Monday, September 15, 2014

New Remedy for Online Defamation

From Texas Lawyer by Angela Morris.

The Texas Supreme Court recently set a precedent ruling a court can order an author to delete a defamatory Internet posting but CANNOT stop that author from reposting the same statements elsewhere.  This is a particularly timely ruling due to the number of complaints filed recently regarding online defamation.

Lawyers say the high court's finding gives defamation victims a new remedy.  "With courts grappling with how to handle speech on the Internet, this is a decisive ruling saying, 'Yes, removal is appropriate if its found to be defamatory," says First Amendment lawyer Laura Lee Prather, a partner in Haynes Boone in Austin, who wasn't involved in the case. 

This is a significant ruling as it says a person can't write something that will destroy that individual's online reputation forever.  Thanks to this decision a defendant can't hide behind the old and now defunct rule that injunctions are never available for defamation cases.

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to Respond to a Negative News Story

People occasionally ask me whether it's ever appropriate to freeze out a reporter, or refuse to speak to him again.

Whenever I hear that, I immediately think of scenes from "The Godfather" and "Fatal Attraction," complete with horse's head and boiled bunny. I imagine frustrated interviewees suddenly appearing as caped crusaders, exacting revenge on unfair journalists by "rubbing them out."

Think hard before you do that. Freezing out a reporter is a dramatic step that often backfires. After all, you probably think a company is guilty when a newscaster says, "We attempted to contact representatives of Huge Corporation, but they didn't return our calls."

Before you blacklist a reporter, consider these remedies:

1. Take it to a neutral party.
It's an age-old truth: The closer you are to a news story, the more likely you will find it flawed. Ask neutral parties to read, listen to or watch the story and give you feedback. You may be surprised to find that the message you hoped would get through did.

2. Talk to the reporter.
Reporters need sources, and good reporters are willing to hear their sources' objections. (They may not agree with you, but they usually listen.)
Remain polite regardless of the reporter's response. Reporters will react better to a discussion about factual errors than a differing opinion, but you're welcome to make your case if you believe his view lacks perspective. If the reporter got a key fact wrong, you're entitled to request a correction.

3. Write a response.
You may have forums to respond, such as a letter to the editor, op-ed or a website's comments section. Don't repeat the original errors in your response, since doing so gives those errors more airtime. Just articulate your view.

4. Speak to the editor.
If you can't get anywhere with the reporter, raise your objections with the reporter's boss. Who knows, you may be the fourth person to complain about the reporter this week.
There is a downside, though: No one likes to be complained about, and the reporter may take it out on you with even less favorable coverage.

5. Respond with statements.
If it's clear the news organization is irrevocably biased against your company, you have two choices:
1. Cut off all access.
2. Respond to subsequent inquiries with precision.
I usually recommend the latter, which means sending a short, written statement in response to queries. That brief statement prevents the reporter saying you refused to comment, and gives you more control over the quote.

6. Cut off all access.
The only time I recommend cutting off access is when you won't gain anything from speaking to the reporter. Those cases may exist, but they're rare. Good media management means finding a way to work with journalists—not avoiding them.

7. Use social media.
Cutting off a news outlet's access to your organization doesn't mean you stop communicating. Use your company website, blog and corporate social media to continue communicating with your key audiences.
This is an excerpt from Brad Phillips' new book, "The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview."Phillips is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Think Your Phone is Hacker-Proof? Think Again


    by John C. Abell
    The iCloud debacle that exposed celebrities private images to the world via some clever hackers should be no surprise to anyone- after all, tech-savvy consultants have been warning people about the potential for years.

    Once and for all, nothing has ever been private. Predatory glam photographers pre-date the internet (just ask Vanessa Williams). Vindictive/opportunistic boyfriends (just ask Vanessa Hudgens) are as old as time. Trust no one (even if your name is not Vanessa). That includes your mother, who will bring out baby pictures at your Sweet 16. That said, let's not judge people who take intimate photos of themselves, or allow them. This is perilously close to blaming the victim. But do everything assuming there’s a chance it will be seen by unintended eyes.

    So: it's a given that at least some things you think should be private won't be. Sometimes this is your fault (Just ask Anthony Weiner), but — see above — usually it's not. This particular security breach only affects Apple's iCloud service, but (no consolation to Apple) it might just have well been anyone's. In the same way Microsoft Windows is especially prone to virus makers, iPhones are especially prone to dastardly hackers looking for celebrity dirt. It’s like the old bank robber motto: Why rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Every celeb seems to have one. Even those who pitch non-iPhones (just ask Ellen DeGeneres).

    Anyone in tech knows that there is a pretty simple solution to this sort of thing: Eliminate passwords. More accurately, impose a protocol under which passwords expire quickly. As in seconds. Two-step authentication is a form of this approach. Both Apple and Google make it available for their services. Apple sends you a text with a short shelf life. Google gives you an app that syncs with a server, so you don't even have to be in a data coverage area to obtain the unlock key. The idea is that adding a time-sensitive element to a password you pick (and only you should know) dramatically increases the security of the credential.

    Enterprise e-mail users have been doing this for decades. That RSA SecureID token carried by cubicle dwellers everywhere, which generated a new key code every couple of minutes, were quite literally a badge of honor in the old days.

    Killing passwords might be simple, but it's not easy — and that's the reason fobs and multi-step solutions will remain exotic. Too many steps for too many people. Heck — we can't even get people to get behind e-wallets, which are extremely secure and mean you can leave all your unsecure credit cards in your freezer back home. Apple is (rumor has it) about to adopt the Near Field Communication (NFC) mobile payments standard, which may break the dam. But as Wired's Marcus Wolhsen wrote when Square Wallet died: "[S]o far, for both customers and merchants, the old way is just good enough that too few are willing to take the risk of jumping into something new."
    Replace "risk" with "chore" (grammarians, lighten up) and you get the idea why analog passwords aren't dying anytime soon.

    But, OK, so what? You're not a celebrity whose private photos are gold for creeps. Your password — "password" — is working just fine, right? Here's the problem. Your comfort level for the Pinterest account is one thing, but for your bank or Amazon — whole 'nother level. If merchants and the global money distribution system can't convince the normals that online buying and banking is safe, they'll opt out. If doing sensitive business online is a pain, they'll opt out. Part of the answer will be bringing the normals along slowly. This, however, feels like a huge leap that can't be broken up into baby steps.

    Are you already doing the online two-step? Good for you. How about your father-in-law? How are you going to bring him up to speed?

    And that brings us to the last point: The good news is that breaches like this make the password dilemma front-page news. It gets the normals asking questions. Still, I wonder what it will take for individuals to stop being so indifferent and resistant to change. Even investors are yawning: Apple, on this unhelpful news, is trading at historical highs. Other password breaches have left only a few dents.

    It’s pretty clear that the normals will simply still rely on the good fortune (spoiler alert!) which kept Jennifer Lawrence alive in The Hunger Games: "May the odds be ever in your favor."
    Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment

    Friday, August 29, 2014

    Five Brands That Survived Reputation Hell

    Remember the Tylenol recall in 1982? What about Domino's food tampering scandal in 2009? Here's how these brands and others survived brutal reputation hits. 
    By Tamara Littleton
    It can be hard for a brand to recover its reputation after a crisis. The speed with which it recovers depends on:
    • The brand's reputation before the crisis. (Did it have a lot of goodwill stored up?)
    • Whether the crisis was preventable.
    • Whether the brand demonstrates it learned from the experience.
    Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol recall (1982)
    In 1982, Johnson & Johnson was in the center of a major crisis. Seven people around Chicago suddenly died. The link between the deaths was that all the victims took a Tylenol a few hours before they died.

    Authorities tested the Tylenol bottles, and discovered high levels of potassium cyanide in the pills. The eight affected bottles came from different factories and stores.

    Johnson & Johnson issued warnings to distributors and medical professionals, and set up a nationwide recall of Tylenol (31 million bottles, costing the firm $125 million). Johnson & Johnson also set up a hotline, and inspected its factories to be sure the problem hadn't originated there.

    Investigators concluded someone went store to store and filled the bottles with cyanide pills. Johnson & Johnson worked with the FBI, Chicago police and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to find the killer, offering a $100,000 reward. The crime remains unsolved.

    When Tylenol went back on the shelves, it was with tamper-proof packaging and coupons for $2.50 off.

    People were understandably nervous about buying consumer products after the Tylenol case, and in 1983 Congress approved a bill that made malicious tampering with consumer products a federal offense.

    Johnson & Johnson handled the crisis well. It moved quickly, cooperated with investigators, provided good information and issued a full recall rather than put more people at risk.

    Perrier recall (1990)
    In 1990, Perrier, which prided itself on its reputation for "natural purity," fought to keep its reputation when a toxic substance, benzene, was found in its water.

    North Carolina officials discovered the impurity when they used Perrier water to assess the purity of state water supplies. The FDA quickly announced it was testing Perrier in other states, but an FDA spokesperson said that, in the samples tested, benzene wasn't present at levels that posed an immediate risk.

    Perrier decided to recall 160 million bottles of water within a week of the discovery, although it believed only 13 bottles were contaminated.

    The cause turned out to be human error. Two unsubstantiated stories circulated in the media. In one story, a bottling plant worker forgot to change a filter, while the other story said a worker cleaned the production line with a cleaner containing benzene.

    Perrier held a press conference to announce the recall some days after the impurities were found. The true cause of contamination came out: Someone forgot to change the filters in the Vergeze bottling plant, which prevented the naturally present benzene from being filtered out of the water.

    Although Perrier set up a 24-hour hotline in the United Kingdom, local subsidiaries received little direction from the parent brand, and it was hard for the public to get information. Trading in Perrier shares was suspended for several days, and resumed at a share price that was $41 lower than it was before the crisis.

    Nestle bought Perrier in 1992. Today, Perrier is in 140 countries and sells around one billion bottles per year.

    JetBlue delays (2007)
    JetBlue, the airline founded on customer-centric values, went against those values in 2007. During a major snowstorm around Valentine's Day, JetBlue tried to operate normally. This decision left more than 1,000 passengers stuck on nine planes that weren't allowed to take off. One plane sat on the tarmac for 11 hours. Thousands of passengers made their way to the airport, only to learn their flights were cancelled.

    JetBlue's CEO appeared on various primetime shows (including "Letterman"), and recorded a message on YouTube apologizing for the mess and promising JetBlue would learn from the debacle and become a "different company." JetBlue wrote a flyer's bill of rights, which formalized JetBlue's responsibilities to its customers.

    JetBlue learned from the crisis. It now cancels flights before bad weather strikes. (Look at its response to the 2014 winter storms. It cancelled flights early, and provided passengers with information and compensation).

    Domino's food tampering scandal (2009)
    In 2009, two Domino's Pizza employees in North Carolina filmed themselves doing unpleasant and unhygienic things with the food they were preparing.. They uploaded the footage to YouTube, and it made headlines around the world.

    The situation worsened when the media reported Domino's knew about the video only because a blogger alerted them. By that time the video had more than 1 million views.

    In addition to issuing statements to the media, the CEO of Domino's issued a forceful statement on YouTube. Domino's then set up a Twitter account to answer questions. The media noted Domino's replied to inquiries in an informal and concerned way.

    Domino's has now become a social media star. Its informational Twitter account redirects people to its official account (605,000 followers), and all Domino's Twitter accounts are known for their friendliness and customer service. The brand's YouTube account has 1.5 million views, and its U.S. Facebook page has more than 9.7 million likes.

    Domino's realized social listening is vital, and found a brilliant way to engage customers.

    Shell and the Niger Delta (1995)
    Shell is still recovering from the Niger Delta crisis, yet the brand remains successful.
    In 1995, local tribal leaders asked Shell to clean up the pollution it caused in the Niger Delta. Oil polluted local water wells, causing a great strain on people already struggling to survive. The tribal leaders demanded Shell clean up the wells and share more of its profits with the local population.
    Shell left Nigeria in June 1995 following a peaceful uprising and allegations that it had colluded with the military in massacres and human rights abuses. When the government executed the main anti-government campaigner and several others without protest from Shell, global protests erupted, and Shell's reputation plummeted.

    Shell's response was to offer money for schools, hospitals and the environment, and it promised to inquire into the situation. Within two years Shell changed its brand values to include, as The Guardian noted, the "values of honesty, integrity, respect for people, as well as professionalism, pride and openness, sustainable development and human rights."

    However, Shell didn't apologize or admit any fault in the situation.

    Today Shell attends to human rights, but continues to take reputational hits. For example, Amnesty International recently accused Shell of making false claims about the environmental effect of its operations on the Niger Delta. It's clear that, while business is good for Shell, the brand still suffers from reputational damage.

    While some brands handle crises well and initiate new business practices to ensure similar crises don't happen again, others deny their role. When a crisis hits, you must decide between your long-term reputation and short-term profits. Every brand needs a bank of goodwill. Crises offer brands an excellent opportunity to live their values and do what's right.
    Tamara Littleton is CEO and founder of Emoderation, a social media management agency. A version of this article originally appeared on 

    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    Rick Perry Had a Good Week but Legal Troubles Remain

    -Betsy Woodruff, Washington Examiner

    Considering that he was indicted, Rick Perry has had a pretty good week, but it may not last.
    After the Republican Texas governor’s Aug. 15 indicted on allegations of abuse of power, he received a tsunami of support, defended by everyone from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Ted Cruz to the New York Times editorial board and Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

    When he turned himself in for booking at the Travis County courthouse in Austin a few days after the indictment, he was surrounded by supporters chanting “Perry! Perry!” and waving signs that said “#StandWithRickPerry.” He then gave a triumphant speech — broadcast live on CNN — defending his record.

    “I’m going to enter this courthouse with my held high, knowing the actions that I took were not only lawful and legal, but right,” he said, to boisterous cheers and applause. “If I had to do so, I would veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit again.”

    Two days later, he spoke to a packed house at the Heritage Foundation, touting his efforts to fight illegal immigration and tearing into the president’s foreign policy record. The speech drew cheers.
    And back in Texas, conservatives — with some notable exceptions — have rallied around the governor.

    But the story is not over. And Lone Star State Democrats hope that as the legal case unfolds, the governor and his fellow Republicans will take a political hit that could affect November’s general election results.

    “Perry is not out of the woods until justice has played itself out,” said Jordan Berry, a Republican consultant based in Austin. “And so far, we’ve seen how things can go wrong — just the fact that it’s already gotten this far.”

    Democrats agree with the first part of that. And they point to fallout from the governor’s line-item veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, which sparked his legal troubles, to make the case that Perry’s victory in the public relations war might not be permanent.

    Gregg Cox, who heads the Public Integrity Unit, told the Washington Examiner that because of the governor’s veto, his staff has shrunk and the unit hasn’t been able to handle as many cases. At the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the unit had 35 staffers, he said. Now it’s down to 19.

    He also said his office was unable to handle 44 tax fraud cases and 22 insurance fraud cases. These cases were sent back to the offices that originally referred them.

    “Many of them will not get handled,” Cox said.

    “All of our cases have been slowed down by the lack of resources and the cutbacks in staff,” he added.

    And Deece Eckstein, Travis County’s Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator, said the unit is struggling now that its funds have been slashed.

    “They’re holding on right now with bailing wire, chewing gum and the money from the Travis County Commissioner’s Court,” he said.

    Texas Democrats will likely make hay of these problems.

    “This from a guy that likes to use the phrase that he’s defending the rule of law,” said Glenn Smith, director of the Progress Texas PAC. “It doesn’t quite fit, does it?”

    Republicans say Perry’s office will have a simple rejoinder to these criticisms: If Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg — whose drunk-driving conviction prompted the governor’s line-item veto threat — had just stepped down, none of this would have happened.
    The public relations fight could get messier. But Republicans are still confident they will come out on top.

    "Governor Perry has won the war of public opinion at every turn,” said Tyler Norris, a Republican consultant based in Austin. “Republicans and Democrats alike realize this amounts to political persecution."

    The Texas Tribune reported that one of Perry’s attorneys said he will challenge the indictment next week based on First Amendment grounds, as well as the governor’s veto power.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    Crisis Communications: Manage Effectively

    Whether preparing to close a large deal, head into a high-profile court battle, or announce an organizational or policy shakeup, Legal and Communications departments typically meet in intense situations under extreme time pressure. It can be a recipe for conflict, but it shouldn't be. This article offers practical suggestions, based on front-line experience working side-by-side with Legal counsel, on how to foster a mutually beneficial friendship between the two disciplines.

    In today's business environment, demands for corporate transparency are getting louder, information is traveling faster through more channels, and C-suites are increasingly measuring success in terms of how corporate actions, transactions and litigation outcomes are perceived by critical stakeholders, internal constituents and the wider public. More law firms and in-house legal teams are partnering with public relations professionals as PR risk, along with legal risk, is factored into every major corporate action and reaction. The public's power to influence outcomes continues to grow, and more than ever, a company's ability to act quickly and impactfully in the arena of public opinion hinges on an aligned communications strategy built on the best of what Legal and Communications bring to the table.

    Lawyers and PR professionals should be joined at the hip; both teams have the same overall objective – to advance or protect the interests of the company and its shareholders. But Legal is laser-focused on reducing legal risk while the raison d'ĂȘtre of Communications is to safeguard and elevate perceptions of the brand, legal risk notwithstanding. These seemingly disparate approaches means a strong, collaborative partnership is not a certainty, especially when Legal and Communications are thrown together into highly confidential, rapidly evolving situations that require swift solutions, often without full information. Other inherent departmental differences such as structure, culture and process can further contribute to ineffective, vague or problematic communication outputs during change or crisis.

    In our experience, the best relationships are forged with early, regular and transparent engagement, which leads to mutual trust and a stronger working relationship when the heat is on. Importantly, this approach also leads to fully informed communications and legal strategies that advance each department's goals to the benefit of the company.

    "Get" Each Other

    Admit it: each department is a bit of an enigma to the other in terms of what it does and how it gets things done. Appreciating these key similarities and differences in roles and perspectives can improve how people with different skills and work styles communicate and collaborate:
    • Like the Legal teams, Communications includes a diverse collection of disciplines including strategic planning, research, investor relations, government relations, media relations, social media management, stakeholder communications, internal communications and engagement, just to name a few. It is likely that more than one of these communications practitioners and perhaps some outside agencies may need to be activated to execute communications supporting a legal strategy.
    • Legal and Communications both defend and persuade relying heavily on the power of words, though each profession wields that power differently. Legal relies on precise language, detailed descriptions, or terms of art in binding documents to carve out critical advantages and protections for the company. Indeed, the consequence of imprecision can be severe, whether it involves civil, criminal, contractual or regulatory matters. On the other hand, Communications is responsible for translating legal language or corporate jargon for diverse audiences, carving out the key points, and making them relevant to specific groups. The art is in finding the common ground that satisfies both.
    • The scope of the Communications department is not limited to creating content, producing material and distributing information supportive of legal positions. Communications departments have fingers on the pulse of the company's internal and external audiences. Properly resourced departments can benchmark current attitudes, research how similar situations have impacted certain stakeholders and influencers in the past, project how certain segments are likely to react in the future, and measure how they actually do react in response to an announcement or corporate action. This insight and outside perspective can be very valuable when formulating a strategy for negotiations, policy change or litigation.
    Open Up, Let Them In
    Engaging Communications early at the legal strategy planning stage not only helps with developing a complementary communications strategy, it is also critical for proper allocation of staff and resources, depending on the size and complexity of the matter. Many times Communications is called in far too late in the timeline of an impending legal action, sometimes when there has already been some reputational damage, resulting in the scramble for damage control.

    According to an August 2001 Harvard Working Knowledge article"The better lawyers know how to not only embrace the media and use them to get the company's position front and center, but to also have PR professionals at the table with them to formulate strategy." But we've heard some lawyers express the view that communicators are too eager to divulge information. Fearing a leak or inaccurate or oversimplified publication in a press release, blog or tweet, they won't engage Communications until details are complete and disclosure is required. This approach actually limits what Communications can do to proactively mitigate reputation risk and focuses efforts instead on reactive responses which are an ineffective tactic by itself in late stages of a reputation crisis.

    Historically, many attorneys have looked at PR as "publicists," and while that might have been true 30 years ago, today the value of an expert communications manager is reputation management, not promotion. That means managing – sometimes limiting rather than amplifying – what audiences read, see or hear. A good rule of thumb for when to engage Communications: the earlier the better.

    Get Together Often

    It is a best practice to establish a formal structure between the two departments to identify legal matters that could damage the company's reputation. The goal is to ensure early warning of developing issues and a process to mitigate or manage them should they escalate. Quarterly meetings between representatives of the two teams can be meaningful in charting and addressing risks. Focusing a media or stakeholder prism on what may seem a trivial legal event can sometimes illuminate the potential for larger unseen issues that can set up the company for reputational problems.

    Have a Plan Before You Need to Plan

    It is easier and much more efficient to manage through issues, crisis and major corporate situations when working from an established framework with roles and processes already identified. Work with Communications to establish a plan for managing legal matters with potential for reputation risk. Such a plan should include at least:
    • Key contacts
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • Procedures and criteria for risk evaluation and prioritization analysis
    • Key documentation needs
    • Process and timeline for key message development, content production, standard distribution, impact measurement and evaluation
    • Clear timeline and path for reviews and approvals
    When a reputation risk is identified, it becomes a matter of calling in the right people and resources to assess and/or create plans that fit the situation.

    Don't Let Words Get In The Way of a Good Message

    The most frequent conflicts between Legal and Communications come during messaging and content development. Disagreements over wording and style can create delays when time is already short. This is because lawyers and communicators are all masters of language. The language of the law and the complexity of legal processes, however, often create a large risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding when placed in a non-legal context. A well-crafted legal filing or a technically positive legal outcome might cause confusion and misunderstanding when viewed by the press and public, and similarly a well-written news release could fall flat with judge and jury. Early engagement, again, is the best prescription here. Legal can alert Communications to terms and methods of communications that could impact legal strategy, have legal consequences, or create corporate risk. With this knowledge, Communications can be more mindful of perilous language or tactics when creating audience-facing messaging, content and distribution strategy, thereby reducing potential discord during legal review.

    When Timing Is Everything, So Is Trust

    Collaboration is even more crucial today with technology rewriting the rules of audience engagement. Audiences no longer wait for companies to publish or broadcast information; they get it on-demand from third party online resources or their own communities. Social media and mobile innovations have created the expectation that companies communicate with their audiences and respond to damaging claims within hours or even minutes of tweets, blog postings, and the like.

    This new pace of communications becomes a source of friction when the traditional process of vetting all outgoing communications through Legal is imposed on new media management. Modifying internal processes to accommodate new realities is one step, but overall, Legal and Communications must develop ongoing dialogue and a greater degree of trust so the efficacy of new media communications is not bogged down by internal policy and process.

    Back Each Other Up In Times of Trouble

    The relationship between Legal and Communications is most tested in the throes of a reputational crisis – for example, when allegations are lodged against the company's actions, products or people. Traditionally, Legal departments have directed a low profile or approved only measured responses to avoid exacerbating the situation or to avoid the legal risk of premature statements. The problem with this turn-the-other-cheek approach is that audiences can and will draw their own conclusions about the situation in the absence of other positioning. A company can come out of a crisis with no legal problems, but the company's reputation can be so damaged that it will actually cost the company more to rebuild trust and goodwill in the marketplace. Faced with the prospect of a public flogging at the hands of the media, trial lawyers, or publicity-seeking activists, more companies are rethinking that approach.

    When does it make sense for Legal to support a more aggressive communications strategy in a reputational crisis? My colleague Chris Gidez, global practice leader of our Risk Management and Crisis Communications group who has collaborated with many lawyers in his 25+ years as a crisis and reputation counselor, suggests these criteria:
    • When the risk to the company is real enough and big enough;
    • When the company is certain the facts are 100% on its side;
    • When the public awareness of the problem is great enough that it does, or could, have a significant impact on the company's reputation (big enough to justify taking the risk of raising the profile of the conflict even further);
    • When there is solid research to define stakeholder awareness and attitudes, and the messages have been tested to ensure their effectiveness; and
    • When the company is backing up its words with legal actions.
    With sufficient time and information, a Communications team can help legal counsel succeed by helping to develop and execute a strong communications strategy that preempts, balances or neutralizes an opponent's commentary or public relations strategy.

    Early planning, transparency and engagement can help Communications and Legal teams set a media and public landscape that is more likely to foster favorable public attitudes, perceptions, and opinions toward the company's legal and public position. When reputations are at risk, it's good to have friends to lean on for support.

    Geri Ann S. Baptista is a Vice President in the Seattle office of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a global strategic communications firm with 84 offices in 46 countries.

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    Tsarnaev Team: ‘Inflammatory’ Coverage of Boston Bombing Taints Jury Pool

    Boston Globe/Getty Images
    Coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings was so saturated with “inflammatory” language that accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev cannot expect a fair trial in Massachusetts, an expert for his defense argues in a new court filing.

    Lawyers for Mr. Tsarnaev on Thursday submitted a 37-page sworn declaration from a retired political science professor at California State University at Chico, Edward J. Bronson, who conducted a study of how last year’s bombings were covered in the Boston Globe and other major newspapers.
    The findings, they say, support their case for moving the death-penalty case to Washington, D.C., where they say Mr. Tsarnaev would likely face a less biased jury pool.

    Federal prosecutors, who accuse Mr. Tsarnaev of carrying out the April 2013 bombings alongside his older brother Tamerlan, have argued that the trial should stay in the city where the attack took place. They say it’s possible to find fair and impartial jurors in the eastern part of Massachusetts, a region of roughly 5 million people and the area from which federal jurors would be drawn.
    The Globe has more on the venue dispute:
    Bronson analyzed media reports in The Boston Globe and other outlets for the defense team and found that “the Globe’s coverage was marked by an overload of inflammatory themes, words, phrases, and passages,” the lawyers wrote.

    The professor added in his report that “terror,” “terrorist,” and related terms were used to characterize Tsarnaev more than 1,400 times in the Globe. The specific word “terrorist” was used more than 620 times, Bronson wrote, though “often the word was not used to characterize Mr. Tsarnaev, but as part of phrases like terrorist attack.”
    Mr. Bronson said the use “of these inflammatory and emotive terms” eclipses any other capital case he’s studied going back more than 40 years. That includes the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
    When he refers to inflammatory coverage, Mr. Bronson writes that he means articles about the bombing that contain “elements of sensationalism or hostile, inflated, emotional, or loaded terms, themes, or language.”

    In an interview with Law Blog, Mr. Bronson said he’s not attacking the journalistic integrity of the bombing coverage but commenting on its potential impact on readers. “It’s not casting aspersions on any newspapers,” he said.