A Grim Year Makes for a Grim Top 10 PR Blunders of 2016

Around this time it’s fun to take a light-hearted look back at all of the public relations fails from the previous 12 months. However this year, the serious consequences of the presidential election results makes levity particularly difficult.

Sure, there was the usual share of corporate idiocy, like Neiman Marcus selling frozen collard greens for $66 (plus shipping!), a company trying to sell a Kim Kardashian robbery costume for Halloween or the Texas mattress company holding a tacky “Twin Tower” sale on 9/11. More seriously, a major financial institution, Wells Fargo, blatantly ripped off its customers, causing the CEO to step down and 5300 employees to lose their jobs.

Social media continued to be a gold mine of pr fails, like when Twitter blocked its own chief executive… or when the NFL reported the death of its Commissioner Roger Goodell (an obvious case of account hacking). Then there was the time pundit and Dallas Cowboys fanboy Skip Bayless complimented himself, apparently forgetting to use his favored sock puppet account.

But if anything, the Trump campaign demonstrated the public arena was a dark place in 2016 and none of the Top 10 PR blunders were funny. My advice: pull up your socks, pour yourself a stiff drink and hang on…

10. The Nuremburg Kidz

A high school principal in Taiwan turned a holiday parade into a micro Nazi rally that cost him his job. He first suggested an Arabic theme, but went SS because the school uniforms closely resembled something a little more Third Reich.

9. Bitten by a mad cow

Former New York Republican candidate for governor and current Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino was censured by the board and asked to resign after making racial slurs about President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Paladino also served as New York campaign co-chairman for Donald Trump.

8. Bad monkey business

Pamela Taylor, a director of a West Virginia non-profit was fired after she called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” on her Facebook page, the social media equivalent of eating a banana, tossing the peel on the ground, slipping on it, and breaking your leg.

7. Fly the hangman’s skies

United Airlines suspended one of its pilots in July after he said that Hilary Clinton should be tried for treason “and hung from a tree on the National Mall in Washington, DC.” Michael Folk, who sent the hate comment on Twitter, also serves as member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

6. Radio host sends ‘em off with a salute

Conservative talker Laura Ingraham closed her firebrand speech at the RNC convention this summer with what looked like a full-on, let’s make Goebbels proud Nazi salute. Of course, anyone can be photographed at precisely the wrong moment to make it seem like they are showing some fascist love. Whether she meant to or not, it sure looked like she was waving hello to a certain failed painter.

5. Was he blinking in Morse code?

Chris Christie, held hostage.

4. Naked corporate greed trumps the public good

When Mylan acquired the rights to EpiPen, a crucial medical aid for people who suffer from severe allergies (which delivers a dose of the drug epinephrine, keeping airways open until emergency help arrives), it was priced at about $100 for each two-pack. In a scathing column by Los Angeles Times writer Michael Hiltzik, “the company promptly instituted a relentless string of increases, while successfully lobbying for a law providing federal subsidies for public schools that stocked the device. The EpiPen eventually became Mylan’s single most important product, accounting for $1 billion of its $7.7 billion in sales in 2014 and of its $9.4 billion in sales in 2015, according to corporate financial statements.” The news placed the company and CEO Heather Breach under “a tide of negative publicity resulting from ethically dubious corporate behavior that had brought Bresch —the daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — before congressional investigative committees to explain her pricing policies,” Hiltzik wrote. Earlier this month, the company announced it’s producing a generic version of the device for $300 per two-pack, compared to the more than $600 for the branded package.

Hiltzik noted, “Some news reports described this as ‘a more than 50% discount.’ That’s incredibly misleading, which is exactly what Mylan hoped. In fact, the device will still cost three times as much as it did when Mylan acquired the rights in 2007. This for a product that delivers a dose of a generic drug that Mylan played no role in developing.”

3. Bernie

For many, the Democratic Socialist from Vermont was the choice to be the next president of the United States. And he gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money. But by June she clinched the nomination. Bernie didn’t concede, in fact, vowed to fight on to the convention, which only planted false hope in his legions. He and his campaign called her judgement unfit, tied her to Wall Street because she made speeches to audiences at Goldman Sachs, and claimed that the election was rigged. It got so bad, that he had to beg his followers not to protest at the DNC convention. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, soured on her and refused to back her.

Like Trump, Bernie also refused to make a full disclosure of his tax returns. He wounded her in ways that helped kill her candidacy, which in turn, helped elect Donald J. Trump to the presidency.

2. Hillary

The former senator from New York and Secretary of State ran an historic campaign that gave hope to millions of women across the country. She and her campaign also made some horrific mistakes. At the outset, she didn’t take her email server issue seriously enough and never articulated a response to the continuous nagging about her “untrustworthiness.” She took for granted her “Blue Wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and failed at making a case to the people who have been feeling the spear’s tip of economic stagnation. Several outside factors aided in sinking her campaign (the Russian hack, Comey, Bernie), but in the end, candidates are responsible for their successes and their failures.

1. A partisan shiv served for maximum effect

FBI director James Comey plunged a dagger into Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid with an incendiary letter to Congress 11 days before the election, claiming the agency had “new evidence” in the private email server investigation. According to reporting by Huffington Post’s Matt Ferner and Ryan Grimm, legal experts question the validity of the FBI seeking a new search warrant.

“The idea that the mere existence of emails involving Clinton may be evidence of a crime is startling,” said Ken Katkin, a professor at Salmon P. Chase College of Law.
The warrant application seems to reflect a belief that any email sent by Hillary Clinton from a private email server is probably evidence of a crime,” Katkin said. “If so, then it must be seen as a partisan political act, rather than a legitimate law enforcement action.”
The warrant never should have been granted, attorney Randol Schoenberg argued. “I see nothing at all in the search warrant application that would give rise to probable cause, nothing that would make anyone suspect that there was anything on the laptop beyond what the FBI had already searched and determined not to be evidence of a crime, nothing to suggest that there would be anything other than routine correspondence between Secretary Clinton and her longtime aide Huma Abedin,” Schoenberg wrote in an email.
“I am appalled,” he added, noting that the name of the agent in charge had been redacted in the copy of the document publicly released.”

Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressed her preference that Comey “follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election…”

So, the die has been cast and now we wait to see the result of a Trump presidency and the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. Will the Republicans make good on their promise to also slash Medicare and Social Security? Perhaps it’s time to pour another stiff drink…

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