Ask three crisis managers what they think of any given scandal, and you’re likely to get five different opinions.
But when it comes to Kevin Hart’s handling of his resurfaced anti-gay tweets, top Hollywood publicists are in a rare agreement: the comedian couldn’t have botched his apology more if he wanted to.
“His refusal to do the right thing ended up costing him a lot more than it needed to,” Evan Nierman, founder of crisis PR firm Red Banyan, told TheWrap.
Howard Bragman, a longtime Hollywood crisis manager and chairman and founder of La Brea Media told TheWrap Hart’s apology was a case of “too little, too late.”
“One good sincere apology upfront probably would have made this go away,” Bragman said. “I always advise, apologize once and well.”
After dozens of Hart’s old homophobic tweets surfaced on Thursday, he announced he would no longer host the 2019 Academy Awards — one of his lifelong dreams. The apology came only after the comedian twice insisted he would not apologize for the tweets because he had already “moved on.”
“Kevin Hart is firing back at critics who think he’s unfit to host the Oscars due to old tweets that were extremely homophobic,” the site wrote, “and by firing back, we mean he’s laying in bed and refusing to apologize.”
“The message he’s basically sending is, ‘It’s not a big deal,'” Lou Shapiro, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in crisis management, told TheWrap. “If he can’t even get dressed and look his best how can his message be taken seriously?”
On Wednesday, reporters began noticing that Hart had deleted dozens of old homophobic missives, including one from 2011 in which he wrote: “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.”
The tweet had been addressed by Hart before in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, though critics note it lacked an actual apology.
“What you want to do is distinguish a comedian’s body of work vs. something that sounds personal,” Richard Levick, chairman of crisis management firm Levick, told TheWrap. “This doesn’t appear to be a joke. It appears to be personal.”
Hart made things worse, crisis experts say, by insisting that he had “evolved” past his years-old comments.
“Apologies aren’t just about what you say it’s about what you do,” Levick added. “He had three-quarters of a decade to show us how he’s evolved.”
Levick also put blame on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for picking a host with a documented anti-LGBT past.
“Could this have been handled any worse? Hard to imagine,” he said. “Not looking at at an invitee’s Twitter feeds? We’re talking about a day’s worth of work, if that.”
Whether or not the incident will have any long-lasting impact on Hart’s career remains to be seen. But one thing that is not in doubt, experts say, is the likelihood that Hart will face further questions in the future.
“He will almost certainly have to talk about it again,” Levick said. “Whereas had he apologized, he could have actually moved on.”