This week's issue is filled with stories of companies and individuals that should have been able to see the issues ahead, but could not - or would not - change course. First, we discuss Bear Stearns and its slow response to the rumors it certainly knew existed. Bad news, followed by more bad news - combined with the macro issues plaguing the housing industry - caused skittish investors to chatter about Bear Stearns' prospects. By the time the company reacted, the rumors impelled a liquidity crisis by scaring investors of all stripes to pull support from the company. The rumors gained traction as the company remained mum.
In the political arena, the stories about potential conflicts between Mark Penn, the Hillary Clinton campaign chief strategist; and Mark Penn, the Burson-Marsteller CEO, started early in the campaign. Little revelations and occasional questions put small dents in Penn's armor, but he remained committed. It was apparent that the scrutiny would never fade, but perhaps he could make it through the primary season (let alone the general election, if Hillary won the Democratic nomination) without any meaty conflict the press could hold onto. Unfortunately for Penn, the Colombia Free Trade affair came during a slow period in the campaign cycle and the spotlight was turned on him.
In the sporting arena (where the naive claim politics has no place), the runners in the torch relay - and the torch itself - have been assailed by pro-Tibet and anti-Sudanese government protesters. The fact that the torch relay - a symbolic event that means a great deal to many, but nothing to some - was protested is no surprise. What is going on with the Olympics is something we've seen a lot of quite recently. If one can support the troops, but oppose the war, then certainly many can support the athletes, but oppose the surrounding pomp. Although I wouldn't rule out protesters interfering with the actual sporting events, this was likely the best opportunity for a "victimless" crime.
Of course, the Olympic organizers had no way out - to alter the course or structure of the torch relay would be to concede something was amiss with either the host or the Olympics. But again, these sorts of things probably should have been considered when China was selected. If they were, it might have been enough to justify choosing another location for the Games.
It would be foolhardy to merely write off that these and other situations are the result of egregious inaction or wishful thinking. What the previous occurrences do confirm is that major players on the financial, political, and global stage are finding it difficult to submit to the presumed tenets of PR's new age: transparency (in the case of Bear Stearns), the warnings of the blogosphere (in the case of Penn), and the wisdom of the crowds (the Beijing Olympics). If the rules are changing, then PR pros need to update their playbooks.