Kristen Stewart and Damage Control

I’m not a big fan of stalking celebrity couples.  I understand how it could be fun and I certainly can see why J.Lo’s opinion of the Foix Gras at Minion (pronounced min-yun-yonh) is of the utmost importance to our survival as a culture and as a people.  What I fail to understand when it comes to celebrity romances is why I should care about their relationships, their kids and especially their misdeeds.  They’re only human, folks!  I love it when the media acts surprised that an actor “fooled” his family into believing he was still faithful to his wife.  He’s an actor!  He does this for a living!  This is among the top reasons that I found it very difficult to accept the Reagan Presidency as something real and not as the awfully scripted romantic comedy that it appeared to be.  All of this notwithstanding, I was a little taken aback by all of the hoopla surrounding Kristen Stewart and that poor fellow that died in one of the Harry Potter movies.  People tell me that he is an actor of some type and is a co-star of Stewart’s.  I’ll take his word for it.

What drew me to this story initially wasn’t the shock value that it had, although it apparently did have a lot of shock value.  No, what drew me to the story were the unbelievably well scripted lines that came from her reps.  Seriously, Aaron Sorkin can’t write dialogue better than her publicists came up with to defend her actions.  Let’s take a look at what they came up with and why it was so revolutionary.  For our purposes it is probably best to construct a timeline of events because it is as the story breaks that the statements pack the biggest punch.  On the evening of July 24th or sometime in the morning of the 25th US Weekly ran a story with pictures of Kristen Stewart cheating on her boyfriend and worse, the person she was cheating with was married and had kids.  What was really tragic about all of this when you sit back and look at the pictures is that she doesn’t even seem to be enjoying herself.  If you’re going to cheat on somebody at least have a little fun with it!  The psychiatrists say that men cheat because the right opportunity presents itself and that women cheat because their needs are not being met by their partner.  This is to say that women are more likely to cheat because of what they’re not getting while men are more likely to cheat just because they can.

When the story broke on July 25th, People magazine cited a source and prominently featured the comment in the article about the affair.  The comment was: “she wasn’t having an affair with Rupert. It was just a fleeting moment that shouldn’t have happened, she never meant to hurt anyone. She’s a good person who just made a bad choice.”  This is amazing for a number of reasons.  First off there’s the denial, which is always step one in damage control, if you can deny it then deny it.  But then there’s the statement right after it that essentially confirms that something unethical happened.  “It was just a fleeting moment” and “she never meant to hurt anyone” are things that you say in defense of action, they’re not things you typically say after denying the existence of something.  If I came out and said: “I did not have sex with that woman” you might say that someone needs to provide proof before taking me to task.  What you wouldn’t hear me say is: “I didn’t have sex with that woman.  I made a temporary error in judgment and believe that I am at my core, a good person.”  That’s an extremely defensive posture to take for something that “didn’t really happen.”  If she didn’t have an affair with the guy then she didn’t do anything that she needs to apologize for.  End of story, but the comment went on and thus so did the story.

There were some things that were handled well in this statement however.  The “it was just a fleeting moment that shouldn’t have happened” part is a great line that I would recommend people write down.  You’ve heard of a “momentary lapse of reason” (likely because of the Pink Floyd album of the same name) now imagine that this momentary lapse of reason was fleeting and that it shouldn’t have happened to begin with.  That’s really good damage control if you’ve already admitted guilt.  The problem was that this person was trying to have it both ways and you can’t do that in damage control.  Consistency in your story is key in putting up a successful defense.  Sometimes you even need to write it down so that you don’t speak out of turn or out of context as this “source” did.

Let’s take a look at Stewart’s apology, which amazingly came out just hours after the reports by both People and US magazines were published.  Stewart said: “I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.”  I can pretty much see the writer of this statement sitting back and saying “insert tears here” by certain lines.  Certainly once you get to “the person I love and respect the most” would have been the point where teardrops would have had the optimal effect followed by a double sob during the “I love him, I love him” and a wonderful performance could have ensued with the line: “I’m so sorry.”  That’s the part you need to sell to the public right there.  Whether or not this guy forgives you or not is totally up to him, but the public makes or breaks your career as an actress, so that is what she needed to focus her attention on. The one thing that she didn’t touch on and I would have advised going this route simply because it would likely garner more sympathy would have been to play up her age.  Kristen Stewart is just 22 years old.  Do you have any idea how many mistakes I made when I was 22?  Think about it this way: do you remember all the problems you created when you were 22?  That was a gimme that probably could have added some sympathy especially with her younger fans.

All in all, this will either be looked at as a prime example of how to handle a relationship crisis in the future or it will be looked at as what not to do when in damage control.  I think we learned a lot last summer with the Anthony Weiner scandal and the big takeaway from that was that denial is only helpful if the story isn’t that bad.  If the story is bad then it might just be best to put everything out there and let the public absorb it.  The fact that Weiner didn’t do this may have cost him his seat in Congress.  Polls showed Weiner having a net-positive rating in his district during the first couple of weeks of the scandal, but once the news about his wife got out and the contents of his conversations with his girl on the side found their way into the hands of the media it seemed like it was game-set-match for him. The real lesson out of all of this is that you need to come out quick and you need to be incredibly comprehensive in how you handle the situation if you are going to be able to make it through the situation with whatever dignity you have left.

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