Letterman’s Crisis Communications Options

Boston Herald Business crisis management sources “gave high marks to David Letterman’s frank on-air revelation last week of a $2 million extortion attempt that threatened to reveal the late-night talk show host’s sexual liaisons with female staff.  Letterman took control of the story by releasing the information on his own terms and portraying himself as a victim – key elements to a successful crisis communications strategy.

For anyone living under a rock, CBS News employee Robert Halderman, a producer for the real-life crime show “48 Hours,” pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree attempted grand larceny in a Manhattan court Friday and is out on bail. His blackmail attempt prompted the 62-year-old Letterman to acknowledge the sexual affairs to his studio audience and viewers during last Thursday’s “Late Show” on CBS, without specifying when they took place. In March, Letterman married Regina Lasko, his longtime girlfriend, and the couple has a 5-year-old son.

Letterman’s crisis communication options were actually much broader than to tell or not to tell. Some general image restoration strategies that he, and Worldwide Pants, had at their disposal were:

1. Denial
a. Deny the act occurred
b. Shift the blame for an act to another person or organization

2. Evasion of responsibility
a. Claims a lack of responsibility because the misdeed was a result of provocation, an accident, or committed with good intention.

3. Reduction of the offensiveness of event
a. Bolstering
b. Differentiation
c. Transcendence
d. Minimizing
e. Attacking the accuser to lessen the impact of the accusation
f. Offering to compensate the injured party

4. Corrective action
a. Restoring the state of affairs existing before the offensive action and/or promising to prevent recurrence of the offensive act

5. Mortification
a. Requires the accused to admit the wrongful act and ask forgiveness.

These courses of action are rooted in the rhetorical approach of apologizing and based on readings from Robert Heath’s Handbook of Public Relations.

Contributed by Karen Naumann Blanchard, APR, president of Naumann Blanchard, LLC , and PRSA Houston Board Member.

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1 Comment

Filed under Crisis Communications, Public Relations

One response to “Letterman’s Crisis Communications Options

  1. RL

    Is this blog entry complete? If so, then it’s not a very good assessment, simply a list taken from somebody’s book. Give a conclusion, please, or an opinion of which option Letterman used and which you think he used.

    I expect more from PRSA bloggers. This is disappointing.

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