Over the past week American headlines have been full of a series of controversial PR blunders, one seemingly worse than the next.
First there was Pepsi's ill-advised ad starring Kendall Jenner that somehow attempted to tap into the Black Lives Matter movement and other recent political protests to not only sell us a soda but to suggest that sharing one could solve all of our problems.
Pepsi quickly pulled the ad. While it raised salient discussion over the appropriative nature of advertising and questions about diversity in the industry, at least the only direct victims were Pepsi's reputation and possibly Kendall Jenner's career as a corporate spokesmodel.
Then along came United Airlines. The company somehow managed to up the anger ante on the already unpopular practice of purposely overbooking flights by reportedly dragging a bloodied passenger off a plane. Even when it turned out that the passenger was a Dr. David Dao, who reportedly gave up his medical license at one point over a criminal conviction, the internet was still like, 'You know what though, the airline is still wrong for this one.'
It seemed as if no one could top that one-two punch of PR crises.
Then, of course, almost right one cue, we were all reminded about the kind of dog and pony show currently occupying the West Wing. Yes, leave it to Donald Trump and his staff to make Pepsi and United's blunders look like small potatoes and remind us all who can really manage to create a controversy out of thin air.
This afternoon, White House press secretary Sean Spicer managed to deny central facts about the Holocaust in order to downplay the relatively evilness of one Adolph Hitler during a press briefing. All this during the Jewish holiday of Passover.
While trying to defend the Trump administration's recent military strike against Syria's ruling Bashar al Assad regime after it had used chemical weapons on its own people, Spicer muttered, "Y’know, you had a—someone who is despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to the, to the, to using chemical weapons."
Indeed, as anyone even vaguely familiar with one of the greatest human tragedies of recent history is aware, Hitler did use chemical weapons. They were called gas chambers.
When this was pointed out to Spicer, he somehow managed to equivocate, and pointed out that the regimes of Assad and Hitler had used chemical in different ways, so, you know, it was apparently totally different.
“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no—he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad [sic] is doing. I mean, there was clearly..." he said. "I understand your point. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. There was not, in the, he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But I’m saying, in the way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of town, it was brought. So, the use of it—I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.”
Spicer then sent out not one, not two, but three separate clarifications, this being only the latest try:
Pepsi managed to quickly apologize and pull their ad. United bungled their response. Neither, of course, had to clarify their position four times in just a few hours. If Trump was supposed to bring business acumen to the executive branch, how is that his press staff can't even handle a controversy half as well as corporation who didn't even handle their controversies that well to begin with?
We've presently got a White House out here trying to equivocate about the Holocaust during Passover, and Spicer's comments have managed to draw rebukes from everyone from the Anne Frank Center to the United States Holocaust Museum to Barbra Streisand, to point out just a few among many.
Even if there weren't concerns that seniors members of the Trump administration hold anti-semitic views and the very real strain of anti-semitism that runs through the Trump-supporting gutter of the alt-right and its fellow travelers, this would still be a nightmare situation for any presidential administration.
All of this in the midst of a run that some had begun to view as the best streak in Trump's presidency so far, at least by his standards. Most of the recent intrigue has centered on behind-the-scenes power struggles, and not amateur hour-quality administration officials embarrassingly blundering out in public. Even Kellyanne Conway has kept herself out of trouble (if only because fewer and fewer outlets are willing to book her on air).
Clearly, the PR people at both Pepsi and United must be glad something has emerged to take over the headlines.
The Trump administration meanwhile finds itself in another offensive publicity quagmire that not even one Kendall Jenner carrying a Pepsi can fix.
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