On the night of July 6, hundreds of thousands of residents and business owners in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan suddenly found themselves without power. For some, this was a serious inconvenience; for others, it was a financial nightmare. But for Consolidated Edison, the company responsible for supplying power to these regions, it was a PR disaster.
On the night of July 6, hundreds of thousands of residents and
business owners in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of
Manhattan suddenly found themselves without power. For some, this was a
serious inconvenience; for others, it was a financial nightmare. But for
Consolidated Edison, the company responsible for supplying power to
these regions, it was a PR disaster.
CARMA analyzed the coverage of the blackout in four New York newspapers
- The New York Times, Daily News, Newsday and The New York Post - to see
how Con Ed handled the crisis. CARMA found that the company fared quite
poorly, barely defending itself as it was attacked by elected officials,
city residents, editorial boards and others.
In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, Con Ed spokespeople, led by
president Michael Evans, attempted to provide an explanation for the
Evans said, ’We’ve never seen electrical loads like this in the history
of our company and we’ve never seen heat like this in our city’ (The New
York Post, July 8).
However, ConEd’s explanations did nothing to placate New York Mayor Rudy
Giuliani,who harshly criticized the company for days. ’I think the city
of New York is entitled to a more secure flow of electrical power than
Con Edison is giving us,’ he said. ’You can’t have too many nights like
the night we had last night and not expect that you are going to kill
people’ (The New York Times, July 8).
Even when Con Ed offered to reimburse individuals and businesses for
their losses, Giuliani turned it into negative publicity for the
’Come on, give me a break,’ he said. ’Anyone that takes dollars 100 and
signs a release better get their head examined’ (Daily News, July
Editorials and opinion pieces were no more favorable. New York’s Daily
News (July 7) ran an opinion piece with the headline, ’Emphasis is on
’Con’ at Con Ed.’ And in an editorial entitled, ’Rudy right to blow fuse
over Con Ed performance,’ Newsday (July 9) stated that ’Con Ed can’t
just shrug and cite triple-digit temperatures.’
A secondary issue in the coverage caused additional damage. Many
residents in the affected neighborhoods accused the company of cutting
off their electricity so that those in more affluent areas would keep
The company ’steadfastly denied’ these accusations, but as one state
senator said, ’You’ll never be able to convince anybody that it was a
random event’ (The New York Times, July 8).
Throughout the coverage, Con Ed appeared to be reactive rather than
For example, the fact that Con Ed has one of the lowest rates of power
failure in the industry was mentioned in a couple of articles, but not
once by a company spokesperson.
Perhaps Con Edison’s low-voltage PR can be attributed to its monopoly
status. If so, the company should beware. The New York Post (July 8)
said, ’(Con Edison’s) shameful performance is the best argument to date
in favor of finally ending the monopolies that utility companies enjoy
on providing power to New York.’
Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found
at www. carma.com.