Weiner’s Caught Between His Tweets and a Hard… Oh, Don’t Make Me Say It

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So much has been said and written about the Anthony Weiner story that I won’t pile on or reiterate what’s already out there. The whole situation is sad, pathetic and vile in the same breath.

But I did have a public relations observation about the whole phenomenon of public meltdowns like these, and how the people caught up in them fare.

When handling (no pun intended) PR situations like these, the folks at the wheel of the car wreck often want to jump to the end of the storyline and put things back together. My previous post on Crisis Planning explains why this is impossible. But there’s one thing that is near guaranteed to work in Weiner’s favor: us.

We Americans have a near limitless (and sometimes disturbing) ability to let things slide. We don’t necessarily forgive, and we don’t forget, either. But as a culture, we tend to let the details of scandal mellow over time, fade to gray and not rile us up the way they did when the story was fresh.

I know you’re horrified by the half naked pictures and dirty emails to porn stars now, but will you still be in a year? I bet you won’t. (NOTE: This is NOT a defense of Rep. Weiner or his behavior. This is an observation on our culture.)

Whether it’s a public official (too numerous to name), a pro athlete (Tiger Woods, Michael Vick), or a celebrity (Britney Spears, Michael Richards) behaving badly, the best recoveries from public implosions are mostly characterized by those who have made immediate apologies, beat hasty retreats and successfully stayed out of trouble for a bit.

In time, and in small doses, the person can reenter the cultural consciousness, and we eventually welcome back the one we once shunned. If they have planned their comeback correctly, we even crave their presence. Just like the person at the center of the crisis, we have an undeniable thirst to have things back the way they once were too, and we allow it to those who sincerely try to get there. In short: we love a comeback.

We see Arnold Schwarzenegger caught up in this public implosion cycle right now, John Edwards is dodging subpoenas and arrest warrants, and details about Anthony Weiner’s self-made troubles are rolling over the American consciousness like a tsunami.

As of this writing, Weiner is refusing to resign. This arrogant, “I didn’t do anything illegal so it’s not your business” course of action will certainly be met with more calls for his head. While a House ethics investigation may produce nothing, the media has already transformed him into a human pinata. There’s more salaciousness spilling out with every whack of the news cycle stick. If he has any hope of ever recovering, he needs to step away soon, and with a more sincere apology than was delivered the other day. A full fall on the sword and an exit, stage left.

If he does, he can be assured of the public’s eventual selective and cleansing amnesia (and a new scandal to replace his). Only then can he start to rebuild his public image and reputation. And if we are satisfied with his sincerity and humility, we might even help him rebound.

For the sake of the impressionable children who are watching and learning lessons on how we behave as a society, I hope he does the right thing.

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