Clemens’ Media Relations Offensive is … Well, Offensive

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about baseball (only that the games seem interminable, and that the related metaphors, exhausted by every literary and non-literary genre, need to be struck from writers’ repertoires—current company included).  I’ll also say that the constant barrage of steroid accusations within the sport has diluted the impact of such claims into mere static, at least to the ears of non-fans.
However, the current chaos surrounding Roger Clemens and his alleged steroid use would catch the attention of any PR connoisseur on its media relations implications alone. On Monday, January 7, the pitching icon went on the PR offensive during a press conference in Houston, which ended abruptly with him walking out of the room after spewing his fair share of venom.  OK, I get it: Being accused of something as reputation-damning as this could rub you the wrong way, but you’ve got to keep it together in the public eye.
His performance the night before on 60 Minutes alone demonstrated his PR team kicking into high gear. The interview coincided with the electronic filing of Clemens’ defamation suit against his former trainer, and his interviewer—the usually tough, fearsome Mike Wallace—was uncharacteristically sympathetic toward Clemens.  In other words, Clemens was handed an opportunity to make his case on a golden platter, but he brushed the offering away brusquely with his overt bitterness.  It seemed like he felt bothered by the trouble, as if he just didn’t have the time to defend his good name. (“I cannot wait to go into the private sector,” he said during the news conference. “I’ve said enough.”)
In a case where, at least right now, it’s one man’s word against another’s, the best strategy would be to play up Clemens’ credibility and good character to the public via the media machine. ‘I’ve said enough,’ isn’t a defense or an answer to the charges; it only provokes more questions.

  • Marilyn Casey, APR

    I disagree with your PR commentary about Clemens. How can you say, on one hand (Ms. Hillary), that human emotions are ok, and then say that Clemens seemed cavalier with his answers. I believe he came across as someone angered by his trainer’s smear tactics, based on nothing more than profiting from publicity. I do believe that Clemens hedged a little on some questions, which will raise some doubt about his total innocence.

  • keith

    When the truth is on your side, you pound the truth. When the law is on your side, you pound the law. When nothing is on your side, you pound the table–and that is exactly what Clemens is doing.
    However, Clemens can still scrutinive the the acusations and look at the law to retaliate and save his name. If Clemens is telling the truth, he could bring down baseball, saving his name and getting one last giant payday.
    Clemens needs to attack McNamee’s 16 acusations and put pressure on the story. Crying to the media, spitting venom on everyone and playing a phone conversation to the media that causes more questions than it answers is probably the dumbest move I have ever seen.
    Clemens should fire everyone around him before they bring him down. When the Mitchell report came out all that faced him was the loss of his reputation. Now that he faces a Congressional supeona, lying could send him to prison, and right now, Clemens looks like a lier.

  • Dan Murphy

    Clemens has a mountain to climb to regain any credibility with the public — baseball fans or not. Part of the problem is that we’ve heard the “I’m outraged by this accusation” defense from Marion Jones (who also threatened to sue her accusers), Floyd Landis, Rafael Palmiero, Tim Montgomery, and on and on — only to find out they WERE using banned substances. So Clemens is suspect right out of the gate.
    Legally, we’re entitled to a presumption of innocence. In the court of public opinion, however, it doesn’t work that way.
    Moreover, McNamee, his accuser, is under a federal indictment, and if he lied in his depositions, he will be charged with perjury and end up in jail. Does anyone really believe this guy would make up an outrageous story about Clemens being injected repeatedly with steroids? For what? To embarrass him? To “get back at him?” And risk a federal prison sentence? Please.
    Clemens is angry that the media and the public question the fact that he enjoyed his best seasons statistically in his late 30s, and think that he might have used banned substances to help him get there. He and his advisers apparently believe that the louder he shouts, the more credible his denials will seem.
    Nice try, Roger. Crushing a couple softball questions from your pal Mike Wallace creates zero traction, and in fact does more harm than good. PR-wise, it carries about as much clout as that meaningless witness-stand question the defense attorneys ask their clients on Law and Order: “Did you kill the victim?” “Absolutely not.”
    Clemens’ fierce demeanor and simmering anger might be useful weapons on the mound, but they serve no purpose in public relations — other than to confirm what most people already suspect:
    The Rocket was likely fueled by something other than hard work and a game-day scowl.

  • Jay Smith

    The very thought that a person who is arguably one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, winner of seven Cy Young awards and a cinch to be voted into the Hall of Fame may end up not going to the Hall but to prison is hard to fathom. The best advice for Roger Clemens? No matter what happens, DO NOT lie under oath. Take the Fifth Amendment before Congress if you must, but don’t lie. From Martha Stewart to Marion Jones, doing jail time was a result of committing perjury, not the “crimes” they were accused of. Bill Clinton could have spared himself and the nation a year-long destructive impeachment battle had he simply told the truth about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. I have no way of knowing whether the accusations against Roger Clemens are true or false. But his handling of public and media relations to date has been atrocious. It calls to mind what the Boston Celtic’s Kevin McHale once said about one of Clemens’ past public relations mishaps: “They call him Rocket Man; not Rocket Scientist.”

  • Stu Opperman, APR

    Roger Clemens is being judged harshly in the court of public opinion, in large part, because he has made himself such an unsympathetic figure. If he “doesn’t give a rat’s ass” about anything, as he repeated numerous times in his press conference, then why should anyone go out of their way to give him the benefit of the doubt? Remember, innocent until proven guilty is due process in the legal system. It’s not an inalienable right where Clemens is currently being judged, in newspaper columns, blog postings and in gossip over the water cooler.

    If the Rocket wasn’t on the juice and other performance enhancers (and wouldn’t the conspiracy theorists have a field day citing ‘roid rage for Clemens snapping and throwing a jagged piece of broken bat at Mike Piazza?), then he needed to immediately stand up and say “I’m innocent, I have never used steroids or HGH, and I’ll gladly take a polygraph or go to any length to clear my name.” Instead, he stayed silent, watched his workout partner and best friend Andy Pettitte admit the accustations about him were true, hid behind his lawyer, and then got belligerent that anyone dared question him.

    We’re left with the audio of McNamee repeatedly asking, “What do you want me to do?” as Clemens sneakily taped a phone call without the trainer’s knowledge, and Roger never coming up with an answer to satisfy his former friend or the American public.