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Scandal

Gay Blackmail and Scandal at the Vatican!

The VaticanWe knew Ratzinger’s retirement was a little weird! Today’s most interesting story comes to us by way of an Italian paper which claims that Pope Benedict XVI decided to step down and abandon his Twitter feed after receiving a 300-page “bound in red” dossier from the team of cardinals he delegated to investigate Vatileaks, the church’s worst “seriously, the butler did it” PR scandal in years.

The dossier supposedly revealed that a number of prelates within the Vatican, united by the fact that they all happen to be gay, have been blackmailed by “laymen with whom they had links of a ‘worldly nature’” and that “Everything revolves around the non-observance of the sixth and seventh commandments” (the ones that say “don’t steal or commit adultery”). The idea here is that, if the prelates didn’t do whatever these third parties wanted them to do, their covert Gay Mafia would be revealed to the public. And Benedict resigned in order to avoid doing more damage to the church’s reputation.

Juicy! Here’s the kicker: the Vatican “refuses to confirm or deny” the report. Its PR man says that “We shall not be following up on the observations that are made about this”.

On the one hand, we want to congratulate these guys for not following the Lance Armstrong “lie and deny” damage control strategy. On the other hand, “no comment” doesn’t really resolve anything. And we know how much the public loves to speculate…

Most importantly, we can’t wait for Dan Brown to tell us what this all means.

Burger King Admits That Its Sandwiches May Contain Delicious Pony Meat

Saddle up for the week’s biggest PR fail: Burger King, a chain long known for its absolutely positively top-notch ingredients, finally admitted that some of its UK sandwiches might just happen to contain traces of horse meat (hey, at least this guy died in ignorant bliss).

After reports surfaced of a top supplier selling beef products packed with pony flesh, Burger King quickly dropped the suspect firm while simultaneously issuing ‘absolute assurances’ (aka denials) that any of its trademark Whoppers could be tainted by even the tiniest bits of the mares in question.

After performing DNA tests of samples taken from a single production plant, the company released a statement confirming that they showed “the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA”. Now other top meat-oriented companies are taking pains to distance themselves from Silvercrest, an Irish distributor which for some time apparently included “meat off-cuts, including horse…imported in large frozen blocks from Poland” in its shipments to big UK brands like BK and the supermarket Tesco.

Now come charges of a deep-reaching cover up as Burger King races to preserve business as usual at its 500 UK locations. A spokesperson for a British food safety advocacy group called the company’s response “very shabby”, noting that “It really is not the open, honest and transparent way that we expect a major food company to treat its customers.”

Come on, guys. Didn’t Lance Armstrong teach us that vigorous denials only make the guilty look worse in retrospect?

And now for the requisite grossout joke: Next time we’re in London we’ll make sure not to order the “foal and chips.” Ugh…

Katie Couric Scores Manti Te’o Interview (They Share a Publicist, BTW)

Katie Couric Manti Te'o InterviewSo Manti Te’o, who most Americans believe to be a big old liar, visited Katie Couric‘s office for his first official post-scandal interview, set to air tomorrow. While we’re interested in the fact that he admitted to “briefly” lying about the fake dead girlfriend hoax for six weeks after learning that he’d been duped (yeah right), we’d like to examine the “Inside PR” aspects of the story.

We love Katie and all, but no one would call her a sports journalist–and we don’t feel like the scandal is quite big enough to justify a trip to Oprah-land (though the Te’o family apparently considered Oprah and Dr. Phil before settling for Couric). So how did she score this top interview? Well, the fact that the two parties share a publicist certainly didn’t hurt. That’s right–Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies (MediaBeat interview after the jump) now performs crisis comms/damage control duties for both Couric and Te’o, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Te’o chose Couric over both Oprah and ESPN.

Is this standard operating procedure? Or does it raise even more questions about the players involved in this sordid tale?

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Beyoncé Lip-Syncs the National Anthem, Public Shrugs

So, you may have heard about the scandal of the day: Beyoncé did not perform the National Anthem live at yesterday’s inauguration. Quelle horreur! You think we’re joking, but people have been debating this online: Is she a horrible person? How should she phrase her sincere apology?

We’re not big fans or anything, but we don’t quite understand why some people think this is a big deal–and we certainly don’t expect any apologetic follow-up appearances. It’s not like she’s Milli Vanilli, who weren’t anywhere near the studio where their “hits” were produced. Even Yo-Yo Ma, acclaimed cellist who obviously could have played it live, chose not to play it live in 2009.

Still, she is a pop star, and public perception is very important to her career. We have a feeling Lady Gaga would have made a joke out of the fact that she wasn’t singing live–which is probably why no one invited her to perform.

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PR Disaster: Notre Dame Star Manti Te’o's Fake Dead Girlfriend

Mani Te'oIt was every sports journalist’s dream story: Promising college senior, Heisman trophy runner-up and near-certain first round NFL draft pick Manti Te’o suffers the deaths of his grandmother and his beautiful, supportive girlfriend within 24 hours–just before dominating the field in his team’s upset victory and continuing his streak as one of the nation’s most promising college football players. His heartbreaking tale of grief and victory quickly spreads beyond the world of sports.

One problem, though: it wasn’t true.

Deadspin broke the astonishing story yesterday as a web of complex lies promoted by some of our most respected publications began to unravel and the damage control campaign began.

A summary for those who haven’t been following: Manti Te’o is a gifted football player and devout Mormon from Hawaii who claimed, via his Twitter feed and various public statements, to have developed a relationship with a woman known as Lennay Kekua who he supp0sedly met after a 2009 game between Stanford and his team, Notre Dame. She had a Twitter account with which Te’o frequently interacted, expressing his love and encouraging his fans to follow her sister (both fake accounts were later deleted).

Then came the news that, right after the (real) death of Manti’s beloved grandmother last September, Kekua passed away from leukemia approximately a month after suffering a serious car accident. Manti doesn’t attend her funeral because she had insisted that he not miss a game. South Bend Tribune fleshed out the story through interviews with Te’o before Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBS, the New York Post, The Associated Press and pretty much everybody else in the media world reported on it. Someone set up a charity in Kekua’s name. Manti Te’o was an American classic: the tragic hero.

And then things began to fall apart.

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Social Security Administration Withdraws Complaint Against Gassy Employee

If you want to get all technical on us, this is more of an HR story than a PR story, but it has certainly changed our perception of the Social Security Administration, so we’ll let it rip anyway.

The SSA recently earned a bit of unwanted publicity by formally reprimanding a federal employee for…excessive flatulence.

That’s right: this airy, fortunately anonymous man earned the ire of his colleagues thanks to his chronic inability to avoid being…gassy in the workplace (you can see why we struggled to find an appropriate stock photo). The language his superiors used to knock the wind out of his sails is worth reading, and senior officials’ quick attempts to quash the story make for an amusing case study in PR damage control.

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Was the Kate Middleton Prank Call Tragedy Avoidable?

Kate Middleton Prince William In a very public attempt at damage control, the Australian radio station behind the prank call to Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s hospital has issued an apology, suspended the DJs involved, and now looks to take further steps to rescue its reputation.

While we hesitate to draw a line between the call and the subsequent suicide of the nurse/receptionist who answered it, the station has also agreed to donate all advertising profits from now until the end of the year to the woman’s family (according to a statement, the donation will amount to at least $500,000). While this offer is incredibly generous, we have to say that it all feels like “too little, too late.”

Now Australian PR man Lyall Mercer of Mercer PR weighs in, writing that both the station and the hospital should have been able to foresee the risks of their actions. First, he thinks that the hospital, knowing that any security breach would attract widespread attention, should have developed specific policies “to protect the world’s most famous people”.

We’re not quite sure we agree with that sentiment because the hospital is a public health facility, but we certainly do believe that producers at the station “should have read the future better”, because “even if the prank ‘succeeded’, there was still the real possibility of a nasty public backlash due to the fact that they called a hospital”.

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Uh Oh: ‘Gangnam Style’ Star Allegedly Rapped About Killing American Soldiers

PSYYou’ve probably heard that Korean artist PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ recently became the most-watched YouTube video ever (we’re proud to say we still don’t get it). He may be a novelty act to Westerners, but he’s a big name now, and he’s scheduled to appear at a Washington, D.C. Christmas concert attended by the First Family next month.

As of today, though, he has some serious explaining to do.

American media outlets just caught on to a story, first noticed on a CNN site earlier this year and reported last week by South Korean magazine Haps, about PSY’s less appealing past: turns out he once (allegedly) covered a song with extremely inflammatory lyrics about killing American soldiers and their family members. This is a rough translation:

Kill those f–ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f–ing Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully

We can’t claim to completely understand the context of what will inevitably become a huge story, but there’s little doubt that PSY was involved in protests against the US military in the early aughts.

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UK Tabloid PR Man Busted for Sex Crimes

Max CliffordSeems like everyone in the UK media world had way too much fun in the 70’s, doesn’t it?

The latest chapter in Britain’s never-ending sex scandal, however, may the most ironic of the bunch. Owner of amazing eyebrows Max Clifford is a bigtime UK PR man who we’ve covered before (and who represented such clients as a certain obscure goat-herder named Simon Cowell). He made his name breaking trashy tabloid stories—and getting sued for them! Many of his “greatest hits” happened to involve sexual scandals, “toe sucking” and “hamster sandwiches”—classy stuff, that.

This week the esteemed Mr. Clifford found himself arrested for undisclosed sexual offenses dating back three decades as part of an ongoing “inquiry” by UK law enforcement.

That’s not the worst part of this story, though. Here’s a quote from an interview that the oh-so-wise Clifford granted a couple of weeks ago:

“I think there’s a lot of very famous people that are very concerned, very frightened. In the 60s and 70s, everything opened up. All kinds of things were going on. At the time, these were young guys, many of them were being pursued in dressing rooms and concert halls and everywhere they went by young girls. A lot of them have trouble remembering what happened two weeks ago, let alone 40 years ago or more.”

Ah yes, the eternal struggles of successful men “being pursued” by young, sex-crazed girls. Next week we’ll bring you the latest chapter in our definitive PR guidebook, How to Make Yourself Look Like a Horse’s Ass.

‘Gay Cure’ Therapists Sued for Fraud

AP Photos/Tara Todras-WhitehillDepending on how closely you follow the news, you may have heard a bit about one of this country’s most unusual cottage industries: A series of independent practitioners offering a service called “reparative” or, more colloquially, “gay cure” therapy. The niche discipline is popular enough to earn an official ban from the State of California (when applied to subjects under the age of 18).

These “medical” professionals claim to be able to relieve individuals suffering from unwanted bouts of homosexuality; they’ve received a bit of attention from the political press over the past few years, and they’re about to face the biggest PR challenge in the history of their (relatively new) practice.

The most interesting part about this case is that it concerns the Orthodox Jewish community, most of whose members believe homosexuality to be forbidden by the Torah. Four young men whose rabbis urged them to seek reparative therapy with a group called JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) are now suing the organization for fraud with the backing of the Southern Poverty and Law Center, a non-profit known for defending those with contradictory opinions both popular and unpopular.

The defendants’ lawsuit states that the group, whose director believes that “homosexuality is a learned behavior, which can be unlearned”, falsely advertised its services—and some of the practices involved in the JONAH “solution” are unconventional, to say the least.

One thing is clear: the immediate future presents a series of uphill battles for gay cure therapists.

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