Don't Judge A Book By Its Controversy

While at WWJ this week on behalf of a client, I became engaged with a reporter and producer considering a segment on the current controversy related to author Jodi Kantor’s new book, “The Obamas.” Specifically, I was asked about Michelle Obama’s CBS interview, in which she stated she was not an “angry black woman”, and how I might advise a client in such a situation from a reputation management perspective.

While we all have an innate desire to protect our respective reputations, what you never want to do is potentially turn a one-day story into a 2-day or more story by saying something even more controversial. As such, it is always imperative to pick words carefully. Another rule of thumb in crisis management is avoid using negative terms that you don’t want to be associated with. State what you are, not what you aren’t.

Michelle Obama is a classy, intelligent woman – a role model to be emulated and looked up to by millions. In this case, I would have liked to have seen her diffuse the situation by demonstrating the book and its contents were really not worth commenting on. What if she had simply said: “I’m currently immersed in [name of another book] and enjoying it immensely.” Or, “My schedule unfortunately dictates limited time for reading. However, next on my list is [name of another book].”

When one comments on such a story, you risk fueling it further and, potentially, contribute to selling even more books and extending shelf life. Overall, though, this saga is poised to soon become much ado about nothing and another footnote in a long history of controversial books written about high-profile people.