Marie Claire’s Response Sucked. Here’s Why.

5 Oct

It’s now been almost 48 hours since I first saw the Hunger Diaries piece that trashed Kath, Tina, Meghann, Caitlin and Heather , and in that time there has been near total silence from Hearst (publishers of Marie Claire) and Katie Drummond, the author of the piece.

Hearst published a really weak statement that thanked everybody for the comments, both positive and negative (I think I saw four positive over the two days, vs hundreds and hundreds of negative ones), and Katie’s tweeted a couple of snarky tweets. That’s it.  I guess they feel that there’s nothing to be gained from them saying any more than that or engaging with their detractors, who have clearly already made up their minds.

I believe they’re wrong about that.  Here’s why:

1. Damage to Marie Claire’s Reputation
There have been an astronomical number of posts created on this topic over the last couple of days: a HUGE amount of content has been created, the vast majority of which has attacked Marie Claire. Their standards are being called into question, but they’re silent. It makes them look like they’re scared to get into a conversation because they know they’ve done something wrong. Surely if they hadn’t they’d want to defend themselves, wouldn’t they?

2. Damage to Katie’s Reputation
One of the key charges leveled against Katie is that she deceived the bloggers when interviewing them. Ask yourself one question: will a source ever trust her again? The first thing I would do if I got a call from her would be to google her name. Doing so pulls up a bunch of posts accusing her of lying to sources about the story she’s working on.  Would you want to work with somebody that has been accused of that? Whether the accusations are true or not they’re out there for everyone to see. There are always two sides to every story, but her silence doesn’t do her any favors.

3. SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
This is related to #1 and #2, but important enough to call out on its own. There are thousands and thousands of tweets, blog posts and comments out there, almost all in support of the bloggers. Again, with almost nothing substantial from Hearst or Katie out there, it doesn’t look too good.  Organic search results (that is to say the ones you can’t buy from google, that appear naturally in the larger section of your results page) are dominated by posts attacking the magazine and author. One or two you could put down to a crank, but dozens and dozens…

4. Plain Old Ethics
This one’s a bit dull, but perfectly valid. If you’ve been accused of something, particularly something like this, why wouldn’t you want to defend yourself? If you’re in the right, back your position up. If you’ve made a mistake, ‘fess up to it. But just doing nothing…. I don’t get it. Well, I do (legal and/or simply don’t care), but I don’t agree with it. It’s just not the right thing to do, period.

5. Community Backlash
A few people will cancel their subscriptions, sure, but it’s just a few bucks, microscopic in the grand scheme of thigns.  Longer term what they’ve done by failing to engage is caused an entire community (a BIG community, too), to not trust them. Right now that’s not a huge deal to them, but it could come back and bite them in future.

6. Avoiding being a Case Study
Cynical, but true.  In future this incident will be cited as an example of old media just not getting it. Failing to engage, not putting their hands up and admitting to having done anything wrong or even understanding why people were upset… is a mistake, and will be cited as an example of old media being a dinosaur.

So, what do you think about how they’ve handled the situation? Were they right to essentially shut up shop and ignore what was (and still is) going on, or do you agree with me that it’s a pretty major misstep on their part?


9 Responses to “Marie Claire’s Response Sucked. Here’s Why.”

  1. Heather @ Side of Sneakers October 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    I love your different approach to responding to the whole situation- you’re right, it never looks good when a big company ignores a big controversy, regardless of what their take on it is. And acting as if they don’t care very much is a poor reaction as well.

    • kai macmahon October 5, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

      Quite. It may not hurt them in the short term, but long term I’m very confident that it will. And really… if they stand behind the story, they should defend it properly and answer the charges being leveled at them.

  2. Katy October 5, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    Wow, great post (again)…especially #6. My initial thought was — I wonder if I could approach a local college and offer to use this as a case study for up and coming journalists?

    • Rosey Rebecca October 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm #


      I am using the whole thing for a report in my media ethics class. We were supposed to do a book report, but I asked my professor if I could cover this instead.

      My professor made me get up in front of class today to discuss it. Our discussion took up most of the class.

      Her final word?

      Bad and unethical reporting by Katie Drummond, and bad editing on the part of Marie Claire.

      She also said that Marie Claire’s ridiculous response was not surprising at all.

      • kai macmahon October 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

        Hi Rebecca – I LOVE that you chose to cover this in your media ethics class. That’s awesome 🙂

    • kai macmahon October 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm #

      Thanks Katy. I’m confident it’ll get used in the future as an example of how a large brand shouldn’t react when criticized. They can limit the damage somewhat, but having done nothing of note for 48 hours really stands out.

  3. Janice - The Fitness Cheerleader October 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    Their lack of comment has definitely spoken really loud – they don’t care. Actions speak louder than words.

  4. fittingbackin October 7, 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Great post! I majored in PR in undergrad and had intense flashbacks the whole time this was going on – glad I found your post and glad to see that others are using this as education for future practitioners. Very cool.

  5. Beth October 7, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Great post! Definitely helps me look at it from a different point of view.

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