How to Save a Celebrity's Image

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 4, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Celebrities popping pills, praising Hitler, groping women. The list of high-profile scandal goes on and on. And when these stories hit the headlines, the rich and powerful usually have an expert on speed dial to manage the crisis.

Lou Colasuonno of Westhill Partners (search) directs high stakes media campaigns for corporations and VIPs. Lou, that's today's big question. What does it take to polish a fallen celebrity's image?

LOU COLASUONNO, WESTHILL PARTNERS: A lot of work. Quick action.

GIBSON: Like what? Let's just take the Rush Limbaugh (search) thing. Here he is being accused of essentially becoming addicted to painkillers for which he did not have a prescription.

COLASUONNO: Well, it is a problem for Rush because he has been a pretty strong advocate against people who use drugs, drug abuse. That's a strong part of his message. The good news for him, though, I think, is that the race comments that he made about Donovan McNabb (search) may have covered this drug issue.

He had two bad stories almost day-to-day, in one day, and the race issue, will does not damage him as much — I don't think — because it doesn't go against what he normally says, as much as the drug issue… [it] may have given him some time to think about this drug issue.

GIBSON: You're not saying that he may have said those things about Donovan McNabb knowing this drug story was coming?

COLASUONNO: No, I think he had two bad news days, but one may have turned out to help him a little bit. Hypocrisy is what really hurts celebrities and people in public life. The public does not allow for hypocrisy. What Rush said about McNabb is consistent with what he's always said, and he will be fine on that. The drug issue is more dangerous for him. He has been hard on drug abuse. That could really hurt him.

GIBSON: Let's look at [Arnold Schwarzenegger (search)]. The L.A. Times comes out today, with six or seven women telling these stories of him groping them, if not actually sexually assaulting them. And at the same time, somebody comes up with this unpublished biography, which quotes him saying he admired Hitler. Is he doing the right thing jumping out in front and saying, — in the case of the groping charge —  “Hey, I'm sorry, rowdy days, I don't do that anymore. I wouldn't do that anymore.” And on the Hitler stuff, “I don't even remember saying that.”

COLASUONNO: That's what he's said so far today. I think he's done the right thing on both issues. Number one, it would not be surprising to any of us that someone who's lived Arnie's lifestyle as a superstar movie celebrity and a bodybuilder before that might have some bad behavior in his background. Probably some of that is true. He has six or seven women claiming that he did things to him over the course of the last three decades. He can't take them on one at a time, and there's probably more incidents in his past.

So, the best thing to do is brush them all aside with a general apology, and that not only covers the six or seven that have come forward now, he can use it as a starting point to go forward if others come out and say, “Look, I dealt with that. I apologized, it's behind me.” You need to do that. You need to put it behind you, so he did that. The Hitler issue, it is hard to he-said-she-said on Adolf Hitler (search). He is a third-rail issue for us in this country. It is best to say, “I don't remember” or attack the messenger. It's tough to win on Adolf Hitler.

GIBSON: Do you think that Arnie is sort of getting a pass on his complete past?

COLASUONNO: Again, it goes to the hypocrisy issue. We expect that from a lot of our celebrities, rightly or wrongly. And it may be a place where the bar shouldn't be. But we do expect that. Celebrities do these kinds of things. There's a long history of that. Arnie has talked about it for years. So the fact that maybe he stepped over the line, had some untoward behavior, I think the public will give him a pass on that. If he came from a holier-than-thou position, he would pay a higher price.

GIBSON: Lou Colasuonno, Westhills Partners. He directs media campaigns for corporations and VIPs. Lou, thank you very much.

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