A report yesterday from the Lansing State Journal revealed that in January—the same month over 150 women gave victim-impact statements in Michigan courtrooms about Larry Nassar’s serial sexual abuse—the PR firm Weber Shandwick billed Michigan State, Nassar’s old employer, for more than $500,000. According to the report, that money went toward monitoring the social media activities of Nassar’s victims, their families, and journalists covering the scandal.
Today, Weber Shandwick—PR Week’s “Agency of the Year” for four years running—released a statement. Here it is in full:
“While we normally don’t comment on our client assignments, we feel it’s important in the case of the news coverage of our work for Michigan State University because it does not accurately reflect our work.
The majority of our work involved crisis counsel to address the tragedy. We were not hired to monitor victims’ social media accounts. As with any assignment, we forwarded to our clients traditional media and publicly available social media pertaining to the horrible tragedy at MSU, including statements made online by the victims.
The victims were and continue to be the most important voices in the conversation.
Our work began in late December 2017 and ended in early March 2018 after we resigned the account.”
That’s a tricky statement. “We were not hired to monitor victims’ social media accounts” sounds fine, but when it’s followed up by “we forwarded to our clients traditional media and publicly available social media,” it doesn’t seem to absolve the firm at all. In fact, sending what the victims were saying on social media to MSU seems to be exactly what the original report said they were doing, and all that Weber Shandwick seems to deny (at most) is that they didn’t sneak their way into any private accounts. And at no point does the statement say why they resigned the account.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal estimated that MSU’s enabling of Nassar could end up costing the school over $500 million in legal fees, fines, and settlements. Paying some people to read tweets—tweets that are commentary on your own institution’s obvious failures—doesn’t seem important enough to add to that cost.