At the Guardian symposium last summer, George Monbiot’s opening question (to Trevor Davies of East Anglia) was:
why was CRU’s response to this issue such a total car crash?
It’s very difficult for a good employer to get reputation management right.
A few days ago, we learned (h/t reader Chu) that the University of East Anglia had used Neil Wallis of the Outside Organisation for “reputation management”. Wallis turns out to have been a former News of the World editor, who was recently arrested in connection with the NOTW scandals.
The University of East Anglia was not the only UK institution that employed Wallis for reputation management. Concurrently he was employed as a consultant for the Metropolitan Police Services in London, where he had been hired on the recommendation of Deputy Commissioner John Yates, who was also responsible for counter terrorism operations in the UK. Wallis’ former close associate at the News of the World, Andy Coulson, was press secretary for Prime Minister David Cameron, to whom Wallis is now said to have provided “informal” advice.
In organizations other than the University of East Anglia, hiring Wallis as a consultant has proved to be toxic, resulting in the resignations of one leading official after another.
First came the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Services. Stephenson appeared before the Home Affairs Committee yesterday.
Next came the resignation of John Yates, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Services.
An investigation into the role of a third police official, Dick Fedorcio, has commenced with the aptly named IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission).
Earlier this year, Coulson resigned as David Cameron’s press secretary. Yesterday, Cameron cut short an African trip to answer fresh questions about Coulson.
As Davies’ said, it’s “very difficult for a good employer to get reputation management right”. Presumably making the problem that much harder for East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. That their first instinct was to seek counsel from a former News of the World editor on “reputation management” speaks volumes about the University’s attitude.
George Monbiot’s advice to the environmental community was simple: that they’d “only get past this by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate, and demonstrating that it cannot happen again.”
Instead of taking Monbiot’s advice, the University decided that their priority was to “fire back some shots on the scientists’ behalf”. They also commissioned tainted inquiries (Muir Russell, Oxburgh) that not only failed to clear the air, but who arguably made matters worse. Whether these courses of action were advised by Wallis or merely abetted by him hardly matters. Precisely what contribution, if any, Wallis made to the University’s strategy and statements remains unknown. Indeed, until a few days ago, none of us were even aware of his involvement. Presumably more will become known in the weeks ahead.
It’s too bad that the University of East Anglia decided that the Climategate problem was merely a “reputation management” problem and the sort of advice that they needed could be obtained from a former News of the World editor (let alone one with Wallis’ baggage). The advice that they needed had already been provided by George Monbiot – that they could “only get past this by grasping reality, apologising where appropriate, and demonstrating that it cannot happen again”. Had the University paid attention to Monbiot’s advice, subsequent events would undoubtedly have been different and healthier.
Update: Keith Olbermann showed this post on his show in which he disseminates Joe Romm’s unsupported theory of Neil Wallis as agent for Murdoch at UEA: