|Crisis Management Procedures|
With the confusion and uncertainty festering in the American public the last thing that the U.S. needed was more chaos. Unfortunately that is exactly what it got in the form of bio-terrorism. The threat of contracting anthrax became all too real when packages and letters were found to be the source of the problem. As horrible as this crisis was, the media did not help with their incessant coverage of the story. It was at this time that many companies and organizations called in public relations firms to clean up the damage.
Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of communications at Boston University, said news media’s coverage of the anthrax attack “provides a case study on how journalism can be a detriment to the public’s need for information in a potential crisis.” “When a news story is characterized by confusion and uncertainty, media coverage becomes frantic,” said Berkovitz.
When this story first broke the media grabbed it and ran creating the classic feeding frenzy in the media world. If fact, the average national news cast airing during this crisis focused about 20 minutes on the anthrax story rather than touching on more important topics like the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan. The constant coverage made many Americans feel nervous and with good reason, because the media covered this story with too much fanaticism.
Companies that use the U.S. mail to send and receive information had to step up at this point with a strong public relations campaign to regain consumer confidence. This confidence, which basically keeps the American economy running, was shattered by the anthrax crisis and the September 11th attacks. People stopped traveling (flying and renting cars) which in-turn lead to the bankruptcy of National and Alamo Car Rentals, and the eventual laying off of thousands of employees in the airline business. This confidence was not helped by the inconsistent approach in which the Bush camp handled the anthrax scare.Instead of consulting top physicians in the field, Bush let Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson; try to suppress the public’s worries by addressing the nation.
More bad public relations surfaced when stories came out of Hollywood that many top stars and athletes were going to stop incoming ”fan mail” to protect themselves from becoming victims of anthrax. Not only did this send unwarranted fear throughout the nation, but it made many public figures look like they had a better than thou attitude. For instance, New York Post gossip columnist stopped receiving her incoming mail due the threat of anthrax to the national media. It is perfectly understandable that the NY Times would need to check their mail, but to totally stop the flow of incoming mail is a bit excessive.