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Katie Hill Flunks PR 101 – And Blames The World

Right from the start, let’s make clear that this column is not about the substance of the various charges bandied about by Katie Hill, recently late of the United States House of Representatives by way of the 25th Congressional District of California, and her allies.

It’s also not about whether the scandal that drove her from a seemingly skyrocketing career (she was taken under Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s wing and incredibly, voted vice chair of the influential House Oversight Committee in her first month in Congress) was set in motion, as Ms. Hill and her allies claim, by “digital exploitation” in the form of “revenge porn,” or a “double standard, or a “coordinated campaign” by “GOP enemies” and “operatives.”

Put it all aside. The true, plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face, and repeated-ad-nauseam lesson is one as old as humankind itself, stemming from the moment Abel’s “blood cried out” his brother Cain’s sin.

And that lesson is that if there is bad stuff out there about you – especially if you’re a public figure – it’s coming out. It would be “Public Relations 101” – if it didn’t predate PR.

If you are a candidate for and then a member of Congress – i.e., the most public of public figures – and…

  • You and your husband engage in a threesome relationship taking advantage of your position, in classic #metoo fashion, over a 22-year-old female campaign aide and
  • You heartlessly dump this aide upon your elevation to Congress and
  • You (allegedly) move straight from this relationship to an affair with another subordinate, this time your legislative director, that violated Congressional ethics rules and
  • You permit the first relationship to be memorialized not only in written communications (email, the bane of all company lawyers’ and crisis communicators’ existence) and dozens of regular pictures but also in “naked pictures” of you with the campaign aide and
  • You allow another picture to be taken of you and your uncovered, tattooed privates in full party mode with a bong (Michael Phelps, call your office) and
  • Your husband is posting another naked picture of you and advertising you on a public wife swap site and
  • You are the second-ranking member of an investigative committee whose business is to make enemies digging into other people’s private affairs (so to speak), and have been outspoken on alleged abusive conduct of other high-ranking individuals…

…(pause for effect, deep breath)…

Congratulations! You have totally, completely and beyond any shadow of any doubt flunked PR 101 – and brought the full consequences on yourself.

The old “Washington Post Rule” for people in politics or business is fully apposite here: “Don’t ever put anything in writing that you don’t want to see published on the front page of the Washington Post.” (A rule this writer has witnessed being observed in the breach, involving the revelation of a particularly unfortunate memo laid out on – you guessed it – the front page of that very publication.)

A rule that doubly (or in this case, triply) applies to photographic evidence (a picture being worth … well, you know).

And a rule super-hyper-uber-charged by the dawn and development of electronic communications of all nature, but especially social media, by the scrutiny of a dramatically broadened media that has set all convention aside, and by ever-more relentless, ruthless and ravenous partisan divisions and warfare.

Whether or not you are bisexual, female, the victim of a vengeful husband, or the target of really not nice political enemies, the reality is that Congresswoman Hill behaved in a crude, reckless, unthinking and, in the immortal words of Tom Cruise’s character in A Few Good Men, galactically stupid manner.

And as a result, for whatever reason or no reason at all, her sad, sordid personal story, her ethical misdeeds, and her graphic and prurient pics were, sooner or later, going to see the light of day.

The legendary Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards once joked with reporters that the only way he could lose an upcoming election “is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

No matter how much she wants to blame the rest of the world, Ms. Hill has lost her seat in Congress just about the only way she could have: through her own careless and apparently cavalier attitude, she was allegedly caught in bed with, and abusing her position of authority over, a live boy and girl.

And the result of her thoughtless breach of PR 101 is pretty much a dead career.


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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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