Continuing the debate on the challenges that the PR industries face in the digital age, the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair underlines some of the issues that I opened for discussion last week.
It’s a hot topic, particularly as the story has broken at a time when many companies are becoming less and less tolerant of any sexual misconduct by their senior executives. A string of high-profile companies have shed their bosses in recent years over such issues. It’s a new and convenient way to ‘get rid’.
Strauss Kahn is being held in New York, facing allegations of sexual assault. Should we be anxious about the current feeding frenzy? Whether the IMF chief is innocent or guilty, his arrest has raised questions about whether he will ever be able to have a fair trial.
Gossip around the incident is filtering out all over Twitter. A top executive and a chambermaid in a New York hotel is a classic and unfortunate story promising captivating twists and turns. Strauss-Khan’s lawyer declared the French economist will plead not guilty, but the sensational incident and the intense clamour around it has wrecked his hopes of running for president of France next year, or of continuing to lead the IMF – he resigned last night.
After three days of intense global media scrutiny, the story focused yesterday morning on Strauss-Kahn being placed on suicide watch. I am told suicide watch is a routine rather than a response to an inmate’s state of mind. By implication, we are lead to believe by the news cycle that the accused is about to take his own life. His guilt is being decided for us by stealth.
I do feel sorry for the woman drawn into this narrative web. The poor chambermaid ‘feels alone in the world‘ whilst countless tweeters suggest it’s a honey trap. Whatever the case, it’s a great story, a new chapter in the global political soap opera.
It’s the velocity of the information surge surrounding the arrest that I find jaw dropping. It’s another sharp dig in the ribs for us PR folk and underlines the fact that organisations are ill equipped to cope with this new paradigm capable of ruining anyone across the board.
If the bones of the story are titillating, the story-hungry news mill cares less about the facts. Many news organisations are circling this accusation and arrest like vultures, all hungry to be the first to get new insight in order to take the lead.
Let’s all agree the volatility and speed of a negative narrative can kill. The Strauss-Khan affair strengthens my plea for bigger budgets and wise PR figures manhandling the complex 24/7 digital black hole that can suck reputation into an vortex from which it is impossible to escape.
Events like this, and particularly the subsequent narrative played out over Twitter, don’t just destroy reputation but ambition as well. Isn’t that important enough to invest in proper PR council to be there on hand to help rescue a drowning brand, deluged by a tsunami of opinion?