Tom Cruise, Pat Robertson, Even Harvard Seems Clueless, on List of 10 Worst PR Gaffes in 2005
11th Annual PR Blunders List Unveiled
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- A celebrity without a center, religious fundamentalism U.S. style, organized labor taking on the Marines and a not so beneficent employee benefits company, all highlight this year's list of public relations blunders compiled annually by San Francisco's Fineman PR. The list is a collection of some of the year's worst public relations gaffes. The "winners" for 2005: 1. CRUISE, OUT-OF-CONTROL Tom Cruise's "War of the Worlds" press tour blew up on the "Today" show after he got on his Scientology soap box and lit into host Matt Lauer. Cruise's diatribe against psychiatry included criticizing Brooke Shields for the medication she received during her post-pregnancy depression. The press jumped all over Cruise, and so did Shields. In a New York Times op-ed, Shields called his remarks "a disservice to mothers everywhere." Cruise's other bizarre antics in '05, including Oprah Winfrey's sofa jumping escapade to show his love for actress Katie Holmes, also earned him public ridicule. "Sure they're in Love --- with Publicity," headlined the Boston Globe. PR Week said, "The more you jump up and down about it, the less people believe it's the real thing." 2. PAT ROBERTSON'S DIPLOMACY Uncle Sam's relations with oil rich Venezuela worsened after televangelist Pat Robertson suggested the U.S. 'take out' its president Hugo Chavez. The rather un-Christian comments ignited fire and brimstone from the world's press and lent credibility to Chavez' contention that President Bush, somewhat of an evangelical in his own right, is out to get him. "He is that rare preacher who has invited the nation not to pray together, but to prey together," wrote Tom Teepen in the San Jose Mercury News. 3. UAW UNWELCOMES MARINES Organized labor is having enough trouble without alienating the U.S. Marines. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger barred Marine reservists from its parking lot if they drove foreign-made cars or sport pro-Bush bumper stickers. The Marines had parked there for years because they train nearby. Gettelfinger apologized for the unpatriotic ambush after the Michigan press played the story, but the Marines said they would find alternative parking. "In trying to stiff the Marines, the union signaled that its petty political concerns trump the needs of the armed forces and the sanctity of the voting booth," wrote Daniel Howes in the Detroit News. 4. NO BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT FROM BENEFIT MANAGEMENT COMPANY It appears that Michigan employee-benefits firm Benefit Management Administrators Inc. needs help managing its own employees. The company fired Suzette Boler for, among other things, taking too much time to say good-bye to her husband who left to fight in Iraq, according to an Associated Press story. The poorly timed pink slip fueled public outrage forcing the company to lock its doors and turn off its phones. When the company's founder responded to TV station Channel 8 in Grand Rapids, he compounded the blunder by pressing additional complaints against her to justify the firing. 5. HARVARD'S SUMMERS STORM Publicly expressing sentiments that women are not good at math and science is not the kind of stereotyping you might expect from Harvard. So when Harvard's president, Larry Summers, said gender differences are why fewer women than men excel in those areas, the school's outraged faculty and alumni called for his ouster. According to Business Week, "his remarks about women may make it hard for Harvard to recruit top female scientists," and "harm fund-raising" for much needed reforms. 6. ALL THE NEWS MONEY CAN BUY The U.S. military's Washington, D.C.-based communications subcontractor in Iraq has been secretly paying newspapers to run positive "news" articles in an attempt to polish the coalition's image, denounce insurgents and praise U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. These articles, purportedly written by independent journalists, have been touted as unbiased news accounts when, in fact, they were one-sided stories delivered to Baghdad media by American troops. Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi with The Los Angeles Times put it this way, "The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption." 7. GRAND THEFT AUTO'S UNDERCOVER ADDITION As if best selling video game "Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas" didn't have enough violence and debauchery already, its maker Rockstar Games added hidden animated sex scenes. The soft-core porn ignited a political firestorm forcing a new "adults-only" rating reported the Wall Street Journal. Other coverage said Best Buy and Circuit City pulled the game from their stores. 8. MERCK'S PAIN Hiding the risks associated with taking its painkiller Vioxx could cause Merck an $18 billion litigation heartache. Even though studies in 2000 showed Vioxx-takers five times more likely to have a heart attack than individuals using a generic medicine, Merck publicly downplayed the risks. A later study blew the lid off Vioxx resulting in several thousand lawsuits. "Should they have been open about concerns? The failure to be honest is what gets companies (in product liability cases) in trouble," law professor Anthony Sebok told the Associated Press. 9. SNAPPLE'S MELTDOWN It was the first day of summer in steamy New York, so Snapple put a 35,000 pound ice pop in the middle of Union Square at midday. When the 25-foot high ice sculpture melted, bicyclists wiped out in the stream of kiwi-strawberry goo, according to the NY Daily News. The tabloid's headline "Gooing, Gooing, Gone" summed up the fiasco for Snapple. "It was a big boo-boo, they should have had that [up] before the sun came out," onlooker Kizzy Vazquez told the Daily News as she watched fire fighters wash Snapple's ill-fated stunt down the sewer. 10. NATL. ACADEMY OF SCIENCES PUBLISHES HOW-TO FOR MILK TERROR When Lawrence M. Wein and Yifan Liu of Stanford University wrote a scientific article discussing how terrorists could poison thousands of people by releasing toxins into the U.S. milk supply, the National Academy of Sciences published it over the objections of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Academy president Bruce Alberts editorialized that terrorists would not learn anything useful from the article and that such information is already available on the Internet. However, news organizations reported HHS's vehement disagreement with Reuters quoting HHS spokesperson Christina Pearson, "Our concern is that if the academy is wrong, the consequences can be dire." About the Fineman PR Top 10 PR Blunders List Fineman PR assembles the annual PR Blunders List as a reminder of how critical public relations is to businesses and organizations. Selections are limited to Americans, American companies, or offenses that occurred in America. Selections are limited to avoidable acts or omissions that cause adverse publicity; image damage was done to self, company, society or others; and acts were widely reported in 2005.
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