Tom Cruise, Pat Robertson, Even Harvard Seems Clueless, on List of 10 Worst PR Gaffes in 2005

11th Annual PR Blunders List Unveiled

Dec 12, 2005, 00:00 ET from Fineman PR

    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:
     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."
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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.
     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."
     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.
     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.
     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.