The public has been inundated with news of Kanye West’s bad behavior at the VMA awards. Videos, tweets and articles have been spreading through cyberspace like wildfire, re-igniting the ever so popular contention that any PR is good PR. So what really happened after Kanye West took it upon himself to steal the show again? Maybe we should take a look at who is really responsible for all of this undeserved and tasteless PR activity. And, who cashed in on all of the hoopla?
Hip-Hop Star Toots Own Horn to a Free Audience
I’m sure you got a chance to watch how Kanye West interrupted the popular country singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMA Awards. If you happened to miss it, you can view the entire incident at MTV.com. This isn’t the first time West has behaved badly just to rant and rave about what he feels is right or wrong in his unjust world. It seems as though West’s ability to unexpectedly publicize his opinion at inappropriate times is something we’ve actually learned to expect from this hip-hop star. Just Google kanye west behaving badly and you’ll get quite a few results to that effect.
An Award-Winning Singer Robbed Onstage
Whether you recall the incident from watching it on live television or just viewed the link above, the transformation of an excited and talented singer to a very shocked and emotional teen is obviously apparent. Swift was literally stunned to the point of standing frozen on stage, and who wouldn’t be? Robbed of her rights to thank her fans, the very people who chose her as the winner of the award for Best Female Video, in a way that would have come naturally to her.
Videos showed the shock on not only Swift’s face, but on the face of Beyoncé, the very person that West took it upon himself to defend. Thank goodness for compassion and class as it was later on that Beyoncé recalled winning her first VMA award before encouraging a brave Swift to join her on stage for a second chance to show gratitude. A class act, no doubt.
An Unarmed Obama in an Off-the-Record Attack
Did US President Barrack Obama need to remember that nothing he says is ever off the record? Former White House correspondent Terry Moran was not worried about it obviously. He just wanted to pose the leading question: Does your president deserve your respect? Which brings us to the more relevant issue: News Correspondents in Violation of an Unwritten SPJ Code of Ethics and Interviewing Etiquette.
Although there is no written rule that states that any chitchat before an actual interview begins is thought of as off-the-record, it is an unwritten guideline in broadcast etiquette. To dismiss this, Terry Moran, and a handful of other ABC reporters, have now put themselves into a position where their understanding of ethics must be questioned. Maybe President Obama was aware of this unwritten rule? Maybe he was being candid with reporters as an ice-breaking prelude to yet another grueling interview? It does not matter, as the reporters were under the constraints of their own profession, however tainted that has become.
And, not to get stuck on Moran so much, but what about the areas of the SPJ Code of Ethics, clearly on paper and all over the Web, that he failed to practice during this journalistic blunder? A particular section of this ethical code, titled Minimize Harm, jumps out at me while I consider Moran’s true intentions in winning the race to twansfer a tweet over Twitter.
The code of Ethics clearly states:
“Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect”, and goes further to suggest that journalists “Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.”
And, it suggests further that reporters:
“Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”
I am just wondering how tweeting “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor swift won. Now THAT’S presidential,” isn’t in violation of ethical procedure. I have to agree with those who believe that just the fact that the tweet was retracted shows that this was irresponsible on behalf of the winner of this PR race.
A Sugarcoating Network Offering a Slap on the Wrist
And ABC acted quickly. All tweets were retracted within an hour. Now that’s moving quickly. An ABC spokesperson contacted Politico to explain:
“In the process of reporting on remarks by President Obama that were made during a CNBC interview, ABC News employees prematurely tweeted a portion of those remarks that turned out to be from an off-the-record portion of the interview. This was done before our editorial process had been completed. That was wrong. We apologize to the White House and CNBC and are taking steps to ensure that it will not happen again.”
It’s hard to see how this can replace a comment specifically directed to over 1,000,000 followers. Once again, the damage is done. It’s already out there. Hasn’t anyone learned anything yet?
So Let’s Assess the Damages
Well, it’s easy to hold Kanye West responsible for starting all of this bad PR. Like I said before, we have all pretty much learned to accept it. Who else would have the guts to dress up like Jesus one day, take a once in a lifetime moment away from a teenager another day and then try to take it back on national television during an interview with Leno by playing the remorseful victim?
Then there are the ABC employees who clearly violated a code of ethics, even though it is a voluntarily commitment, thus showing a huge lack of responsibility on their part. Even if they momentarily justified themselves in serving the public’s overriding need to know that President Obama just said a bad word during an off-the-record discussion. Even though they took it back.
And who cashed in on the deal? Kanye, of course, slipped away from this with a pretty big piece of the PR pie. First, by giving the public the outburst they anticipated all along, and then by playing the victim during an interview with talk show host Jay Leno, who, by the way, also benefited from higher ratings for the night. Then, although blindsided by her adversary, Swift remained the sweet country singer we have all grown to love, gaining sympathy from her fans and other bleeding hearts around the globe.
We can also say kudos to Beyoncé for her no-good-deed-is-left-undone approach. Hats off to Moran for winning the Twitter tweet race in his efforts to leak off-the-record information, and an honorable mention goes to his fellow ABC accomplices who loyally kept up. Congratulations to the View with their quick and strategic move to invite Swift to the show. Go ABC! And don’t forget Twitter, MTV, Fox News and every other TV network who diligently followed each chain of events.
Some may say that President Obama endured the most unfortunate outcome, adding a loss of respect to his already declining approval rating. But maybe, just maybe, some will see him as an honest man, who was just hanging around with a news staff, being a normal guy, and saying what every person in the room was thinking. Because in the end, even though dignity is lost, ethics are compromised and opinions are swayed, everyone wins when any PR is good PR.