Today in Bad Media Relations News, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s well-named spokesman Philippe Reines—who has served as a State Department official under Clinton since her 2009 appointment–recently told Buzzfeed political reporter and Rolling Stone veteran Michael Hastings to “f**k off” and “have a good life” via email.
What led to this unbecoming outburst? It all began with a series of sharp questions regarding the State Department’s behavior following the recent tragedy at Benghazi and its response to the scandal in which CNN admitted to removing the deceased US Ambassador’s diary from the scene of the crime and using its contents in a later report without the permission of the man’s surviving family members.
The entire exchange was extremely antagonistic on both sides, and it makes for a fascinating mini-case study in media relations. Hastings begins by calling Reines’s public condemnation of CNN “offensive” and unashamedly blames lax State Department security measures for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. So yeah, the tension was quite obvious, even over email, and we weren’t surprised when Hastings described Reines’s official explanations of the Benghazi situation as “bullshit.”
But things got worse from there—barbs were traded and personal lives were invoked, though we don’t believe any journalists were actually harmed in the filming of this catfight.
PR pros: We think we can agree that an outburst like Reines’s is never OK—especially in an email that has the potential to go public. But how should he have responded to the crisis at hand? Is this outburst grounds for dismissal (he’s had some similar problems in the past)?