Mahony Consults PR Experts
LA’s Cardinal Mahony & Archbishop Gomez’ private chat (about two weeks ago)
Mahony: I know this is your archdiocese now, Jose. But I've been plotting and scheming much longer than you and covering up more cases than any of our colleagues. So forgive me for taking the initiative here and suggesting our plan.
Gomez: I'm always glad to hear your thoughts Roger.
Mahony: These files are pretty bad. They'll re-ignite widespread outrage. So you'll need to do something beyond the usual “My heart aches for the victims” and “We didn't understand, but we've learned and are reforming' schtick. My PR pals at Sitrick Public Relations agree that you'll really need to distance yourself from all of this and from me too.
G: Makes sense. How should that happen?
M: Lemme finish laying out our goals first. Job one is staying outta jail, for all of us. And since prosecutors are politicians, that means two things. First, we’ve gotta tamp down public outrage. Second, we must keep victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers either intimidated into silence or persuade them to come to us, instead of cops or lawyers or reporters, right?
G: Sure, that’s been our basic PR strategy for years now.
M: Yes, but we’ve got to “double down” here Now, our PR gurus have insisted, and our experience over the last decade has shown, the way to tamp down outrage is to convince everyone that this awful stuff is "all in the past."
G: Of course. And you've done a better job than any of us in repeating that mantra. I congratulate you Roger.
M: And the other way to tamp down outrage is to minimize media coverage. We both know that nothing stirs the pot and brings victims out than sustained media attention.
M: But given the terrible actions in these files, the “same, old same old” response by you or me won’t suffice here. We’ve got to do something a little more, a little different.
G: So you’re proposing what exactly?
M: First, I have to become invisible, at least for a while. Again, given these awful disclosures, there’ll likely be picketers and TV cameras everywhere I go for the next few months. Neither of us want or need that.
G: Goodness, no.
M: Our friend Bernie in Boston became invisible by hiding in a nunnery and then going to Rome, of course. I plan to stay here. But I’ll need a reason, an excuse for not showing up at church functions.
G: You’re not suggesting that I somehow “banish” you from public ministry?
M: That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. You win because you look tough on abuse and I win, because I have the perfect rationale to stay ‘under the radar.’
G: Wow, that’s pretty creative.
M: Wait, it gets better. You also win because you look more decisive than me. And I win even more because by honoring your banishment, I can help convince folks that I really am contrite.
G: If we did this, when and how would we announce it?
M: Well, one way to minimize bad stories is to dump lots of bad news at once. My PR pals at Sitrick suggest that in one fell swoop, late on a Thursday, just before the Super Bowl, you do three things: release the files, pretend to discipline me, and accept Tom’s resignation.
M: Really. But there’s one final tweak. Within a day or two of your announcement, I should do an open letter to you, laying out one more time that whole raft of excuses that have worked wonders for us “We were ignorant,” “we were ill-informed,” “we got bad advice,” and all that.
G: why one more time?
M: Well, remember that the PR experts tell us repetition is critical. That’s what makes our message sink in. And if the public sees what seems to be a spat between us, there’s another huge benefits - it distracts attention from our cover ups and focuses attention on how firm and decisive and independent you are.
G: Roger, that’s simply brilliant.
M: Plus honestly, I’m human. I’d love one more chance to defend and explain myself in public before I become invisible.
G: I will have to think about this of course. How on earth did you come up with this plan Roger?
M: (laughing) Jose, I hope you won’t be offended, but can I let you in on a little joke that we Cardinals sometimes tell?
M: Know what the difference is between a Cardinal and an Archbishop?
M: An archbishop consults PR folks a lot. A Cardinal consults PR folks constantly.