Taxi for De Niro: celebs should know the risks of weighing in on Trump vs Clinton

If as a celebrity you are going to get publicly involved in the US presidential debate, there's a right and a wrong way to do it, writes UK PR boss Phil Hall.

Any celebrity voicing an opinion on US politics has to think very carefully right now, warns Phil Hall
Any celebrity voicing an opinion on US politics has to think very carefully right now, warns Phil Hall
Each week the discourse surrounding the US Presidential candidates has plumbed to greater depths.

From leaked footage to wild accusations and outright lies, as the media furore surrounding Trump has grown, more and more celebrities have piled into the debate. 

The latest example of this is a fiery one-minute video monologue by Robert De Niro, culminating in him saying he would like to punch Trump.

While this makes for great headlines and media exposure, celebrities or brands from popular culture should be aware of the potential pitfalls of commenting on politics. 

If celebrities approach politics in a brash manner without a coherent media strategy in place, they risk seriously damaging their reputation. There is a risk of appearing arrogant, overly aggressive or uninformed. 

This issue is more pertinent than ever right now, given the gutter tactics being employed in the election race. 

Celebrities who wade into the mess are in danger of bringing themselves down to the same unseemly levels of rhetoric. 

De Niro had an opportunity to rise above this in his video, but by commenting on wanting to punch Trump and throwing insults he brought the tone of conversation back down to Trump’s level. 

If a celebrity wants to politicise themselves this is not a problem, but brands do not always look kindly on potential ambassadors who are so outspoken and unpredictable. 

Celebrity interference in politics often grates with the public, but condemnation of Trump has been so widespread and absolute that it all feeds into the same overarching narrative.

Phil Hall, chairman of PHA Media


The public can take a similarly dim view - when a celebrity takes a side and makes such inflammatory comments they risk alienating areas of their fanbase. 

Nonetheless, the widespread celebrity backing Clinton is receiving has been a boost to her campaign. 

Celebrity interference in politics often grates with the public, but condemnation of Trump has been so widespread and absolute that it all feeds into the same overarching narrative.

Jerry Springer’s tweet, that Clinton belongs in the White House while Trump belongs on his show, was a great example of staying on brand while perfectly capturing the public mood. 

With the bulk of popular culture united against him, leading Republicans deserting his cause and the majority of the media across the world condemning his comments and actions, the prevailing narrative almost everywhere is 'anti-Trump'. 

With such toxic feeling abounding, those considering endorsing the Republican candidate must think very carefully before doing so. 

Clint Eastwood made comments in August admitting that Trump has said ‘a lot of dumb things,’ but that people were tired of political correctness and he would be voting for Trump.

It’s little surprise that he has received precious little other celebrity backing since - he has become such a poisonous media figure that any association with him can only lead to reputational damage.

Any celebrity voicing an opinion on US politics has to think very carefully right now. At this stage, a public endorsement of Trump is tantamount to putting your entire reputation on a knife-edge.

Conversely, criticism of Trump and support of Clinton has to be done in a controlled way.

Celebrities need to be in control of their own narrative by offering a message focussed around positivity rather than the vitriol that threatens to engulf this election.

Phil Hall is chairman of PHA Media

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