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The Top 10 PR Blunders Of 2011

Some blunders are unavoidable; often they are self-inflicted. One thing's for certain: 2011 provided some stunning examples of public relations disasters.
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Some blunders are unavoidable; often they are self-inflicted. One thing's for certain: 2011 provided some stunning examples of public relations disasters.

10. There are no claw backs in PR. Back in January, a guy named Mitch Delaplane thought it would be cool to write a press release that touted his brilliance as a publicist. He penned a shamelessly self-aggrandizing essay in flack-ese, calling it 'The Most Amazing Press Release Ever Written,' and then dropped a couple of hundred bucks to distribute it through PR Newswire. In it, the writer quotes himself: "I've been in the business for over ten years and have to say, I'm speechless," he said. "The title alone grabs you and demands that it be read. Then there's this quote that completely takes things to an entirely new level. I'm proud of this press release. In fact, I think it is [really] amazing." Some of the flack blogs picked up on it and a few thought his stunt was fresh and funny. In reality, it was sophomoric, unprofessional and completely cringe-worthy.

9. A Mogul's Media Meltdown. Alleged phone hacking by people on the payroll of British newspaper News of the World turned out to be a major scandal for media mogul Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and other officials. Reporters and editors at NOTW were accused of bribing police, hacking the private voicemails of everyone from the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Royal Family, and paying more than $2 million in gag settlements to victims. After numerous investigations and government hearings (including one where Rupert got a cream pie in the face), the fallout was far and wide. The sackings and resignations affected journalists and law enforcement officials alike. The scandal cost Murdoch his bid for British Sky Broadcasting and even the News of the World itself, which was shuttered in July.

8. Reality Show Nuptials. It lasted a mere two and a half months -- 72 whole days of matrimony for reality TV "star" Kim Kardashian and her pro basketball player boyfriend, Kris Humphries. Entertainment breathlessly reported, "Ryan Seacrest, who serves as executive producer on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," confirmed the news via his Twitter feed earlier today: "Yes @kimkardashian is filing for divorce this morning. I touched base with her, getting a statement in just a few mins." The "storybook" wedding hauled in about $18 million, according to reports that E! shelled out $15 million for the couple's two-part TV wedding special while the wedding photos brought in another $3 million. And conservatives are still using the "sanctity of marriage" excuse to argue against gay people marrying? Really?

7. Twitter #fail. It seems like now that Twitter is part of the public discourse, there will be a constant parade of idiots screwing up in measures of 140 characters or less. So I guess it's no surprise this has now become a permanent category. OK, who's first? How about @KennethCole, who couldn't resist using the Arab Spring Uprising for some shameless marketing: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they hear our new spring collection is now available online at http://..."; a succession of tweets made by three members of Rep. Rick Larsen's (D-Wash.) legislative staff -- Seth Burroughs, legislative assistant (@therocketship1); Elizabeth Robblee, legislative assistant (@betsysbites); and Ben Byers, legislative correspondent (@byers_remorse) described on-the-job drinking, misuse of office time and resources, and public insults aimed at Larsen. The trio of numbskulls was fired -- and of course, the Big Kahuna, Rep. Anthony Weiner, who couldn't resist tweeting photos of his junk to a young woman (somehow forgetting he is married to Huma Abedin, a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton). Weiner resigned in disgrace. People, remember: if it's online, others will see it!

6. Most awesome episode of "Punked" ever. While Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) was stripping away union collective bargaining rights to state employees, he was busy scheming how to discredit the tens of thousands of very pissed-off Wisconsinites who descended on the state capitol. That's when Buffalo Beast's Ian Murphy got the great idea to get Walker on the phone. He rang up the guv, posing as David Koch, half of the evil twin set known as the Koch Brothers. When "Koch" suggested planting 'troublemakers' amongst the protesters, Walker didn't blanch for a moment, even admitting that his team "had thought about that." Walker probably doesn't have much longer to ruin Wisconsin -- his recall looks imminent.

5. The return of the Know-Nothings. The Republican primary season is in full swing, and the gazillion debates so far have only made the whole exercise seem like a really bad reality show. From Rick Perry forgetting one of the three federal agencies he's cut if he were elected, to the audiences booing a gay American soldier and cheering the death of a hypothetical citizen who didn't have health insurance, anyone who was paying attention couldn't help but wonder what the hell happened to the GOP? Then in an editorial board meeting with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Herman Cain was asked what he thought about President Obama's handling of the Libya situation. He sat there dumbfounded and finally revealed his candidacy was more about performance art than it was about getting the most important job in the world.

4. Sarah Palin's Blood Libel. The Quitter from Wasilla just had to pipe in on the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz). Her ugly map that contained cross hair targets on several congressional districts across the country was duly noted in the shooting's aftermath -- one of the cross hairs hovered over Gifford's district. She managed to keep her yap shut for four days. But instead of keeping her head low, our fave hockey mom/grifter recorded a video and used an incendiary phrase in describing how she had been portrayed in the tragedy's fallout. "Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn," Palin said in the video. "Blood libel" is the centuries-old anti-Semitic myth that Jews use the blood of Christian children for certain religious rituals and holidays. It was used to justify the persecution of Jews. I believe historians will cite this as the moment that Sarah Palin became inconsequential in American politics.

3. Winning in reverse. Props to Charlie Sheen for going full-on, pedal-to-the-metal batpoop crazy in the most entertaining PR meltdown of the year. A series of insanity-laced interviews brought us all into the cramped quarters of his mind, where we learned about warlocks, tiger blood and of course, winning! Charlie might have thought he was winning, but if winning means getting fired from the best-paying gig in television, then the man has a twisted sense of scoreboard. I've met Charlie before... he seemed like a decent guy. But then again, I never had to shoot a sitcom with him. I'm guessing Jon Cryer is pretty happy these days. Pretty sure "Two and a Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre is too.

2. GOP holds the U.S. economy hostage. Republican intransigence over a simple legislative maneuver nearly brought our economy to the brink of total collapse, and certainly caused a downgrade in the nation's credit rating. And as of this writing, THEY'RE AT IT AGAIN! Please vote these jerks out of office, America.

1. Penn State loses it soul. Ohio State University recently found out its punishment for violation of NCAA rules (lying to officials about infractions): ineligible for a bowl game in 2012, loss of a few scholarships, etc. What it did, what the University of Southern California did to receive its punishment (Reggie Bush's improper benefits), what even Southern Methodist University did back in the 80s to get the NCAA's "Death Penalty" (under the table payments to players) pale in comparison to what happened in Happy Valley, Pa. There have been a million words written about former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's alleged sexual abuse of young boys. Because of his inaction, it cost the legendary Head Coach Joe Paterno his job, as well as the jobs of university President Graham Spanier, Senior Vice President Gary Schultz and Athletic Director Tim Curley. Schultz and Curley were charged with grand jury perjury and failure to report suspected child abuse by Sandusky. The indictment accused Curley and Schultz of not only failing to tell the police, but falsely telling the grand jury that Assistant Coach Mike McQueary (who allegedly witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State locker room showers in 2002), never informed them of sexual activity. This is the worst thing to ever happen in college football, and as a fan I am sick to my stomach over it. Penn State badly handled the whole situation from start to finish. Hopefully, it will do everything it can, as quick as it can to regain its moral compass.

This post has been changed to reflect that Buffalo Beast's Ian Murphy conducted the phone call with Governor Walker.