“Happy Thanksgiving?” Tomorrow. Yes, It Will Be — Here’s …My Why…

This week, there were happy exchanges, by email and phone and in person: “Happy Thanksgiving,” my friends, family and colleagues said to me, and I back to them. Yes, for sure, I am very thankful here on the eve of the wonderful day of Thanksgiving here in America.

Among the many things that I am grateful for, I find an important thread that runs through many aspects of my life. You see, I am especially grateful — thankful — for the waves of immigration to America from all corners of the globe.  This created America-the-Melting-Pot; America, more like the Bouillibaise these days.

Permit me to explain.  I am grateful that my great-grandmother, Bridget Keegan, married John Greene and they came to New York City. She came into the world in 1842 in the Emerald Isle, and while I don’t know the background (yet), no doubt the Great Famine that gripped that small nation was a powerful force for leaving. They escaped a perilous future to travel to the city of Brooklyn (New York) where they settled with their three sons.

My maternal grandfather (their son), escaped poverty; My grandfather John Greene achieved a college education, became a teacher, was an engineer on the Panama Canal project, owned NY businesses and real estate, and brought his family (of 9, including my mother) into the middle class. His brother, my uncle Richard, in his later years was my first writing coach (when I was only six years old). His son Laurence was city editor of the New York Post and covered President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War Two.  He was far removed from the poverty of the Old Country and was fortunate to cover those in power at critical times in the nation’s history.

My grandmother Cora Starr, who married her Irishman John Greene, was descended from immigrants who came much earlier – they were English settlers who came by sailing ship to New England and perhaps [who] were participants in those early feasts of Thanksgiving, made possible in those first dicey years of settlement by Native Americans who befriended the Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Grandmother’s forebears (and therefore, mine) included “Jane Pickens,” her given English name, who was descendant of a much earlier immigration to North America:  you see, she was a member of the Lenne Lenape, a New Jersey branch of the Delaware Indian Tribe. And in a later time, grandmother’s ancestors were Quakers journeying to Philadelphia with William Penn; her grandfather was born in Quakertown, PA.

I am especially grateful that the young man and young woman who left the poverty of Campabasso, in the Abruzzi region, in the hills along the spine of Italy, went down to the sea at the port of Naples to board one of the immigrant trade the ships to go to New York City in the late 19th Century. Luigi Tucci and Teresa Garzia met in New York City — then teeming with tens of thousands of immigrants from Russia, Poland, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Greece, and other Old World nations.  They married; their son, Giorgi Tucci, is my wonderful wife Mary’ Ann’s father. Her mother descended from German and French and English settlers.

On my father’s side, all of his forefathers/mothers were German or from regions that became part of modern Germany.  His grandmother was an illegal, in a sense; she was orphaned in Frankfurt and came to the United States with a migrating family that took her in and signed her in at Ellis Island as their own.  I’m apparently the fourth “Henry” in the all-German line my father’s mother was Ana Lily Becker).

We are nation of immigrants. President John F. Kennedy , (while then-US Senator authored an essay at the invitation of B’nai B’rith that would become a slim book:”A Nation of Immigrants” (special edition posthumously published in 1964).  Congressman, then Senator and finally President John Kennedy was active in promoting national policies regarding immigration.

His brother, Robert Kennedy, wrote in his memory in the 1964 edition of the book:  “I know of no cause which President John Kennedy championed more warmly that the improvement of our immigration policies.” Every step forward since ]the end of WW II in 1945]  bore the JFK stamp. This included the Displaced Person Act (welcoming tens of thousands of those unfortunate people whose lives were disrupted by the war); The Refugee Relief Act (which enabled separated families to come together); and later, reforms urged on the Congress, when he was President (1961-63). The book was well into completion when John Kennedy was slain in Dallas, Texas (November 1963).

Robert Kennedy (who would later become a US Senator and candidate for president)observed:  President John Kennedy was himself only two generations removed from the Emerald Isle. On his trip to Ireland four months before he died, the president stood on the very spot from which grandfather Patrick Kennedy would depart for the New World / Boston, Massachusetts from Ireland.  He would open a modest bar; his descendants would quickly (in the perspective of time) become members of Congress; US Senators; lt. governors; attorney general of the US; President of the united States. Patriarch Joe Kennedy would be a Harvard graduate; movie studio owner; banker; investor; appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England), and one of the richest men in America.

His daughters — Euenice Kennedy Shriver, with help from sister Jean — founded the Special Olympics in the late-1960s. her daughter is Maria Shriver, whose former husband immigrated to the USA from Austria as a young man, he became a movie star and then “Governor Arnie” of California.

In his book, President Kennedy urged reform of the nation’s immigration system, and wrote:  “In just over 350 years, a nation of nearly 200 million people has grown up, populated almost entirely by persons who either came from other lands or whose forefathers came from other lands.  As President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded [us]. Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionaries…”  (President Franklin Roosevelt who led the nation through the Great Depression and WW II was descended from the original Dutch settlers of New York City and state, as was his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, who created the modern US presidency.)

Here on the North Fork of Long Island as I write these thoughts, we celebrate the legacy of the waves of immigrants who were farmers and craft workers and fisher folk — first English (1640; then Irish, Polish, Italian, and lately, Asians, and newcomers from Central America); Americans of African descent worked these lands for hundreds of years and contributed to the long-term success of this special corner of America).

Our new wine industry is founded in immigrant ingenuity; the Massoud Family (Paumanok Vineyards) was founded by Charles Massoud, born in Lebanon, and his wife Ursula, who came to the USA from Germany to attend college.

As I think about the ongoing debate about immigration, these days sometimes intelligent, sometimes rabble-rousing, and about our still incomplete public policies on immigration, I am reminded of something I learned in early grade school in New York City (where at one time some 60 years earlier there were 200 languages spoken):  E Pluribus Unum, Our nation, “out of many, one” (a really great nation with the people united as one). The Latin phrase is on our Great Seal – been there since 1782, adopted by our Congress, very soon after we became an independent nation…yes, of immigrants.

And when I was young, I found the national anthem words were somewhat confusing.  My favorite song then was “America, the Beautiful.”

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea! recall, sometimes with tears in my eyes….”

And then I remember when I was very young reading on past the familiar phrases to find the great words in the second verse penned by Katherine Lee Bates and set to music with the haunting melody by Samuel Ward.

“O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!”

We could add today, though not in great, flowing verse, from river-to-river (our borders the St. Lawrence on the north border to Rio Grande on the south); and shining sea-to-sea-to-sea (including the Caribbean Sea, the isles of which are former homelands of millions of Americans of island descendant.  The proud Carib-Americans march every summer in colorful parades in the boro of Brooklyn, New York, a county that is home to hundreds of thousands of of immigrants from the various islands of the Caribbean and from areas of South America and Central America.

And, yes, as the verse states, we are a nation of laws, which is among the many reasons why people will come to make America their home. The laws regarding immigration need fixing, as they did when President John Kennedy urged reforms on the Congress more than 50 years ago.  As the verse of the song says…[America] “…confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law…”

I think I’ll add that to my Thanksgiving blessing prayer this year.

To my family – my friends – my colleagues:  here’s to a Blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!  No matter where ever you or your family came from – and who ever welcomed you (or their ancestors welcomed yours) to our shores!  We have tens of millions of reasons living among us today for which we should all be thankful!


At Crisis Time – For Companies and Celebrities, It’s Usually Not Just One Thing to Deal With

by Hank Boerner

In my career of advising clients on issue management and crisis management (and especially crisis response), I usually pointed out to  those in the crosshairs that it is not just “one thing” to deal with. Often, in time of an escalation of existing issues, a critical event occurring, or a full blown crisis at hand, the managers on point have to deal with numerous things going on.

Chaos, confusion, complexity reign. Things feel, well, like they are spinning out of control.  Often, they are!

Over the years I estimate that I’ve been involved in more than 400 critical issues and crisis situations — in various industries and sectors (auto manufacturing, banking and financial services, airlines, cruise ships, railroads, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, educational institutions, government, countries, mining, food marketing, consumer goods, oil & gas, mutual funds, stock exchanges…and more. Some of my work involves helping individuals cope with crisis eruptions. Those are vary tough assignments – emotional damage is difficult to deal with.

In my issue and crisis preparation training for managers, I stress the key, top line actions for effective response by the enterprise:

  • Know in advance what might go wrong (the potential risk posed to the enterprise or perhaps a leader such as the CEO), and monitor and evaluate those issues regularly. What “is” (facts) will surface one way or another – perhaps by a whistleblower. “Nothing is secret anymore” is my advice.
  • Develop a plan for responding to critical events; assign roles to responders and prepare them (such as with formal training).
  • Build prevention programs. Practice – drill – stress internal preparedness.
  • Establish communication channels and have content ready “in case.”
  • Respond quickly – work to reduce fear; maintain credibility; create positive perceptions where you can.
  • Work hard to control the incident, the crisis. Stress solutions. Demonstrate your values.
  • Communicate – tell your story — if not, others will fill the vacuum and their story…and yours…and set the context in which the story [of the crisis] will be told and retold in the future.

In the context of corporate crises situations, these guidelines have pretty much become SOPs. With my partners, over 25 years we helped many companies in the US and other countries put issue and crisis management programs in place.  There are other consulting practices doing the same. Yes, crisis situations still occur (cases in point including General Motors, BP, Target, the Obamacare launch) but many enterprises really are better prepared to respond that in years past.

But What About Individuals in Crisis?

For individuals involved in crisis situations — especially high wattage celebrities with brand and reputation (and future earnings) on the line — the man or woman in the crosshairs will often find themselves in uncharted territory.

As the ancient mapmakers would put on their charts of the distant oceans — here be dragons!

Right now, comedian Bill Cosby — “America’s Dad” as his brand — is dealing (or, not dealing) with a serious crisis continuing to spin out of control.

Comedian extraordinaire Bill Cosby has not been in hiding.  At 77 years of age, he is still very much in the game.  He’s been doing his one man shows across the country, 50 a year it’s reported  (My wife and I saw his show a few years ago — outstanding!) His books sit ready for purchase in many book stores and retail outlets. His TV series continues to air in syndication.

But recently a series of business decisions put him out front in media reports (of a favorable type) and stirred up allegations of sexual misconduct of years standing. Consider:

  • He was in discussions with NBC to create a new weekly TV series.
  • Netflix, the popular technology and entertainment threat to cable and broadcast dominance, had a special scheduled (“Bill Cosby 77,” featuring the  comedian as MC at the SF Jazz Center last July).
  • His old 1980s family audience TV show was doing well in re-runs (more income generation) on TV Land…possible marketing leverage for a new weekly show on NBC.
  • His books remain popular with readers and are featured in retail and on Amazon.
  • A new biography — “Bill Cosby. His Life and Times” by former CNN news leader and  former Newsweek managing editor Mark Whittaker was on the retail shelves.  Praises for Cosby in the book were by other celebrities who enjoyed cultural admiration — Mary Tyler Moore, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld.

Things were really looking up for the star of I Spy and The Bill Cosby Show, two important cultural foundation stones of many Americans’ youth.

And then…in mid-October comedian Hannibal Buress in a stand-up routine accused Cosby of being a rapist and told the audience to “Google” the record on this; he then went on the Howard Stern program on Sirius XM to repeat his charges, and pushed his views out on Twitter; The Philadelphia Inquirer “old media” giant posted the routine and the social media platforms it up.

Author Whittaker’s biography was publicly attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about Mr. Cosby’s misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The article went viral in the nation’s politically conservative community.

Back in 2006, Philadelphia magazine published an article detailing the alleged attacks on more than a dozen women by the comedian.  The Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) district attorney (Bruce Castor) investigated claims and declined prosecution; he now has to publicly defend his prior decision.  A civil lawsuit proceeded with [there was said to be up] to 13 women that could be involved; that case was settled and sealed.

One of the women — Barbara Bowman — went public in November, publishing a commentary about her experience in The Washington Post.  That got other traditional and new media lighting up with more “news” and lots of commentary.

Other women then stepped forward — a dozen or so — repeating their stories of years ago or going public with their stories for the first time.

And the Google searches suggested by comedian Burress?  There were millions of searches, according to media reports..

Reaction was comparatively swift:

The NBC series – cancelled.  The Netflix special – cancelled. The interview with David Letterman on CBS – cancelled. The new biography’s sales were reported to be slumping. TV Land  re-runs – cancelled.

Author Whittaker’s  new biography was attacked by the National Review as “fawning,” glossing over the many rumors over the years about misconduct, and tagged the author as the “latest enabler.”  The conservative publication’s article went viral, especially within the nation’s politically conservative community.

All of sudden another “old” scandal was back in focus for the right wing:  former President Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual escapades — sure to haunt Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential race, the post writers opined. (We’ll see Paula and Monica and the other “Bill Clinton women” on  parade over the coming years, they predicted.)

The Cosby camp did respond on social media — a Twitter post encouraged the Twitter-ali to go to a web page and post comments.  They did!  Oh, not the comments that supporters would welcome, of course.

The New York Times published an in-depth story on all of this on November 20 — “Cosby Comeback Unravels as Rape Claims Flare.” The Times noted the long tail of the controversy: “The current furor surfaced surrounding Mr. Cosby had its root in accusations brought in 2005 by Andrea Constand, a female staff member with the basket ball team at Temple University (Cosby alma mater).” Despite DA Castor’s declining to prosecute, she brought a lawsuit that would possibly involve up to13 other “Jane Does.”  That was the was the civil case settled.  The “Jane Does” we can presume are those coming forward – and those planning to do so in the future.

Context is important in these matters.  And as I compose this, the news headlines scream out another complicating factor that is shaping in various ways public opinion:  “University of Virginia Suspends All Fraternities” – this after the still-remarkably relevant Rolling Stone magazine published a report that a female student was sexually assaulted by seven Phil Kappa Psi members in 2012.  The university president — a woman, by the way, Teresa Sullivan — called on her board, students, faculty, alumni…to begin a conversation on all of this.

That can be alongside the conversation about allegations or the reality of wife and child abuse by National Football League players…these have been glossed over, ignored, diminished…until there was sufficient public outrage and an apology by NFL leader Roger Goodell.  The viral video of Ravens player Ray Rice shown beating his fiancé/now wife in a casino triggered the crisis, which had been brewing for years if you think about it as anti-domestic violence advocates do.

Consider the Bold Names – Collateral Damage

Take a few seconds to read upward — note all the BOLD names in the commentary. Think about the rippling effects of the Bill Cosby crises.  The NFL crisis. The crisis today at the University of Virginia — and other universities where similar incidents have been charged by female students.  .The corporations involved with brands and revenues on the line now. The other celebrities praising Mr. Cosby.

The Role of Social Media and the Internet

Back to the Cosby case:  why are decades-old, or at least five or more years old cases being brought front and center today?  I think a profound difference is the omnipresence today of social media.  Citizen media. Everyman (and woman) media. The challenge of old media (The Washington Post, The New York Times) by new platforms like Huffington Post, even Twitter (as news source for millions of user, specially younger populations)..

We still have venerable TV national news forums  like those in the evening on CBS, NBC, ABC. (With great anchors — Scott Pelley, Brian Williams David Muir).  But since the 1980s we have 24/7 CNN as well…and many young people get their news from other “anchors” like Bill Maher (HBO) and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert (Comedy Central).  And I would throw in Saturday Night Live! parodies on NBC. On these new news platforms, humor and satire are the staples and celebrities in crisis should expect to be skewered.

But citizen media (social media) is really now the key to setting the match to a smoldering situation.  That applies to be companies like BP and celebrities like BC. As The Times’ Bill Carter, Graham Bowley and Lorne Manley noted in their November 20th Page One story: “The reach of web and social media impact have provided a distribution platform for these accusations, which had surfaced before but never gained widespread attention.”

And Martin Kaplan of the University of California’s journalism school noted: “The combination of [today’s] social media and Mr. Cosby’s return to the spotlight had propelled the story to much greater prominence that when the accusation first surfaced.”

As I said up top…Chaos, confusion, complexity reign.  UC’s Professor Kaplan explained: “The fact that he was already in the spotlight and the fact that these charges have a much more powerful amplifier and echo chamber, gives people the sense that this is a big story…”

Going back to the basic principles for crisis management — if in fact the allegations of the women accusing Mr. Cosby of serious sexual misconduct have a factual basis, as a celebrity (and therefore a “public person”) it might have been better to continue one’s career in lower profile.  In crisis management, over and over again, the lesson for leaders is clear:”what is, is” – and will come out at some time.

What are your thoughts on all this? What are the lessons learned?