by Yeamrot Taddese
Crisis communications expert Jeff Ansell said troubled celebrity Charlie Sheen is “heading for a major breakdown.”
Ansell, the author of When the Headline is You: An Insider’s Guide to Handling the Media, came to Centennial College Wednesday to talk about some of the ways newsmakers can overcome crises and rebuild trust with the public.
But Sheen’s case has reached “a dead end,” Ansell said.
“There ain’t nothing anybody can tell this guy. It’s like working with a corporate executive who knows it all.”
Ansell, a former investigative journalist and anchor at Citytv in Toronto, now runs Jeff Ansell and Associates, in Toronto’s Yorkville district. He has trained White House spokespeople and worked on high profile cases like the Erin Brockovich case, which was later turned into a major (2000) motion picture starring Julia Roberts.
Know-it-all corporate executives, Ansell said, become good clients when things turn ugly and they start tasting the bitter flavor of what he calls the “you know what sandwich” of damning reports and eroding images.
“But Sheen isn’t going to do that because he is mentally ill,” Ansell said. “His brain is melting.”
When things go wrong, Ansell advises individuals and corporations to apologize. But he adds that they should always couple their admission of guilt with a promise to take action.
“I always ask myself, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” he said.
A motto held over from his previous career, which saw journalist Ansell doing investigative reports on Nazi war criminals and nursing home abuse. He also went undercover as a drug addict for a year and exposed two doctors who pushed drugs to patients.
But when he found himself one of the oldest journalists in the newsroom, Ansell knew it was time to leave. Insensitive journalism, he said, was also what drove him out of the industry.
He remembers a day in the Toronto Citytv newsroom when their lead story for the evening news was a stabbing incident.
Ansell and his colleagues were not happy because they thought the top story was not dramatic enough.
“And then about quarter to six,” Ansell recalls, “the assignment editor gets on the loud speaker and he announces to everybody, ‘Good news, the stabbing victim died. We have a lead story!’
“The newsroom erupted into a cheer, and that’s the day I quit.”
Ansell told journalism students that their job should be more than looking good on TV and sounding great on radio.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “It’s about the difference you can make…healing the world one person at a time.
“Catching that Nazi war criminal…I mean if it weren’t for me, he would have died a free man,” said Ansell, his voice breaking.
Good stories and endings come from listening to people who want to tell you something, Ansell said. Everyone should listen, even Sheen.
“Sit down and listen to your dad, Charlie,” Ansell said. “It doesn’t have to be all public.”