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Top 10 PR Blunders of 2010

This year proved to be a golden one for public relations meltdowns. Compiling this list was easy - trimming it down to the 10 biggest wasn't. As far as PR blunders go, 2010 was a target-rich environment.
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This year proved to be a golden one for public relations meltdowns. Compiling this list was easy - trimming it down to the 10 biggest wasn't. As far as PR blunders go, 2010 was a target-rich environment.

10. The Nazi Candidate. Republican Rich Iott has a hobby. He likes to dress up and play army. Too bad his uniform of choice is of the Nazi variety. Iott decided he wanted to run for congress in Ohio's 9th district, but must have forgotten about his hobby. Photos were released. He lost by 30 points to Democrat Marcy Kaptur. His campaign manager was last seen pounding his head against a wall.

9. The Overconfident Candidate. It seemed like a foregone conclusion Martha Coakley was going to keep Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts senate seat in the Dem column. But she made the mistake of believing her own press, and her overconfidence trumped common sense as she coasted through the campaign. People noticed. She was accused of being a diva. When asked by the Boston Globe why she wasn't out stumping like her opponent Scott Brown, she fired back: "As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?" Uh, yeah, something like that. She was purportedly stunned when Brown beat her.

8. The Terrible Candidate. Perhaps it's the Republican voters of Nevada who should shoulder the blame for choosing Sharron Angle as their standard-bearer against the wildly unpopular Harry Reid in the state's senate race. It's hard to imagine them picking a worse candidate. Angle soon revealed herself to the nation as a person with no ideas and an unfaltering ability to say really stupid things, like "Second Amendment remedies," labeling the unemployed as "spoiled," and telling a group of Latino students that they look Asian to her. Oh, and she ran from the press like a track star. Voters in turn, sprinted away from her, and made Reid look like a political genius.

7. Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Lose Job. It's been said our society has gotten too politically correct. Perhaps that's true. PC or not, some people just can't help themselves when it comes to speaking their mind. Helen Thomas, the long-serving White House correspondent, said Jews need to "get the hell out of Palestine." She had to resign from Hearst Newspapers, among other indignities. TV newsreader Rick Sanchez called Jon Stewart a "bigot" and complained that Jews don't face discrimination (Stewart is Jewish). He also suggested that CNN, and the media industry itself, is run by Jews who look down on Hispanics like himself. CNN quickly canned him. NPR's Juan Williams said on Fox News that seeing "people in Muslim garb" on airplanes makes him "nervous." He may well have misspoke in the classic sense of the word and his comment was taken out of context. NPR's firing of Williams could be considered a PR blunder itself.

6. A Peacock De-feathers Itself. Looking to avoid a repeat of the Johnny Carson succession drama, NBC CEO Jeff Zucker got the brilliant idea to give Jay Leno a 5-nights-a-week "Tonight Show Lite" slot at 10pm, while handing Conan O'Brien the keys to Carson's realm. Leno spectacularly flopped; O'Brien foundered at 11:35 and took swipes at his 10pm lead-in. Leno made cracks against NBC's ill-fated plan. Zucker, in full-blown damage control mode, offered Leno the 11:35 slot while pushing O'Brien to 12:05. Conan declined and ultimately was let go with a $45 million parting gift. Leno was reinstated to Tonight, his reputation as a Machiavellian schemer further entrenched. NBC fired Zucker eventually, finally displaying a modicum of programming acumen.

5. When A Phone Call Works Just Like Ripping Off A Band-Aid. Twenty years is a long time. But not long enough for Virginia Thomas, who just had to ring up Anita Hill and ask for an apology over Hill's testimony during her husband Clarence's Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Old wound? No problem! Sadly, she didn't get the apology she was seeking. Instead, her phone call from the deep past prompted another of Clarence's acquaintances, Lillian McEwen, to come forward and tell her own story about Virginia's husband from 19 years ago. The intense scrutiny forced Virginia to step down as the leader of Liberty Central, an organization she founded, one sympathetic to the Tea Party.

4. On The Bright Side, He Did Get His Life Back. On April 19th of this year, Tony Heyward was a man on top. As chief executive, he oversaw one of the world's biggest oil and energy companies, BP. The next day, one of BP's offshore, deepwater oil wells exploded which killed 11 people and began spilling an estimated 100,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. At first, Heyward downplayed the incident, but soon it became apparent it was a disaster of previously unseen scope, destroying the fishing industry in the area, not to mention the tourism industry as well. Businesses shut down and thousands of people were devastated by the spill, along with the wildlife within the expanding spill zone. On May 30th, he told a reporter "we're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives. There's no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I'd like my life back." By June, Heyward got his wish when BP sacked him.

3. This Decision Was A Bad One. LeBron James, a guy who grew up in the Cleveland area, can really play basketball. His problem was, he was playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers and he desperately wanted to win an NBA championship. In July, he became a free agent and began to shop himself around to find a team that would help him achieve his dreams. A few came courting: the Heat, Bulls, Mavericks, Nets, Knicks, Nets, Clippers and even his hometown Cavaliers. On July 8th, James announced on a live ESPN special, The Decision, that he would join Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, balling for the Heat. Kinda like a girlfriend going on national television to announce that she is not only breaking up with you, but sleeping with Brad Pitt just for good measure. Cleveland fans were devastated and basketball fans across the nation found a new player they love to hate.

2. Perhaps A Spell Or Two Might Have Helped. Gosh, were to begin? Was it her war on masturbation? How about her claim that scientists were creating mice with human brains? Christine O'Donnell, with the help of Sarah Palin, managed to harness Tea Party anger and actually won the GOP primary in her quest for the senate in Delaware. And then things got weird. O'Donnell had a TV past, saying some of the stupidest things imaginable, many on Bill Maher's old show on ABC, Politically Incorrect. After she beat Mike Castle, Maher began showing clips of her from those shows, the first one with her saying she dabbled in witchcraft. Her "I am not a witch" ad became an iconic TV moment during the year's election cycle. Moderate voters finally lost any confidence they may have had in her during a late-campaign debate against Democrat Chris Coons, when she wasn't sure where the part about the separation of church and state was in the Constitution - despite her claims to be an expert in Constitutional Law. (Hint to Ms. O'Donnell: it's the First Amendment).

1. The Bigger You Are... Ah, 2008 was a magical time. The Democrats rode a tsunami of Change as they solidified their hold on the House and Senate. More than a million people besieged the National Mall to watch Barack Obama being sworn in as the first African-American to be elected President of the United States. But here we are, two years later and the Dems are scratching their heads, wondering what the hell happened. Sure, a lot of good legislation got passed, most significantly the Affordable Care Act, a reform of health care that had been a pipe dream of presidents since Theodore Roosevelt. But a lot went wrong. Example: only a very small percentage of Americans knew Obama orchestrated the biggest tax cut in history. And, doing the president a political favor, the Republicans voted against it! But an accomplishment like that doesn't mean a whole lot in politics if you don't get your message out. The Dems committed the cardinal sin of PR: they allowed the GOP to frame the debate and win the messaging war. For that my team gets the dubious honor of this year's top spot and I am left channeling Will Rogers... I too am not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat.

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