There’s plenty of competition for the dubious distinction of worst video media disaster of the year. Someone has to do something spectacularly dumb to receive the honor.
In 2010, the award went to BP CEO Tony Hayward
, who told cameras “I’d like my life back” after his company’s massive oil rig disaster killed 11 workers.
In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner
(D-N.Y.) nabbed the award, for obvious reasons.
In 2012, Senate candidate Todd Akin
(R-Mo.) became notorious for his claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Who will join their ranks this year? Read on…
No. 3: Lance Armstrong rides into infamy
After years of denying doping allegations, suing former teammates, and bullying everyone who got in his way, cycling champion Lance Armstrong finally admitted what many people already knew: that he was a cheat.
Armstrong selected Oprah Winfrey to host his on-air confessional
, a lengthy interview aired on two consecutive nights. But Armstrong’s carefully parsed and evasive responses did more harm than good, leaving an indelible impression that he was still being untruthful. (Oprah even asked whether he was a sociopath
For example, Armstrong denied doping after 2005. But evidence
presented by the USADA suggests he doped through 2009; if that’s true, he lied during his admission.
One of his lowest moments came when discussing a phone call with Betsy Andreu, wife of cyclist Frankie Andreu. When recounting the phone call, Armstrong seemed to find it funny that although he admitted calling her “crazy” and “a bitch,” he didn’t call her “fat.” He grinned at his apparent wit, as if he was a mischievous kid who thought his cruelty was somehow amusing.
In another stunning moment, he admitted that he couldn’t remember everyone he had sued because he had sued so many people.
A Survey USA
poll taken shortly after the interview found that only 17 percent of respondents thought he was being completely honest. (Those are probably the same people who tell pollsters the U.S. Congress is doing a good job.)
In the clip below, Armstrong tells Oprah that he “deserves” to be allowed to compete again.
No. 2: Paula Deen cooks up trouble
Paula Deen, the Food Network’s southern-cooking celebrity chef, found herself in hot water
(or, more appropriate to her style of cooking, a vat of butter and lard) in June after The National Enquirer
released details of racist remarks she’s made.
During a legal deposition in a workplace discrimination suit, Deen admitted having used the N-word and making racist jokes.
The most disturbing moment may have come when she admitted that she wanted to emulate a wedding she had recently attended in which the wait staff was made up of “middle-aged black men.” That wedding, she said, evoked fond feelings for her of a Civil War-era, “really Southern plantation wedding.”
Deen made the mistake of waiting two days to apologize personally—and when she did, her apology (her first of several) was a mess—one of the worst I’ve ever seen.
A few days later, Deen sobbed through a bizarre, out-of-control, and uncomfortable interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show.
[RELATED: Learn to write a great speech, no matter what time crunch you're in.]
With better crisis management, Deen could have come through this crisis less scarred. Yes, she would have paid a price, but I’m convinced that her poor crisis response contributed mightily to the magnitude of her disaster—including the loss of her Food Network contract and several lucrative endorsement deals.
She may eventually redeem herself enough to make a good living again, but it’s unlikely she’ll ever reclaim her prior success.
No. 1: Rob Ford cracks up
It’s hard to imagine too many people keeping their jobs after the year
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has had.
In May, the U.S. website Gawker
published a report claiming its staffers had seen a video of Ford smoking crack
. Ford denied those allegations for months, until finally admitting that he had, in fact, smoked crack
Ford didn’t simply admit smoking crack. He blamed reporters for his earlier lack of candor by claiming their questions months earlier had been asked using the wrong tense: Inquiring, “Do you smoke crack cocaine?” as opposed to asking, “Have you ever
smoked crack cocaine?”
He also added a new page to the crisis communications playbook by casually blaming his drug use on being in a “drunken stupor.”
Ford’s lowest moment—and the one I’m naming the worst video media disaster of the year—has to do with his casual mention of the amount of oral sex he engages in at home.
During a press scrum, Ford denied charges that he had sexually harassed a former special assistant named Olivia Gondek. But the manner in which he did it was shockingly crass and unnecessarily graphic.
Ford capped off that ignominious day with yet another spousal indignity. He called a press conference to apologize for using such graphic language to describe his sex life. As he stood before reporters, his humiliated wife stood on the side of the stage, her eyes cast downward.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story originally appeared.