Winner and Loser of the Week in News: Janice Dean and Ashley Hanson
Dean of Fox News wins for testifying on COVID deaths and Andrew Cuomo; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spokeswoman Hansen loses for saying they were in a 'near catastrophic car crash'
This week, there’s only one winner and loser because each made such a big impact in the news. To read last week’s list, read here.
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WINNER: Janice Dean
The Fox News meteorologist and my friend* single-handedly compelled Congress to launch an investigation into the COVID-19 nursing home deaths and hold the disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accountable.
Ms. Dean Goes to Washington
Janice delivered a powerful testimony at the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic oversight hearing, shedding light on the government mandate that required nursing homes to admit contagious COVID-19 patients. You can watch her testimony here:
The House committee estimates 35,000 people lost their lives from COVID in nursing homes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York as a result of these mandates. For three years, Janice has been the public voice for the grieving families.
During her testimony, Janice emphasized that hearings alone would not bring about justice, and the families deserved answers.
As a result of the national attention generated by her efforts, Chairman Brad Wenstrup promptly wrote a letter to Cuomo, demanding his in-person testimony and the transcription of his answers regarding the deaths of "more than 15,000 New York nursing home residents during your tenure." You can read the letter here.
Janice's pursuit of answers stems from the personal tragedy of losing her in-laws to COVID while they were isolated in nursing homes. She shared the heartbreaking account of the death of her husband Sean Newman's parents, Dolores "Dee" and Michael "Mickey" Newman.
“Sean got a call in the late morning at the end of March 2020 and was told that his dad was not doing well. He had a fever. His breathing was labored. Three hours later, he was dead. Sean had to break the news on the phone to his mom in lockdown that her husband died. It was the hardest thing he's ever had to do.
A few days later, Dee's health went downhill. She was moved to the hospital, tested immediately and diagnosed with COVID-19….The next day she died.
Our grief and our confusion turned to anger in the days and weeks afterward, when we learned how elder care homes were turned into death traps.”
Janice has bravely taken on the powerful Cuomo family, defied those who belittled her for discussing policy matters ("the weather lady"), and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to involve Congress. She has shown the impact one person with unwavering principles can have in the pursuit of justice and truth.
*Janice is unaware of my writing this, and I anticipate her response will be that it's not about her. That's precisely why she authored a book about her advocacy, shifting the focus to other people who have made a difference. I highly recommend reading her excellent book: “I Am the Storm: Inspiring Stories of People Who Fight Against Overwhelming Odds”.
LOSER: Ashley Hansen
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have found themselves engulfed in a media firestorm following a statement issued by their "global press secretary," Ashley Hansen, alleging a two-hour "near catastrophic car chase" with paparazzi in New York City on Tuesday night.
Hansen’s statement was clearly meant to evoke public sympathy by making it sound like the royal couple almost died the same way as Harry’s mother, Princess Diana:
“Last night, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Ms. Ragland were involved in a near catastrophic car chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi. This relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers. While being a public figure comes with a level of interest from the public, it should never come at the cost of anyone's safety.”
Not So Fast
The credibility of the statement crumbled within a matter of hours, as the NYPD, New York Mayor Eric Adams, a taxi driver, and even Whoopi Goldberg swiftly debunked the sensational narrative.
In reality, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, accompanied by their security team, spent a mere 20 minutes driving around in an attempt to evade a few photographers in order to prevent them from capturing their entrance into the private residence where they were staying. TMZ has a video.
Normally I wouldn’t blame a spokesman for the sins of the principals. I’ve been a press secretary for everyone from Ted Cruz to Colin Powell and have taken more than my share of hits for their mistakes or bad moods.
However, Hansen is the loser of the week because she should have told Meghan and Harry to cool down before repeating their lies in that statement.
To do media relations well, you must know how to absorb the principal’s anger and hostility at reporters. In this case, the statement was released within a mere five hours, indicating the heightened emotions involved.
Crisis Communications 101
It's also evident that Hansen lacks the crisis communication skills required to represent two highly famous and controversial public figures.
The first rule of crisis comms is to swiftly and honestly disclose all relevant information. This helps minimize the news cycle's duration, keeping the story from lingering. (Read below for my specific recommendations on how Hansen could have better managed this crisis, exclusively for paid subscribers.)
Once doubts were raised about the statement, Hansen should have demanded the facts directly from Meghan, her mother, Harry and their security detail instead of persisting in defending falsehoods. By taking this approach, the NYPD wouldn't have had to clarify that their involvement was limited to assisting the royal couple's "private security team" with the photographers that “made their transport challenging.” Hardly a life-or-death situation.
Digging the Hole
Hansen continued to perpetuate the royals’ ridiculous narrative by claiming the couple gave a photo op after the event and the photographers didn’t respect boundaries by following them.
She told The New York Times on Friday (this is a four-day story now!) that these paparazzi pics “were some of the most beautiful images of the evening.” She’s referring to the photos, like the one below from Getty Images, of the couple walking in the dark outside a Hertz rental car with scaffolding. Beautiful images?
Photographers told the NYT that Harry and Meghan created the “car chase” drama for attention. Instead of trying to make this story die down, Hansen gave a quote that again referenced Diana and stirred it up again.
Respectfully, considering the duke’s family history, one would have to think nothing of the couple or anybody associated with them to believe this was any sort of P.R. stunt. Quite frankly, I think that’s abhorrent.
Hansen’s interview with NYT then gave the NY Post, TMZ and other outlets a new angle to write yet another negative story about the debunked “near catastrophic” car chase.
It’s Hansen’s job to keep relations with the media positive. Instead, she attacked them which resulted in her bosses getting bad publicity in almost every media outlet in the world.
Meghan and Harry have inflicted severe damage to their personal reputations and brands, a fact that is evident even in the silence of their own fans.
Another crucial aspect of effective crisis communications is to mobilize surrogates who can engage with the media. Hansen should have a roster of individuals who are willing and capable of speaking to reporters during times of crisis.
Remarkably, I haven't come across a single person who has spoken on the record to defend Harry and Meghan this week. Not even their most devoted public friend, Tyler Perry, has stepped forward. The unnamed “sources” defending them in stories are clearly Hansen and others who work for the royal couple. No one is willing to risk their own personal brand for the sake of supporting Harry and Meghan.
If I were doing Sussex’s PR this week, I specifically would have …
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