It began with one of those political talking point headlines that have become so common: “President cancels Eagles visit to the White House.” It became a major Public Relations mistake for one major U.S. news network.
No one was really surprised to hear that President Donald Trump canceled the Philadelphia Eagles invitation to tour the White House. Last NFL season, the president came out hard against NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Because of the strained relationship between many players and the Oval Office, several Eagles players said they didn’t plan to attend the traditional annual visit. The president responded by canceling the invitation for the rest of the team.
Again, that’s par for the course in political headlines these days, and people immediately began debating the situation online and on social media. Then Fox News made what was, for them, a very big mistake. While covering the story about the rescinded invitation, Fox showed an image of Eagles players kneeling while the reporter talked about them kneeling during the anthem. Turns out, though, that wasn’t a photo of players kneeling during the anthem. It was a photo of players kneeling in prayer.
One of those players was Zach Ertz, who was livid at the mischaracterization. “This can’t be serious,” he tweeted, “Praying with my teammates well before the anthem is being used for your propaganda? Sad… You guys should have to be better than this…”
Another Eagles player, Chris Long, was pictured in one of the other photos used in the segment. Like Ertz, Long castigated Fox for what he called a “strategic” attempt to mislead. “Fox News used the faith of Christian men dishonestly to push an agenda… That was intentional and strategic… You’re complicit in playing America… Just another day at the office for you, though.”
Eagles fans also recognized the image and immediately responded to the mistake. This was especially abhorrent to Eagles faithful because many took pride in the fact that none of their players protested last season, either in the regular season or during their playoff run to the Super Bowl. For the defending league champs, the accusation, especially after making a public display of not protesting, was tough to swallow.
Fox eventually apologized, with executive producer Christopher Wallace saying, “To clarify, no members of the team knelt in protest during the national anthem throughout the regular or postseason last year… We apologize for the error.”
The apology was quickly posted on the Fox News Twitter page. But it may not be enough to mend the ruffled feathers of Eagles players or their fans.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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