Hillary Clinton looks old. Rachel Maddow looks like a boy. Callista
Gingrich looks like her hair snaps on. Old ladies look awful in backless
Nasty stuff, yes. But few of us would be terribly
surprised if some teenage boy who didn't know any better tweeted out those
Trouble is, those tweets weren't
sent by an immature teenager. Say hello to Mitt Romney's new
Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration
United Nations spokesman, was hired late last week to serve as a national
security and foreign policy spokesman for the Romney campaign. And he comes
with a trail of nasty—and often misogynistic—tweets.
to The Huffington Post, Grenell "appears
to have deleted more than 800 of his past tweets." Here are a few of his
wonder he deleted them. But that raises a question: What should public
figures do when they find themselves in Grenell's shoes? Here are three
1. Don't write offensive things in the first place.
I don't find Grenell's tweets as offensive as I
do reckless. Considering the long list of public figures who
have ended their careers in a single tweet, I can't understand why Grenell didn't know better. The only conclusion I can draw is that he was
intent on brazenly tweeting whatever he wanted, regardless of any
I wouldn't hire someone who demonstrated that kind of
poor judgment with social media. I'm mystified why the Romney campaign would
willingly assume that risk.
2. Delete the tweets.
But don't pretend you didn't tweet them in the
first place. And don't expect that the tweets will disappear forever. They
may be cached somewhere, and some enterprising person or group may be able
to capture them before you can delete them.
Some PR pros will
disagree with my advice, since deleting the tweets will surely make the
story bigger (note The Huffington Post's headline: "Richard
Grenell, New Mitt Romney Spokesman, Scrubs Online Attacks on Media and
The reason I advise deleting the offending tweets
isn't to eliminate them from the permanent record or avoid
embarrassing headlines, but because doing so can help shrink the news cycle.
A spokesperson who once said stupid things and then deleted them is better
than one who said stupid things and proudly continues to leave them on
public display under their Twitter byline. And a dumb tweet that's been
removed will likely occupy less media air than one that used to
That said, you may get lucky; deleting a tweet may indeed
erase the permanent record. If it does, take a deep breath and learn from
your mistake. But don't count on it.
Apologize (but not like this)
Grenell told Politico that:
"My tweets were written to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous but I can
now see how they can also be hurtful. I didn't mean them that way and will
remove them from Twitter. I apologize for any hurt they caused."
Grenell's apology appears perfunctory,
seemingly motivated solely by one thing: necessity. I followed Grenell
on Twitter for a few weeks, found his tweets to go beyond the mildly snarky
and well into the distasteful, and chose to unfollow him. His tweets were
not "tongue-in-cheek," but consistently gratuitous.
And what does
"I can now see how they can also be hurtful" mean? He couldn't see that
before? And it took him 800 offensive tweets to figure it out? If
that's the case, see my first point about his lousy judgment. I would have
preferred a more genuine apology along these lines:
"I disagree with the political views of many of the women I've criticized
on Twitter, but I should have focused my critiques solely on their ideas,
not on more personal matters. My critics are right on that point, and I
apologize. I will not repeat that mistake, and apologize for inflicting
unnecessary pain onto others."
Still, and here's the part that may surprise you, his tepid
half-apology will probably be enough drive this story out of the headlines.
Context matters, and many of these mini-controversies
during the early days of a general election cycle have short half-lives. His
apology will likely be just enough to reduce the story's shelf
But even though he may get away with it, he should know that
he unnecessarily sullied his reputation—and that a whole lot of people
aren't buying his apology.
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, where a version of this story first appeared. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining.