“It’s been fun, but I don’t think I need you as a friend anymore.“

That was the single line email I received from my best friend of over 20 years this afternoon when he read about the proposed new rules for disabled guests at Disney Theme Park. Having known him as long as I have, I can say with confidence that I thinkhe was kidding.

The change, sparked in large part by the well-publicized policy abuses from companies like Dream Tours, rolls out October 9 allowing disabled patrons to return to a ride at a designated time—similar to the FastPass system Disney currently makes available to everyone—effectively ending the longtime practice of line-skipping. In other words, they’re finally treating individuals with disabilities like everybody else.

Now, it is true that I will certainly miss what author John Green might call a ”wheelchair perk.“ For many years as a kid growing up in Los Angeles, frequent trips to Disneyland happened. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I didn’t enjoy circling the park multiple times on a given summer afternoon with my friends. However, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve offered to trade my disability with anyone who believes the temporary celebrity gained among friends for the day’s outing is worth dealing with other “perks” of being disabled. In my case, excessive fatigue from standing or walking the shortest of distances, attempting to maintain a steady gait while praying silently that I don’t trip, fall, and end up face-to-face greeting the pavement, and enduring awkward stares from passersby in the process who have no idea how much energy (physical and mental) it takes just to get myself from point A to point B. Not surprisingly, nobody has taken me up on it.

As a kid, I found out who my real friends were rather quickly. There were those who hung out with me all the time, and those who invited me out just ahead of their trip to Disneyland. The only difference was, despite my entrepreneurial spirit from an early age, I didn’t have the chutzpah or damaged frontal lobe required to charge the latter for an afternoon of riding roller coasters. I also had no desire to punch my ticket to Hell before I was even old enough to see an R-rated movie.

People with disabilities of varying degrees are often accused of "gaming the system” by the ignorant and uninformed whose schema of disability they don’t fit into. Accommodations of any sort are offered in an attempt to level the playing field, and because Federal law prohibits asking for specifics on an individual’s given disability there will always be those who take advantage of these safeguards who shouldn’t. Regardless, Disney is right to try and rectify abuses with their new policy. The only question in my mind is, “What took so long?”

Of course none of this would even be an issue if the park had accessible lines to begin with, but that’s another story altogether.


Dear Mr. Schultz,

Long ago I was taught not to kick somebody when they’re down. So, naturally I’m obligated to lift you up prior to taking you to task for your recent open letter concerning Starbucks’ gun policies to coffee snobs everywhere. So be it.

Mr. Schultz, I love your coffee. Starbucks offers premium quality coffee at affordable prices. De-lish. Every day, I visit a nearby Starbucks location comically testing out new aliases to see if I can catch an unsuspecting barista off-guard. I confess, I’m addicted.Starbucks is my mistress, and I know I’m not alone.

I have a love-love relationship with all of your baristas who energetically mix whatever Frappuccino concoction I feel like trying off of the ever-expanding Starbucks Secret Menu with a smile while simultaneously asking where I got the idea to blend my Java Chip with Cinnamon Dolce and Toffee Nut syrup. Putting aside the inconsistencies with how much I’m charged from store-to-store or even barista-to-barista for the same drink, or the lack of disability friendly access and seating at the vast majority of locations I’ve been to here in D.C., the effort that goes into making Starbucks that elusive “third place” you strive for is paying off.

Having said that, your open letter published this morning by The New York TimesThe Washington PostUSA Today, and The Wall Street Journal among others is appreciated, but ultimately meaningless. In the wake of Monday’s events at Navy Yard it’s certainly timely, and I would argue, politically motivated. There have been numerous occasions for you to voice your concern, yet you waited. The truth is, a polite request like this will fall on deaf ears. Even worse, so would an outright ban assuming you were willing to enforce it, which you made clear you are not.  If someone lawfully or otherwise wants to enter your store with a gun, they will. That won’t change. 

On the subject of respecting “open carry” laws, I’m reminded of the lyrics from Chris Rock’s 1999 No Sex In The Champagne Room where he muses, “Don’t go to parties with metal detectors. Sure it feels safe inside, but what about everyone else waiting outside with guns? They know you don’t have one.” I am not by any stretch of the imagination a card-carrying member of the NRA, but I do know that for many people, particularly in states where open carry is permitted, the desire to feel safe will trump the need for a daily caffeine fix every time. 

You are correct that no action you take will satisfy everyone. Social media has already erupted in backlash, but that was bound to happen no matter what position you took. However, walking the line on this issue with a polite request of this sort seems disingenuous at best and politically motivated at worst. Take a stand, Mr. Schultz. Pick either side of the fence, just don’t sit on it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Frappuccino is waiting.


Yesterday’s events at Navy Yard offer us some great lessons in public relations and demonstrate the power that social media can and should play in the face of tragedy. As with anything, some did it well, others not so much.

Anyone who follows the United States Navy on Twitter knew about the incident while the shooter was still in the building because the Navy was tweeting about it in real time. At first it struck me as odd if only because of the closely guarded nature of our military, but this kind of reporting is exactly what you want in a moment of crisis. You want to get information out quickly to as many people as possible and  get ahead of the story before misinformation becomes fact in the blink of an eye. The US Navy’s approach here was spot on. Get ahead, and control the story. They did a fantastic job on that front.

In other proof that good always triumphs over evil, Uber DC sent out a tweet on its account letting patrons know that they were offering free rides to those still within the vicinity of the shooting. Good PR and doing the right thing go hand-in-hand. Take note, WMATA.

Proving they have no class and holding their riders with such contempt, a WMATA bus denied free bus fare to a patron from Navy Yard. As if that weren’t enough to make you disgusted, not only were they disseminating information to as few people as possible, but they continued to disseminate the wrong information.

Amid all the chaos and uncertainty, the Senate went on lockdown by the afternoon out of “an abundance of caution.” However, the House, which is actually closer to Navy Yard, did not. Go figure. Politics are always at play in this city.

Finally, we have the response of our beloved Washington Nationals. They did the right thing offering the stadium as a place to reunite families with those affected by the shooting, but why it took almost the entire day deciding to postpone the evening’s game, I’m not sure. With the ongoing investigation and insistence by the Capitol Police that residents remain away from the area, it defies logic. There certainly are logistics involved in canceling an event like this at the last minute, but I think if Major League Baseball were more coordinated it wouldn’t have taken them almost six hours to make that call. There are several reasons from the outset that game should have been canceled immediately. The most obvious reason is that you don’t want play in an unsafe environment. Not to mention many players (rightfully so) felt that playing last night would be disrespectful.

Social media is a powerful medium and can be used to great advantage during crisis time. Your brand can benefit tremendously when it’s used correctly or it can suffer when it’s not.  Learning to leverage it and use it wisely when needed is extremely valuable.


What an interesting week it’s been both here at home and across the pond for PR. This week we examine the good, the bad, and the royally comical.

First, we have the good: Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon has pledged his entire fortune to charity after being diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. There’s also the heartwarming story of President George H.W. Bush shaving his head after the young son of one of his Secret Service agents was diagnosed with leukemia. “It was the right thing to do,” Bush said of his solidarity.

Then, we have the bad: the salacious details of Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal and the 23-year-old woman now claiming she felt used and manipulated. Really? I’m sure she’ll parlay it into a book deal and laugh all the way to the bank. More notably, Spirit Airlines and the New York Sports Clubs are themselves looking to capitalize on the latest revelations surrounding the embattled mayoral candidate whose “Flaccid poll numbers” (thanks to The Wrap for that gem) prove he’s got a bigger battle ahead of him than he may have anticipated.

Slate, too, is getting in on the action with its very own Anthony Weiner pseudonym finder. You know, in case you have the urge to, um, live “Dangerously.” For the record, you can call me Esteban Perill.

Still can’t understand for the life of me the geniuses behind his apology tour who allowed him to give this press conference without preparing him properly. He stumbled awkwardly, hardly appeared sincere, and strained himself looking up from his prepared remarks. Not to mention the seemingly creepy guy at about the 1:00 minute mark whose head pops out every now and again from behind his cubicle as if he’s part of a live action Where’s Waldo. Watching Anthony Weiner trying to stage a comeback is proving to be a comedy of errors. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that it can’t be done. We’ve seen it. But it has to be done the right way. Not every wife who stands by her man in a time of scandal is going to come out the other side of this looking like Hillary Clinton. Let’s also not forget the attempted comeback of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who, fair or not, is tied to Weiner. On the bright side, at least you aren’t this reporter, drawing attention to herself for all the wrong reasons.

In other news, Chipotle admitted to staging a Twitter hack of its own account in a publicity stunt supporting their 20th anniversary campaign. Well, it worked. The company maintains that public reaction to the prank has been largely positive, and it did certainly help bring hype to what might have otherwise been a lackluster promotional effort, but I have to wonder if this will do you any long-term brand damage. Oh, who am I kidding? Chipotle is so addictive they could lie to me seven ways to Sunday and I’d still be one of the first to lineup for a burrito.

Finally, we have the birth of the Royal baby. Something to celebrate? Absolutely. Worthy of the nonstop 24/7 coverage garnered from the moment the Duchess of Cambridge announced she was pregnant and the pandaemonium that ensued the moment she went into labor? I honestly don’t understand the fascination here in the States. I’m entertained more by the CNN ticker gaffe that proved to have the world’s worst timing, or Oreo’s comical take. Sidenote: Oreo has a history with some great campaigns.

If people in the United States cared half as much about domestic politics as they did about the birth of George Alexander Louis, (Seriously, that’s the best you could do?) I’d feel a lot better about the future of democracy in this country.


Have you read Grave Injustice yet? Read the press release I authored, below.

American University Professor Rick Stack Releases Hauntingly Poignant Narrative Exposing Uncertainty of Capital Punishment

Washington D.C—“Can you imagine what it feels like to know that the state wants to kill you?” Such is the unfathomable question posed by death row exonerate Shujaa Graham who, after enduring three years on San Quentin’s death row, now counts himself among the 140 nationwide fortunate enough to be alive and able to shed light on the broken criminal justice system that nearly killed him.

Others are not so lucky.

For them, communication professor, and death penalty thought leader Richard Stack has penned his fourth book, Grave Injustice. An eye-opening, gut-wrenching narrative exposing the fallibilities and fallacies of our nation’s criminal justice system head-on and the lethal consequences that follow. Through a series of case studies that are sure to make you uncomfortable—even angry—Stack profiles the ultimate fate of nearly two dozen individuals silenced far too quickly by a court content to see them put to death on extremely questionable merit; the erroneous say-so of a jailhouse snitch, shaky eyewitness testimony, police corruption or coerced confessions. No DNA? No problem. Grave Injustice unearths the unspoken reality that justice itself is not only blind, but also can be painfully indifferent.

With several state legislatures deliberating repeal of capital punishment and bringing the death penalty debate front and center, Grave Injustice is a hauntingly poignant reminder of the enormity of what’s at stake. For opponents of the death penalty it’s a vested interest in being on the right side of history, for the condemned, it truly is a matter of life and death.

“Really this is about leading a dialogue and giving a voice to those who aren’t able to do it themselves anymore,” says Stack. “Here we have irrefutable evidence that far too often the system gets it wrong. That’s unacceptable.”

Regardless of one’s position on capital punishment, Grave Injustice can’t help but move and inspire as time and again it raises serious questions about the efficacy of the irrevocable decision to willingly end another human life in the name of justice when there’s the very real possibility of innocence.

For more information visit http://www.amazon.com/Grave-Injustice-Unearthing-Wrongful-Executions/dp/1612341624


About the Author

RICHARD A. STACK serves on the faculty of the School of Communication at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of three previously published books, including Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance & the Victims of Capital Punishment(Praeger, 2006). He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan talks with NPR’S Scott Simon about his new book,  Dad Is Fat  at Sixth and I synagogue in downtown Washington D.C. on June 4, 2013.

Jim Gaffigan talks with NPR’S Scott Simon about his new book, Dad Is Fat at Sixth and I synagogue in downtown Washington D.C. on June 4, 2013.

During the Q&A When I asked him what advice he had for me as an aspiring comic, he reminded me to write frequently and surround myself with supportive likeminded people.


Legendary investor Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 Years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Nowhere is this more accurate than in public relations, and when faced with a communications crisis how you handle it makes all the difference.

Dream Tours, a Florida-based company that aims to enrich the experience of physically challenged guests guiding them around Disney theme park, is under fire for allegedly helping guests skip the lengthy lines by posing as family members. Since the story broke curtesy of the New York Post yesterday, Dream Tours has been in crisis mode and failing miserably for not recognizing three of the biggest truths about crisis communication.

Crisis Truth #1 You Have To Communicate Immediately

Silence may be golden, but not in PR. Save for a two sentence statement citing “inaccurate press and slander” shutting down their VIP offering, Dream Tours remains silent on the allegations issuing no counter narrative to the press and failing to take full advantage of their own blog or social media channels (which they themselves promote) to correct the supposed misreporting. The longer they remain silent the quicker these allegations become widely accepted as “fact.”

Crisis Truth #2: Social Media Can Make Or Break You

Their company Twitter account contains only two tweets dating back to August of 2012 and their Facebook page was updated just hours ago (more than 36 hours after the Post broke their story) with the first response echoing their website and adding that they’ve now hired counsel to investigate their legal options. On the plus side, their message is consistent. On the negative, the message lacks substance. It’s astounding to me that in our current digital climate where company reputations can rise and fall with a single tweet or Facebook post that Dream Tours is caught so unprepared. The size of the company notwithstanding, in crisis time, long silences are the equivalent of PR suicide. It’s not enough to simply say the story is inaccurate and assume the job is done. With no counter narrative their silence is perceived by the public and the media as guilt, accurate or not.

Crisis Truth #3: Once You Hear The Thunder It’s Too Late To Build The Arc.

Smart companies understand that crisis preparation is key and plans should be drawn up early and practiced often. The good news is that most crises are predictable and thus, can be prepared for accordingly. Do you know who your crisis team is? Have you brainstormed potential crises that may happen to your company? Develop your responses and conduct real-time drills. Like every other type of disaster, you prepare, you practice, you find the gaps and refine. Doing and saying nothing only worsens the problem.

John F. Kennedy once said,

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two letters. One represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”

I’m curious to watch how the rest of this story unfolds.


Dear Future Wife,

Hello. I didn’t see you there. Maybe that’s because I’m blind as a bat, or the fact that I’m barely 5’1 so a lot of things (like short jokes) go right over my head. I’m not sure how you found this letter, but either way, here we are. If this relationship is going to go anywhere there are some other things I think you have a right to know from the outset. Take some time and mull over what you learn. Then, you can make an informed decision about the future of our relationship and if things eventually go south, I can point to this letter and say with confidence that you were warned. 

1). I’m a writer. What this means has already been extensively covered, so I won’t beat a dead horse (particularly because I am not a fan of animal cruelty) but you must understand that writing is a very mood-driven moment-to-moment process that I do not always control. I write at bizarre times when the inspiration strikes and I can’t promise when that’s going to be. I’m crazy. I’ll write and write and write and then tear the page completely screaming at the top of my lungs in frustration that it’s complete shit and that I’ll never write anything again. My future memoir has gone through seven working titles, yet I haven’t written a single page. I know that to be an artist you have to make art. Imagine that. So while I’m perpetually stuck in my lunacy waiting for inspiration you’re going to have to deal.

2). My bookshelf is filled with books half-read. Some I’ll get to. Others I won’t. Regardless, when you eye it and curiously ask if you can borrow it, my reflexive answer will almost always be no. Why? “Because,” I’ll say emphatically, I’m going to read it.” The reality that it’s sat on my shelf untouched for months means nothing. If the mood does strike me I want to have the opportunity to read it without having to harass you to return it.

3). If it’s Sunday it’s Meet the Press. That isn’t just a tagline, it’s a reality. I’m an unapologetic policy wonk and living in D.C. only adds fuel to the fire. I will religiously watch Meet the Press every single Sunday and I would love it if you would engage in a philosophical and political discussion with me at the same time. You’ve got be able to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I realize that the show itself is much more about David Gregory meeting the the newsmakers and the spokespeople for the press and not so much the press themselves, but that’s really beside the point. If you want to really meet the press, watch Jay Carney during a press briefing. That’s some PR Jiu-Jitsu. That’s not to say David Gregory isn’t press, but calling it Meet David Gregory with David Gregory is more than redundant. Not only are we watching it, we’re doing it in sweats comfortably and there will be refreshments involved. Sure it may only be an hour long, but this kind of political theater deserves popcorn.

4). I’m the most indecisive person you’ll ever meet. Or am I? In a word, yes. Where shall he go to dinner? Chinese? Mexican? I might want tacos, I’m not quite sure yet. Wait – didn’t we have one of those last week? I don’t care. I’m craving it. I want the fortune cookie, or the extremely addictive chicken enchilada, or whatever it is. While we’re on the subject, should we see the 7:30 showing at the nearest theater or the 8:00 showing at the theater that’s a little further simply because I know the seating will be nicer and it’s likely to be less crowded? Which shirt should I wear? I don’t care that we’re going to be sitting in the dark. I need something that brings out my eyes.

5). I combat my indecisiveness by going to Starbucks. As Tom Hanks astutely observedin You’ve Got Mail, one of the great benefits of Starbucks is that it instills indecisive people like myself with a tremendous sense of accomplishment by forcing us to make as many as six decisions in a matter of seconds just to order one cup of coffee. All it costs, according to Hanks, is $2.95. Of course, that was 15 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of that defining sense of self has more than doubled. So help you God if you expect anything from me ahead of my morning coffee.

6). I’ll kill spiders for you if you promise to get things off of the top shelf for me. In case you missed it, see my note above about being super short. I’m convinced the only person who understands my plight in that regard is Peter Dinklage. Thanks to Cerebral Palsy I have balance and coordination issues, too, so please don’t ask me to climb on a ladder or a step stool unless you want me falling and ending up in the ER. Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt. I’ll probably go there again many times, but I like to avoid the foreseeable disasters at the very least. 

Keep in mind that my preferred method of killing spiders is not quite the manly one that you envision. If I see something creepy crawly my first reaction is going to be throwing a shoe box at it and moments later tiptoeing up to it to see if it’s dead. At the slightest indication of movement, I will completely freak out, declare that portion of my apartment a disaster area, seal it with police tape, and never go back there again. The whole notion of that creepy crawly thing being more scared of me than I am of it is a complete fallacy. I don’t buy that for one iota, not even a second.

7). If it’s between April and October and it’s 1:05 or 7:05 it’s time for baseball. You’re welcome to join me, in fact I encourage it, but be warned that I am one of those people who screams at the TV during a game. Yes I know it’s illogical, and yes I know the players can’t hear me, but short of actually being in the stadium it’s the best I can do. I like to think that on some cosmic level my inane screaming actually has some positive impact on the decisions made in the game. Yes, I realize I’m at home watching this game but I will wear my jersey anyway. I’ll argue balls and strikes with the umpire despite my vision and I’ll chastise players for not running fast enough or jumping higher at any given moment. With all that money they’re getting paid they should do whatever they have to do to win. If we lose, I’m going to be very upset, so it’s best to leave me alone.

I’m not going to tell you that your relative can’t die or that I won’t go with you to Parisbecause it’s the playoffs and there’s a  big rivalry happening— i.e. Yankees vs. the Red Sox—but they/you get major bonus points for taking that into consideration.

8). I’m not really good at sharing my food. It’s my food, and I’m hungry. No I’m not a jackass. I’m hypoglycemic. There’s a difference. I proportion my meals accordingly. Besides, anyone who’s ever asked me for “just a small bite” has redefined what the word “small” actually means to the point where I’m left wondering if I’m going to faint in the very near future as my blood sugar continues to drop and there isn’t an energy bar in sight.

9). I will quote random pieces of cinema on the fly and expect you to understand why and how it relates to what we’re talking about. I know you’ve never seen the movie (you’re working on that, right?) but I’m going to quote it anyway. The connection in my brain is there. The lines connecting one thought to another may be thin, but they exist and I will expect you to keep up.

10). I will forever be stuck in the 90’s musically. Can I help it if that decade of music shaped my childhood and my thoughts on what would ultimately be defined in my head as “classic" music? No. So every time I hear “Hand in My Pocket“, “Tearin’ Up My Heart” or “Mr. Jones” I will sing it with every vocal bone in my body like I’m trying to turn a chair on The Voice. Speaking of the 90’s, "As Long as You Love Me” is a song title that belongs to the Backstreet Boys, not Justin Bieber. Stop causing brand confusion.

Along the same vein, playing songs on repeat is not an uncommon occurrence either, and there is usually a great story behind it ranging from inspirational/motivational kicks to pushing myself beyond emotional hangups. When you have the time, I’ll explain what prompted 15 straight hours of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” or how John Mayer’s Battle Studies was responsible for getting me across the finish line during my master’s thesis.

11). Drinking is a rare occurrence unless I am in the company of longtime friends. Have you ever noticed how quickly alcohol turns people into one of the seven dwarfs? Think about it. Happy, Bashful, Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy? As for Doc, well he was constantly mixing up words, losing his train of thought and mumbling. Need I say more? I’m just not into the whole thing. Plus, when you have C.P. another truth sets in rather quickly. I can barely walk when I’m sober, much less intoxicated. Acting/looking the part doesn’t require libations when you’re blessed with a neurological disorder the very nature of which restricts muscle movement and results in a shuffled gait among other things. On the rare occasion that I do drink, cycling through Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief is also likely. 

  1. Denial. Here I am a few drinks in and trying to convince myself that walking across the room without injury is possible. “You can do it” says my drunk brain. My body clearly having other ideas, like staying sill in the name of self preservation. 

  2. Anger. “Damn it. I am going to do what I want. If I want to get up and move, I will.” I then promptly stumble and fall. That’s what I get for not listening.

  3. Bargaining. I’m not a religious guy, but here it comes. “OK, God. I can’t afford to lose [any more of] my dignity in front of these people. Let me just get from point A to point B without injuring myself and I’ll be in synagogue first thing Saturday.” [Stumble] “OK. OK. Friday and Saturday. You win. “

  4. Grief. This is where I’ll realize that despite all my personal achievements and the medical miracles to date, my quest to be a real boy will never include the ability to even feign being functionally drunk even at my best.

  5. Acceptance. I know the effects of alcohol on my body. So if I do drink and you happen to be there, consider it a sign that I place a tremendous amount of faith and trust in our friendship.

Now you know exactly what you’re getting into, for better or worse. If and when we do get married I am having this letter appended to our prenup. But you’ll love me anyway, so it won’t matter. 


I Told You This From Day One