Friday, October 2, 2009

David Letterman Scandal Demonstrates Smart Crisis Management & Public Relations


In what is surely his most important monologue of the year, David Letterman used his glowing star power – and a national network broadcast platform -- for the biggest, best new textbook example about getting out in front of a 'bad' story, even when it involves a subject as salacious as workplace sexual encounters. Instead of waiting for the scandalous facts about his dalliances with female members of his own "Late Night" show staff to break on the national publicity landscape, Letterman 'outed' himself to his in-studio and viewing audience. It is the story of the day and week in show biz. As a result, rather than the focus being on Letterman's behavior, the 'bad guy' is an alleged extortionist who tried to intimidate the comedic star into coughing up $2 million in hush money to keep the scandal quiet.

Letterman wisely went to authorities, rather than buckle to such pressure. Now, the would-be shakedown artist is charged with major crimes. And, Letterman's voluntary disclosure on "Late Night" was brilliant in its unexpected candor, earnestness and stated concern about the well-being of his own family (he married his long-time companion and mother of his child earlier this year) and the privacy of the women he was involved with on his own staff.

Regardless of morality questions that may dog Letterman for a while, he came off as a sympathetic figure because of his bold decision to break his own bad news -- on a grand scale. While network execs at CBS may be properly focused on HR issues of propriety regarding Letterman's affairs, the shine on his star may grow even brighter for the lessons he has learned -- and for the strategic, surgical strike he delivered on behalf of others and himself. Few public figures ever have done a better job early enough to really matter in making a difference in public perception of their own misdeeds or shortcomings than Letterman's example this week.

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