump’s relentless attack on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, pushing a meritless conspiracy theory that dates back to 2001, accusing Scarborough of murdering a former intern and calling for an investigation. In reality, 28-year-old Lori Klausutis died of a heart condition that caused her to hit her head on a desk. This has never been disputed by legal authorities or the Klausutis family.
Trump pushed things so far to the point that Klausutis’s widower, Timothy, sent a heartbreaking letter to Twitter, expressing the agony this has personally caused him and their family. While Twitter unveiled a policy in June 2019 stating that it would label tweets containing misinformation, even if it applied to world leaders, 10 months later the company had still refrained from ever using it.
On Tuesday, Twitter stated that it still wouldn’t remove these tweets.
“We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.”
This led to a fierce wave of media backlash against Twitter. If they wouldn’t utilize their policy for something as blatantly false and hurtful as this, when would they ever?
In what was seemingly an implicit acknowledgement that they’d made the wrong call on this, Twitter later in the day implemented its first-ever fact check label on a Donald Trump tweet: only it was about a different topic altogether, mail-in voting.
While one might argue this was better than doing nothing altogether, the public saw right through this and still can’t understand why Twitter refuses to label any of the president’s tweets about Scarborough and Klausutis. The president continued on with his allegations this morning, and Twitter once again chose not to address the blatantly false allegations made within Trump’s tweet.
Psycho Joe Scarborough is rattled, not only by his bad ratings but all of the things and facts that are coming out on the internet about opening a Cold Case. He knows what is happening!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Twitter’s failure to address the root cause of this media wave head on makes it a reputation loser this week. Expect increase pressure and scrutiny on Twitter not only from the media, but now Trump as well, who earlier today threatened to shut down Twitter for fact checking his mail-in voting tweets.
Lesson to be learned: if you ever find yourself the subject of negative media attention, directly address the root cause in an effort to make things right. The public will easily see through any efforts to deflect its attention elsewhere.
2. Amy Cooper
Even you’ve spent even 10 minutes on any social media platforms this week, chances are you came across the story of Amy Cooper. If not, this video tells all:
This deeply troubling event once again underscores the speed at which information can travel these days. All it took was Christian Cooper’s (no relation to Amy) uploading of the video, which quickly became a trending topic on Twitter before someone identified the woman in the video as Amy Cooper, a Vice President at Franklin Templeton.
Within hours, Cooper found herself out of a job. We commend Franklin Templeton for acting swiftly in its response:
In response to an incident involving an employee on May 25th, Franklin Templeton issued the following statement. pic.twitter.com/8f2lMwK0r5
— Franklin Templeton (@FTI_US) May 26, 2020
Lesson to be learned: never underestimate the reach and speed of social media. As Warren Buffet put it, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” These words couldn’t be truer in Cooper’s case.
This Week’s Reputation Winners
1. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey
The terribly disturbing story about the death of 46-year-old Minneapolis resident George Floyd after video footage captured a police officer kneeling on his neck made national headlines within hours. This was yet another case of unwarranted police brutality against African Americans, and instantly drew parallels to the equally controversial death of New Yorker Eric Garner in 2014.
Frey acted swiftly in calling for the arrest of the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck. Unlike then-mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York, government officials in Georgia who recently sat quiet for weeks after Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting in Atlanta, and others, Frey took an immediate hard stance on an issue that was sure to generate a similar public response. It’s never easy for a government official to call for the arrest of another, but Frey’s quick action and decisive words about this horrible event have been very well received by both his constituents and the media.
Lesson to be learned: waiting to speak out about something when the obvious answer is inevitable will typically lead to criticism and a buildup of pressure, where those words ultimately carry far less weight when they’re delivered after the fact. Silence can often work against you in the midst of a crisis, especially when that silence could be perceived by some as complicity with the wrongdoing.
2. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum
Many Americans have expressed their surprise to see that the issue of mask wearing has been politicized. What has been widely accepted by the majority of the population as an appropriate measure to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 – a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 64% of Americans believe that everyone should be required to wear a mask in public – President Trump’s refusal to wear or endorse masks has turned the issue
into a political one for many. As a result, many Republican leaders have been reluctant to recommend the usage of masks, and some have even refused to wear them during legislative sessions.
Doug Burgum, Republican Governor of North Dakota, a state with deep conservative roots, played a major role in defying the trend over the weekend, breaking down in tears during an emotional video in which he pleaded with his constituents to wear masks in public, reminding them that this isn’t about politics; it’s about saving lives.
Burgum took a controversial stand, risking the criticism of fellow Republican leaders and the president. Instead, Burgum’s plea was met with widespread praise and led to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, another Republican, recommending the same to the people of Ohio. Many others have followed suit this week, including Fox News’s Sean Hannity.
Lesson to be learned: taking big risks in politics can often be difficult; but an articulate and emotional plea in support of a worthy cause can sometimes be what it takes to turn the tide. Follow your conscience when something is this clear, and history will judge you kindly. So did the immediate future in Burgum’s case.