Yes, the first rule of positive public relations is, “Tell the truth.”
And yes, at his painful, tearful press conference yesterday, recently disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner – presumably – did finally “tell the truth.”
The problem is... was a week late. Last week when the story of his sex-tual escapades hit the media, he lied. And the fact is he would have stayed a liar had the truth – in the form of a play-for-pay Twitter partner’s published portfolio of provocative Weiner photos – not forced him to come clean.
How did it come to this? The hard truth is... every liar gets caught.
Were the congressman my client, I’d be forced today to read him the public relations riot act and ask him to think about his long-term.
I’d start with a cold dose of reality.
1. You lied to the public, exercised horrendous judgment in sexting with multiple partners, including several after you got married last year.
2. You posed for Internet photos topless and, according to one account from a woman with whom you carried on a recent month-long cyberspace sexcapade, bottomless.
3. You used Facebook and Twitter so capriciously, i.e. stupidly, when you didn’t need them to build a following that you need to have your head examined.
4. As a consequence, your minority leader – she of the “drain the swamp of Congressional ethics violators” fame – has called for a formal ethics investigation of your social media shenanigans. (Plus she doesn’t like you.)
5. Meanwhile, your Republican adversaries are salivating at the prospect of making you and your fellow ethics violator, Charles Rangel, a cause celebre in the next election cycle. The Republicans, you’ll recall, last year summarily dismissed another New York Congressman Chris Lee, after he posted a come-hither beefcake photo of himself on Craigslist. They can’t wait for you and Charley to hang around.
I’d then give Rep. Weiner his three public relations options:
1. Tough it out aka the Rangel Rope-a-dope.
This is what Weiner declared he would do yesterday. He vowed to stay in the Congress and face the ethics investigation.
He would become a pariah, joining Rep. Rangel at the back of the room, isolated from colleagues and the subject of continuing media derision and political contempt.
Sticking it out might be a legitimate decision for a broken-down, 80-year-old has-been from Harlem but not for a 46-year-old rising star with aspirations for higher office.
(But Rangel would love having someone to talk to.)
2. The Modified Mea Culpa aka the Patrick Kennedy Hangout.
In 2006, Cong. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) crashed his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill.
The congressman (not the first Kennedy with car trouble) immediately held a press conference to admit that he suffered from depression and was entering the Mayo Clinic to treat his addiction to pain medication.
“I hope that my openness today and in the past, and my acknowledgement that I need help, will give others the courage to get help if they need it," he said at the time.
Kennedy vowed to stay in Congress and “stay in the fight,” which he did for a time before resigning from the House of Representatives.
Likewise, at his blubbery press conference, Congressman Weiner alluded to how he, too, “might be sick” and that he and his wife would work through their issues.
And just as his fellow Democrat took a rehab hiatus only to return a new man, so, too, could the wounded Weiner slink off for time away, and return, repentant, for another day.
This would be a less good option than the one I’d recommend, which is...
3. Get Out, Get Help, Come Back.
Finally, Rep. Weiner can confront the reality: That in lying, sexting, trashing his new wife, embarrassing his party, and deceiving his constituents --- he REALLY messed up.
Consequently, he can decide to resign from Congress – immediately -- and seek professional help to arrest his sex addiction.
He can head straight to rehab where someone like celebrity therapist Dr. Drew Pinsky will greet the beaten Weiner with open arms and show him the way toward redemption.
And who knows.
A couple of years from now, just when New York City is seeking a new mayor in 2013, who among us would be surprised to read the announcement that a refreshed, revived Anthony Weiner has thrown his briefs into the ring?
I mean, hat.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, commentator, author and teacher for 40 years. He teaches public relations at NYU and is the author of the Prentice- Hall textbook "The Practice of Public Relations," now in its eleventh edition, and co-author of "Idea Wise."