A day after William Strampel, the former dean of the osteopathic medical school at Michigan State University and the ex-boss of disgraced sexual abuser Larry Nassar, was charged with criminal sexual conduct and willful neglect of duty, the Lansing State Journal reported that MSU spent in excess of $500,000 keeping tabs on the social media activities of Nassar’s victims and many of the journalists reporting on the case in January.
MSU hired the New York-based public relations firm Weber Shandwick to do more 1,440 hours of work. “The firm billed for work done by 18 different employees, whose hourly rates ranged from $200 to $600 per hour. Five of those employees billed MSU for more than $50,000, including one who billed for $96,900 and another who billed for $120,893,” according to the article.
January was a peak period for Nassar coverage. It was during this month that Nassar’s victims filled courtrooms in Ingham and Eaton counties and delivered days’ worth of devastating impact statements detailing how Nassar sexually abused them and how institutions enabled this abuse to go on for more than two decades.
During this period, MSU officials like then-president Lou Anna K. Simon, the MSU Board of Trustees, school attorneys, and others received regular reports about what victims and journalists were saying online and which stories were gaining traction. Weber Shandwick concluded that it was the victims, their families, and journalists who were the primary drivers of online discussion that was critical of Nassar and MSU:
“Conversation around the upcoming sentencing and MSU’s role in the matter continues to be driven by victims of Nassar, their families and regional journalists,” a Weber Shandwick employee emailed on the morning on Jan. 16, the first day of Nassar’s Ingham County sentencing. She then detailed tweets by Jacob Denhollander, the husband of Rachael Denhollander who was the first woman to make public allegations against Nassar, as well as U.S. Olympian Aly Raisman and her mother.”
That’s a lot of money to spend to find out that when your institution is found to have harbored and enabled a serial sexual predator for decades, people are going to write some mean things about you on Twitter.