The general public likes nothing better than seeing an infallible politician falling on his sword, admitting wrongdoing, and making the rest of us feel better about our shortcomings.
Until Monday’s mea culpa from New York Rep. Anthony Weiner about his breach in judgment about sending Twitpics of himself in his drawers to women, he was reviled. Clearly, the public knew he was hiding something, and the issue boiled into a salacious media frenzy, one with no hope of subsiding.
His tearful apology, though painful to watch, may have been the only tactic left to save Weiner’s political career. To a certain extent, he now has bought a tiny bit of public sympathy. Is it enough to get his mayoral campaign back on track? Unlikely, but at least he has a chance, and he has shortened the shelf life for jokes at his expense in late-night talk-show monologues.
What can we take away from this latest political gaffe? Here are some options to try to get in front of the news cycle for those who are facing potentially embarrassing news.
1. Own up to it. If the American public understands one thing, it is that people are not perfect. Like parents, they get mad at first, hope that you have learned a lesson, forgive you, and then move on. In some cases, they become more protective of you because you have opened your soul to them.
2. Don’t engage. The less back and forth you provide, the less the media have to report. Beware, though, as this works much better if there is little or no truth to the reports. If it is true, and there is a good chance that it will be revealed, ignore this tip and see tip No. 1.
3. Make light of the situation, if appropriate. As with contrition, the public likes humor. It shows humility and a sense of not taking yourself too seriously.
4. Address the issue in private, and let others report the resolution to the world. In Weiner’s case, he could have contacted each of the recipients of the Twitpics and apologized to them privately. They could then offer a third-party report to the media. It would show he was motivated to apologize because he was wrong, not because he got caught.
(This post also appears on PRDaily.)