History is riddled with dumb comments by famous — and infamous — people. Sometimes the comments were cruel and mean-spirited (at least as recorded by historians), and perhaps sometimes they were taken out of context.
We’ll never know for sure if this seemingly selfish quote was, indeed, uttered by Marie Antoinette when she learned the starving French wanted bread: “Let them eat cake.” Historical novelist Catherine Delors offers a contrary view and, well, some historical insight.
The fatal explosion April 20 that led to the environmental quagmire in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in a lot of comments we’ll forever relate to BP’s engineering and communications response to this tragedy. A lot of these statements are billed as “PR gaffes,” but I’ll share some other thoughts soon.
Here’s a quick run down of some of the most “quoted” statements resulting from the spill:
1. BP CEO Tony Hayward’s, “I want my life back” casual, yet utterly stupid, comment when offering thoughts to a reporter on the devastation caused to by the spill to people and the environment. Not much room to defend Mr. Hayward here. Yes, you were tired and frustrated; but your comment was a verbal slap in the face.
2. BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s, “We care about the small people” remark at a news conference following a meeting with President Obama. This seemingly calloused comment was made by a man of Swedish descent, speaking a second language. He later apologized in a statement, more than likely written by a member of the crisis communications team.
3. President Obama’s “whose ass to kick” comment, spoken in an interview to NBC and first reported on the “Today Show.” This statement was made before the President even spoke face-to-face with any BP officials. Yes, the President had a right to be angry because BP apparently did not have any idea how to stop the leak, or even know how much oil was gushing from the mile-deep well. But did he have to resort to what amounts to street language?
4. Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s statement in the House during the testimony by Hayward that the proposed BP Gulf relief fund amounted to a “$20 billion shakedown.” To his credit, the Congressman said he was offering his own opinion, and he later apologized — due to pressure from those higher up in the GOP. Yet making such a remark given the constant stream of bad news simply made no sense.
Okay, time for my thoughts.
Yes, the statements noted above, as well as others, probably should not have been spoken. Period. This is especially true in all of these cases because the person who spoke them knew he was being interviewed on camera. They knew they had time to prepare remarks that wouldn’t serve as lightening rods for the ongoing mess in the Gulf. The men who made these comments either didn’t think through the full ramifications of their statements.
Throughout this entire Gulf spill tragedy, the media keeps bringing up the public relations profession and relating it to the reason there’s oil covered pelicans, dead fish, crude-covered beaches and shattered livelihoods. Public relations didn’t cause this problem, and public relations alone can’t solve it. The problem was caused by faulty drilling procedures; the resulting clean up efforts are engineering issues; the program to process claims is a corporate financial issue.
Public relations professionals did not make the dumb statements above or set the policies on how to handle the clean up of the Gulf. Why keep blasting public relations?