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October 1, 2012updated 28 Jan 2016 5:28pm

How Mitchell Should Have Handled Plebgate

By William Cash

Matthew Freud’s own column deals with media rough justice and how to handle it

The second issue of The Brewery, the intellectual journal published by freud communications, edited by Ed Amory, is even more interesting than the debut issue which was quietly launched at Davos last year. With contributors ranging from former Blair chief of staff Jonathan Powell (and second under gardener at the British Embassy in Washington) and tabloid paparazzo Max Cisotti, The Brewery gives a whole new meaning to what Tina Brown liked to call the ‘high-low mix’ that is essential to any successful contemporary publication.

In his Introduction to issue number two, Matthew Freud relates an anecdote about an encounter he introduced between Arthur Sulzberger Jr, publisher of the New York Times, and BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward – upon whom the NYT had been heaping opprobrium on Hayward for failing to clear up BP’s Gulf oil mess. The punchline was that Sulzberger told Hayward that his media vilification ‘wasn’t your fault, it was just your turn’.

Freud’s own column deals with media rough justice and how to handle it. ‘You or your company’s reputation will recover rapidly if you are sen to be contrite and accepting that the rough is just as extreme as the smooth for the privileged. Protestations of your faultlessness or the greater guilt of others will only prolong the agony.’

Take the ‘Plebgate’ downfall of Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory chief whip, which contains an important cautionary lesson not only for politicians but also for any Ultra High Net Worth or CEO who find themselves erring in some all too human way and suddenly in the unwanted glare of tabloid media headlights. Whether Mitchell will be politically rehabilitated before too long remains to be seen following the expose of the poor way he was treated by Number Ten, and the apparent ineptitude of the Cabinet Secretary in not being more thorough in alerting Cameron to the fact that the Chief Whip was stitched up by the Met.

But one thing is certain about Plebgate. Mr Mitchell did not handle the crisis well, and was an amateur when it came to defending himself. Crisis Management is an increasingly important part not only of corporate and political life but also of the UHNW universe as the media – and politicians for that matter – continue to treat the rich with much the same level of hatred and contempt as French 18th century revolutionaries reserved for the powdered wig aristocrats of the ancien regime.

Yet so few global CEOs, UHNWs – or politicians for that matter –bother with any basic training for their initiation into the eye of a media firestorm. Part of the problem is sheer arrogance of many coddled corporate ladder climbing types who have had little contact with the realpolitik of life and assume that if they have reached (often through failing upwards) the top they must have superb natural ‘communication’ skills.

But look at the live train crash of former BBC Director-General George Entwistle suicidal 7am interview with John Humphries on Radio Four where he sounded like he had never been into a broadcasting studio in his life (he has actually worked for the BBC for 22 years and edited Newsnight); or the equally dismal I’m-in-charge-now interview with his ‘acting’ successor Tim Davie, whose eyes wandered away from the camera and again looked as if he had never done a ‘down the camera’ interview in his life (he had actually been in charge of BBC Communications). Contrast these dismal presentation efforts with the bullish TV performance of Conrad Black when interviewed by a combative Adam Boulton on SKY, where Black – who is no stranger to media pugilism – swotted away Boulton’s attack dog questions by asking to be reminded of Boulton’s name. Hilarious but oh-so-effective.

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The rise in the need for crisis management expert as an essential part of any UHNW inner entourage is one reason why Spears has recently taken on Ed Amory – a former senior Tory Central Office advisor turned journalist (and Spears columnist) who is now Editor of The Brewery, amongst other significant roles at freud. I do not know if Andrew Mitchell has Ed’s number on speed-dial but it is a shame he didn’t immediately call Matthew Freud’s crisis management arm at freud the moment he found himself splashed over the papers.

The latest issue of The Brewery also includes a spread of glossy photographs of the hi-tech ‘n’ leather facilities of The Brewery (which include mock TV studios, crisis management board room, and a screening room, along with more screens than a hedge fund trading floor). The boutique outfit is based at an ‘off-site facility’ in the grounds of Matthew Freud’s Elizabethan house in Oxfordshire.

Mitchell may wish that he had booked himself into Freud’s emergency crisis management bunker – complete with a mock up Sky News studio with live feed capabilities – rather than gone into hiding. For there is a very simple elementary rule that Ed could have explained to Mitchell as they miked him up in their Oxfordshire TV studio bunker before going live to Adam Boulton to explain exactly what he really did say on that fateful encounter with the Downing Street gate policeman on his bike.

The first rule of crisis management when accused of saying something career killing is to immediately think of another word that sounds similar. Mitchell – who by all accounts is a decent and hard working man – could have probably avoided his tragic plight, exiled from high office for saying a single verboten word if only he had said the following on camera from the The Brewery studio: ‘There has been a misunderstanding and I am here to set the record straight for you, Adam. What I actually said was, ‘You ******* plod – I thought you are meant to be helping us.’  Career saved.

Now that it turns out that he probably never said the ‘P’ word in the first place, and was turned over by the police, I don’t know what freud’s strategists would have suggested Mitchell say. But going into hiding and saying nothing is invariably fatal self-inflicted wound.

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