OU Frat Boys: Good at Racist Chants, OK at Crisis PR
As soon as the now-infamous 9-second video of white college students singing a racist song went viral, the anonymity of those involved, especially those members of the University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity who could be seen, was sure to be short lived.
Social media users quickly fingered Parker Rice and Levi Pettit, both from Dallas, as the two jubilant leaders of the n-word featuring, pro-lynching chant. Rice and Pettit have both been expelled from OU and both -- or both their families -- reacted quickly to stanch the public relations bleeding that inevitably stems from singing like drunken klansmen while riding a party bus to a fraternity function at a country club.
Tuesday night, the Rice and Pettit camps both issued apologies. The Rices', purported to be written by Parker himself, eloquently blamed alcohol and the young men who taught Parker the song for his "horrible mistake," in addition to lamenting that the Rices were currently unable to "be in our home because of threatening calls as well as frightening talk on social media."
The Pettits, through mom Susan and dad Brody, called their son a "good boy" who, like Rice, made a "horrible mistake."
Both statements try to strike a balance between contrition and blame deflection. They also reek of professional help.
"I don't want to cast aspersions on the students' feelings about it, but it was a very polished, measured response. I would have felt a whole lot better if they'd gone on camera and made the apology rather than issuing it through a quote 'written statement from the family,'" says Samra Bufkins, a former crisis public relations specialist and current professor at the University of North Texas. "It could be that they had a family friend in the PR business or they called somebody, but I feel that they definitely had help in writing the statements."
While the statements themselves were well done, Bufkins says, she might have elected to go in a different direction had she been advising the families.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with [getting PR help], but when you're dealing with somebody as young as these guys are, I think it would come across as a lot more sincere and believable if they went on camera, even if they did a YouTube video, and did it themselves," Bufkins says.