Seven Reasons Why “The Affair’s” Noah Solloway is the Worst Crisis Communications Client Ever
On the fifth and final season of Showtime’s “The Affair,” Noah Solloway’s past finally comes back to haunt him. Once a media darling, in this era of #MeToo, women from his past, including a publicist and student, accuse him of sexual misconduct. When a Vanity Fair reporter he’s worked with before calls for comment on the publicist’s accusations, he makes his first PR mistake: he takes her call, utterly unprepared, and begins answering off the cuff. He vehemently refutes the publicist’s allegation, saying it absolutely never happened—essentially calling the alleged victim a liar. (PR mistake #2).
Viewers who have watched from the beginning know that Noah’s recollections are often fuzzy, but clearly something did happen. As a famous person, he should know that allegations like these are newsworthy—especially against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. So what should Noah have done? He should have found out what the reporter wanted, said he’d get back to her, and sought PR counsel from a professional before determining how to reply.
When he realizes he’s made a mistake (good, Noah!), he seeks counsel from a trusted ally who brings in a PR professional (also good!). At this point, we’re supposed to sympathize with Noah, but I was 100 percent on “Team PR Pro.” She was experienced, calm, laid out the facts, implications and possible ways forward. She counseled Noah not to talk to the reporter again, and instead to let her intervene. This is where the PR arc could have ended, but Noah continued making mistakes. I watched, cringing, as he became the crisis PR client who makes everything worse.
HUGE mistake #4: Noah, believing he knew better than the expert, went to the Vanity Fair office to confront the reporter and try to explain his initial reaction (which was on the record). This was like hitting the lottery for the reporter. He gave her loads more fodder to use against him. He had no third party (PR expert) with him to take notes, interject, redirect (if needed) and witness the conversation (blunder #5). Noah: STOP TALKING!!!!
Then she dropped the bomb, asking him about the second allegation: the student’s account. He was totally unprepared (again) and could not sensibly respond. He became frazzled, and, in a complete panic, stormed out. His unhinged demeanor (error #6) would definitely be part of the narrative if I was writing that story.
If you watch “The Affair,” you know that the story is told through shifting lenses. “The Affair” reminds us our past relies on faulty memories and individual interpretation. It shows us there can be many takes on any given situation, that major and minor differences can alter impressions of what really happened, and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.
That’s exactly what crisis PR is like when there are allegations involving two (or more) parties. And that’s why it’s critically important to plan responses, consider all angles, listen to counsel, proceed cautiously, and always remain calm.
Noah’s character has had no shortage of crises throughout five seasons of “The Affair.” I’ve watched faithfully as he and other characters made mistakes with serious and lasting consequences.
As someone who works with clients on crises large and small, his PR mistakes in this season’s fifth episode really hit home. My sympathy was with the PR expert, not with Noah. Mistake #7—not trusting the expertise of a professional—is something anyone in this profession has no doubt experienced, and, as we saw with Noah, can have significant consequences.
Scenes from episode six indicate that his crisis will escalate when he angrily and publicly confronts an accuser before a gaggle of witnesses armed with smart phones (the crisis communications mistakes keep coming!). Seems like an opportunity for the PR Pro to step in for some heavy-duty damage control.
Maybe she’ll get a spin-off?