Could former Baylor president and chancellor Ken Starr have actually come off worse in an interview than he did with ESPN’s Joe Schad on Wednesday? As it turns out, the answer is yes. At least off-camera.
While speaking with KWTX’s Julie Hayes in another attempt at damage control and claiming ignorance over the sexual assault scandals on campus that resulted in his resignation and football coach Art Briles getting fired, Starr was asked a question about an email that one of the victims sent to him two years after her assault.
Starr didn’t deny that he read the email, but claimed not to remember seeing it. That’s when communications specialist Merrie Spaeth (whose expertise is in crisis management) stepped in to ask for that portion of the interview not to be used on air. When the KWTX news director refused to comply with that request, Spaeth pulled Starr out of the interview for some coaching.
You can see the entire exchange play out here:
Spaeth insisted that Hayes ask Starr about the email again, presumably followed by whatever answer she coached him to give. As you can see, Starr treaded carefully, looking to Spaeth for approval after answering that he had no recollection of seeing the email. He then tried yet another version of the answer, apparently hoping another take that sounded more warm and genuine would get the scene that he and Spaeth (and Baylor) were looking for.
For Starr to be recorded on camera as giving three different answers, each with a different level of concern or bewilderment, shows how phony this entire exercise was. It’s exactly what everyone suspects following a scandal when a public figure sits down for an interview, claiming he or she will talk openly about the situation. A public relations expert is in the background, holding the strings and moving the subject’s mouth.
But it’s still jolting and infuriating to see the strings being pulled, and for Starr to claim plausible deniability after consulting with his communications specialist whose brand is crisis (and previously coached him through his testimony at President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings).
If Starr isn’t being as transparent about his involvement in this scandal as he claims to be, at least KWTX is being transparent in showing how PR spin and crisis management is attempting to control their attempt to provide answers to their audience.