The much-awaited book “She Said” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times is a sordid tale of abuse by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Through an elaborate web of lies, threats and well-paid protectors, Weinstein was able to get away with his horrific behavior for years after rumors began to circulate.
As a PR executive, I am appalled by the behavior of legal counsel in the role of communications advisor, violating nearly every part of the Page Principles, which demand transparency and truth. Instead there is bullying, deals for access, black operations including spying and shocking “positive reputation management.” Here are a few choice items that will outrage you:
- Lisa Bloom, a so-called “Defender of Women,” proposed a campaign to blacken the reputation of an accuser of Weinstein’s, Rose McGowan. Among the ideas: In a December 2016 memo are a counter-ops online campaign to call her out as "a pathological liar…a few well-placed articles about her becoming unglued…a pre-emptive interview where you talk about women’s issues prompted by the death of your mother…this will be headline grabbing if you express genuine contrition for anyone you hurt, while emphasizing it was always adult consensual behavior. Start the Weinstein Foundation focused on gender equality in film….”
- Star attorney David Boies negotiated a contract between Black Cube, an Israeli black ops firm, and Weinstein with the express intent of stopping The New York Times investigation of Weinstein. The tactics include use of avatar operators to create false identities on social media, and use of a freelance journalist to dig up dirt on women Weinstein “feared would go public with damaging information on him.” A fake philanthropist offered one of the reporters a speaking gig on progressive activism to ensnare her in a conflict of interest.
- Lanny Davis, self-professed crisis counselor, goes to The New York Times with the proposition that Harvey Weinstein “has started to see his previous behavior in a different light. Powerful men of an older generation were changing their understanding of the meaning of consensual and why women don’t feel it is consensual even if a man convinces himself it is. There is a story to be told here about the evolution of men and in particular Harvey Weinstein.”
I have had many heated discussions with lawyers in crisis situations, most often about the wisdom of allowing clients to speak to reporters. But the interactions have been constructive and principled. The best of the lawyers recognize the urgency of getting their CEO and leadership out in front during a crisis to address the issue at hand, apologize if necessary and demonstrate a tangible change in policy.
There is and should be a healthy dynamic tension between lawyers and PR counsel that leads to best outcomes. Clients need to beware of lawyers not staying in their swim lane and pretending to be a one-stop solution in a crisis. It is simply PR malpractice that blackens the reputation of our industry.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.