PR Disaster: 2009 was ‘Year of Brazen Fraud’

Time again for Force for Good’s annual PR Disaster of the Year.

For 2009, this infamous award is shared by several hoaxers, poseurs and liars who helped make 2009 “the year of brazen fraud.”

First and foremost, was the “Balloon Boy Family,” the adorable (not!) Heenes of Colorado who launched a flimsy, silver-colored, helium-inflated flying saucer and managed to con the nation’s news networks into several hours of breathless coverage (while Army jets were scrambled and havoc wreaked with Denver air traffic) predicated on the belief that six-year-old Falcon Heene was on-board. Richard Heene and his wife concocted the hoax in an effort to sell a concept for a new reality TV show. How fitting that Falcon spilled the beans on CNN with the candid line that provided a fitting tag-line for 2009: “We did it for the show.”

In the category of “aren’t their 15 minutes over” are White House party crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi. They pretended to have scored an invitation to the Obama Administration’s first state dinner. They successfully snuck in. Secret Service took the bullet for the security lapse. Congress held a hearing that was skipped by the Salahis (as well as the White House social secretary who clearly deserved part of the blame for letting the Salahis get through to the President). But we didn’t need the crashers to testify — they already were making the rounds on television talk shows. Once again, motivation for boorish behavior stemmed from a breathless desire for a spot on a reality show, in this case “Real Housewives of Washington.” Are you bored yet?

Brazenness was taken to a whole new level when environmental activists posed as Chamber of Commerce leaders and held a well-attended press conference at the national Press Club in Washington to “announce” that the influential business organization had reversed itself and would support legislation to to address climate change concerns. The stunt angered just about everyone involved, including the duped news organizations, the Chamber of Commerce and even many environmental groups which rightly felt the stunt was beneath any organization wanting to be taken seriously in a complex policy debate.

Lame cover stories (aka lies) used to explain inexplicable behavior: hard to top disappearing South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who was not hiking the Appalachian trail but in fact meeting up with his Argentinian mistress. Then his maudlin public apology made him seem even more ridiculous.

Standing alone atop the list of the serially unfaithful, Tiger Woods seized global attention with a bizarre’ car accident, in which his attending wife turned out to have had a dozen or more good reasons to break the glass in the rear windows of Tigers’ SUV, none of which involved dragging Tiger to safety, as first reported. Tiger pleaded for privacy, somehow hoping to avoid the subsequent avalanche of forth-coming mistresses.

Dishonorable mention — the White House functionary who authorized in the deepest throes of the Great Recession a hugely expensive photo-op that never produced a usable image but did manage to frighten hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. How could it ever have seemed a good idea to okay a mission involving Air Force One and a trailing fighter jet in a low-altitude fly-over circling lower Manhattan. Didn’t any of that imagery ring a bell?

- Jon Harmon

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