“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” the old saying goes, but former public relations executive Justine Sacco — fired by IAC after an insensitive AIDS tweet while on route to Africa — now knows that’s just not true.
Her career may have been put on an unwanted holiday hiatus, but she can take comfort in knowing that her misstep on Twitter was just a blip on 2013’s public relations radar, which was chock full of juicy controversy that media consumers couldn’t get enough of.
From Anthony Weiner’s second sex scandal to Obamacare’s messy rollout, here are the five most memorable publicity disasters of the year:
Anthony Weiner’s weiner gets him in more trouble — while he’s campaigning to become the mayor of New York City, nonetheless
Anthony Weiner’s political career crumbled in 2011 after accidentally tweeting a picture of his private parts very publicly to a female follower on Twitter, but he decided to pick up the pieces last May and make a run for New York City’s mayor’s office. All hopes of a comeback were dashed when more allegations of post-Congressional sexting emerged. Although Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, stood by his side at a press conference in the wake of the scandal, the embarrassing plot thickened when his sexting partner revealed herself to be Sydney Leathers. She then proceeded to reveal plenty of more details about their naughty online relationship. To make matters worse, Weiner’s communications director, Barbara Morgan, went on an expletive-filled rant against a former intern while speaking to a reporter. The uphill battle following the publicity disaster proved too steep to recover from, and Weiner ultimately finished a distant fifth place in the election with just under 5 percent of the city’s vote.
Paula Deen destroys her entire empire with one word
Paula Deen admitted to using the N-word — but not in a “mean” way — in a deposition last May after a former restaurant employee filed a lawsuit against the celebrity chef. Deen quickly begged for forgiveness, but that didn’t prevent the Food Network from parting ways with her. Even after a teary-eyed appearance on “Today” aimed at convincing viewers she was not racist, professional relationships with QVC, Sears, Kmart, Target and diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk soured. The discrimination lawsuit that spurred Deen’s dramatic downfall was amicably resolved in August, and she began making public appearances again in September. Only time will tell if she’ll ever truly be able to move beyond the shadow of one of the mightiest PR messes of 2013.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford addresses drug problem by promising to work on his weight problem
Toronto’s trouble with Rob Ford became an American fascination in May when Gawker editor John Cook described a video he had seen featuring the politician smoking crack. The report quickly triggered a media frenzy on both sides of the Canadian border. While Ford denied the allegations, he became a common punchline on late-night programs across the country. Ford finally came clean about using the illegal street drug in November, but instead of promising constituents and critics that he’d get help for his addiction, he made media rounds to address the real problem: His weight.
“I’m not in any drug treatment programs,” Ford told “Today” host Matt Lauer last month. “I have a weight issue. I’ve been training every day. All I can say, Matt, actions speak louder than words. I invite you to come back. Give me five or six months and if they don’t see a difference, I’ll eat my words.”
Also more important than rehab? Launching a talk show on television. It was swiftly cancelled, allowing Canada’s most controversial politician more time to focus on his exercise regimen.
“60 Minutes” interviews a witness to the 2012 Benghazi attack… who didn’t actually witness the attack
“60 Minutes” made an embarrassing mistake in October when it failed to properly vet Dylan Davies, a British security officer claiming to have fought off a terrorist during the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. According to multiple incident reports, he was never even there, leading correspondent Lara Logan to issue an apology for the faulty reporting. The apology, however, was not enough for many critics, and lampooned in late-night comedy. Logan and “60 Minutes” producer Max McClellan were prompted to take a leave of absence from the show after a journalistic review inspired CBS News chairman Jeff Fager to “make adjustments at ’60 Minutes’ to reduce the chances” of a similar incident happening again.
President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act debuts to problem after problem after problem
President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was a tough sell from the start, and was constantly challenged by opponents up until the Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding the law last June. Obama’s administration hoped help from Hollywood could turn the tide of public opinion, but the real opportunity to silence critics came with the launch of the program via HealthCare.gov. Unfortunately, the website was riddled with technical problems and left many Americans unable to enroll, allowing for an encore from the program’s loudest naysayers. While Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took the fall for the faulty website, the President’s polls took a dive after Americans began receiving cancellation notices for their insurance policies that the new healthcare law rendered inadequate — a scenario Obama previously promised would not arrive. He apologized and quickly proposed a plan to extend policies that do not meet new government regulations. Still, studies are finding Americans are largely confused by the ACA, and the subject is still a hot topic for political pundits looking to talk a little trash on the Commander in Chief.