Hilton's New Expert on Managing Star Crises
ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Anthony Brooks.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand.
Paris Hilton spilled her guts to Larry King last night. She told him her jail stint had led her to turn over a new leaf.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Larry King Live")
Ms. PARIS HILTON (Actress; Singer): Being in the spotlight, I have a platform where I can raise awareness for so many great causes and just do so much of this instead of, you know, superficial things like going out. I want to help raise money for kids and for breast cancer, multiple sclerosis. And my…
Mr. LARRY KING (Host, "Larry King Live"): You are going to get involved in all of this?
Ms. HILTON: Yeah.
BRAND: In her quest to change her image from vapid, rich girl to serious philanthropist, she has hired a crisis manager. Michael Sitrick is known as the attack dog image fixer to the rich and powerful. Here are just some of his clients: billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle, former Disney chief Michael Ovitz, talk show host Rush Limbaugh, R. Kelly, Tommy Lee, Halle Berry, Naomi Campbell, the list goes on. Michael Sitrick is here now. Welcome to the show.
Mr. MICHAEL SITRICK (Chairman and CEO, Sitrick and Company): Hi.
BRAND: Well, let's talk about some of the challenges that you've faced. We talked earlier off tape, and I just want our listeners to know that you're not willing to talk about your current client, Paris Hilton.
Mr. SITRICK: Yeah, that's right. Except to say that with Paris that is absolutely accurate. She is not the character that you saw on "The Simple Life." She is a very intelligent woman, much more so than the public has seen before. And also a very caring person. At the end of the day, information is power and truth wins out, and it will went out here. That's all I can really say about Paris.
BRAND: Okay. So I see you're working right now. Let's talk about one of the clients you represented, Rush Limbaugh. He was embroiled in a drug abuse scandal. It threatened to derail his career. What was your tactic there to rehabilitate his image?
Mr. SITRICK: Well, you first to have to identify what information is out there, what the public perception is. Is the public perception correct or is it incorrect? And then how do you go about correcting those errors and getting out your message.
You know, as a journalist - and most of the people in our firm are ex-journalists - as a journalist, you're taught to ask who, what, when, where, why and how. In our firm we also ask so what: why should anybody care, why is it relevant. The three words that a pundit can never bring him or herself to say is I don't know, whether they know or not.
BRAND: You are also known for your very aggressive tactics, using so-called truth squads, digging up alleged inaccuracies in the media and shining a spotlight on them, something called the wheel of pain. What is that?
Mr. SITRICK: Well, sometimes the truth hurts, and there are times that people don't want the truth to come out. And we make sure, if it suits our client's purpose, that the truth gets out. So the wheel of pain is nothing more than shining a light of truth, bringing out some facts about a situation - and the key word here is facts - that the other side may not want to have come out to the public. If the truth comes out, and especially if the truth is on my client's side, then it's a win.
BRAND: Facts, though, are spinable, if you will. You know, image is something that is fungible. Here you've got, let's say, a supermarket heiress, we will just make that a fictional character.
Mr. SITRICK: No, No. Not a super - okay.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRAND: A fictional character who has a terrible ditsy image and worse. You try to spin it into something else, something completely opposite. So where is the truth there?
Mr. SITRICK: The most important thing we can do for our client is understand the dynamics. Then, once we understand all of the circumstances and all of the facts, we can advise them. You don't advise someone to say they didn't do it if they did.
I had book come out about 10 years ago ironically called "Spin." The one cardinal rule in the book is you never lie. You don't lie because it's not right and you don't lie because ultimately you will be found out. And in the business we're in, the most important asset we have is credibility.
BRAND: Michael Sitrick is an image consultant, a crisis manager. He's based in Los Angeles. Thank you very much.
Mr. SITRICK: Thanks.