Kathy Griffin’s Lack of Apology Makes Her a Lifetime “D-Lister”

Michael Shmarak, Sidney Maxwell Public Relations

For many years, Kathy Griffin has teetered on a line of what is decent and what is not. Her show on Bravo TV is popular; she has shown up on popular TV shows; she is a visible professional. Call her an actress; call her a comic; call her a personality—all ring true. People such as Ms. Griffin push the boundaries of what we accept as “decent,” and audiences are left to choose to either accept, denounce or ignore the art that is put forth.

I am not an art critic and would never proclaim myself to be one (although my office is proudly filled with my children’s art work from school). To be sure, some people have sided with her about what is art/free speech and how her voice should be heard. Others have demonstrated how Trump’s children killing animals during an African safari hunt is on the same level as Ms. Griffin’s act. But I am critic (or proponent) of how people apologize.

Previously, I have written about learning how to apologize and where ethics play in our role as communicators. As a result of her “artistic” depiction of holding a bloodied Donald Trump head, Ms. Griffin has brought the themes of these two articles together and, in the process, cemented herself in a category that gives “D-List” a whole new meaning.

Here’s why:

Her apology wasn’t an apology. It was a press statement of forgiveness. At no time or place did she state any sympathy toward Mr. Trump—she has yet to show any sympathy to acknowledge the victim. Her statements and related news coverage have highlighted how she crossed and moved lines of what is decent; what is/is not disturbing. She asked the photographer to take down the photo. She even went as so far to say that she made a mistake and she was wrong. But making a full apology needs to include sympathy and accountability to address how to fix the problem.

I haven’t seen that yet…

And thanks to her press conference, it made things worse. On June 1, Ms. Griffin’s attorney shared a news release highlighting that she is holding a press conference with Ms. Griffin highlighting “the true motivations” behind her actions and how she is responding to “bullying from the Trump family.” Responding to bullying by being a bully doesn’t work in playgrounds, and it didn’t work in real life. In her June 2 presser, she pushed a theory that Trump was out to ruin her professional reputation (and cracked a few jokes). In doing so, she added salt to an already exposed wound because Griffin was portraying herself as the victim. What’s more, she damaged her credibility because she would not own up to what she did as being “wrong.” The court of public opinion has played this act out, and Griffin’s response was much too late.

Speaking of “wrong…”

Murder is inherently wrong. My ethical code cannot get me past how a fake decapitation of a public figure is not an act of bodily harm; it’s inherently wrong, no matter how it is performed or portrayed. We see pictures of terrorists do it and we are afraid of what lies ahead; how is this different? What Ms. Griffin saw as art can also be viewed as a threat on national security because (whether we like it or not) Donald Trump is the President of the United States.

It’s our job as communicators to remain as objective as possible when servicing our clients. We should hope that Griffin and her counsel—whomever is helping her at this time—come to their senses (with or without legal counsel) and acknowledge the damage Mr. Trump, his family and others have endured.

Otherwise, is there anything lower than The D-List?

About the Author: Michael Shmarak is a senior-level strategist and communications counselor, with extensive experience in public relations strategy, national media relations, message development, crisis communications, organizational positioning and staff development.

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