The Big Mac Blog

Baylor’s Ken Starr problems started with George H.W. Bush

A much younger U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1989, one year before he appointed David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court over Ken Starr. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
A much younger U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1989, one year before he appointed David Souter to the U.S. Supreme Court over Ken Starr. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File) AP

Had 41st President George H.W. Bush gone to his right rather than left, Bill Clinton would never have been investigated by Ken Starr and Baylor University would have named a different ex-judge to be its president.

Instead, in 1990 Bush nominated David Souter to join the U.S. Supreme Court over Starr. Souter went on to become the scourge of Republicans - a liberal judge whose appointment is regarded as the worst decision made by Bush Sr. in his four years in office.

Had Bush Sr. selected Starr he would still be on the court today, and he would never have become the President of Baylor University.

Now the GOP sweats like an old man in a sauna and fights President Barack Obama over the court’s next appointee, and a career that was one phone call away from the high court is unrecognizable.

Ken Starr will survive the Baylor Rape Scandal in body and mind, but his reputation will not. No amount of “Thank You, Judge Starr” ads bought in the Austin American Statesman or Waco Tribune Herald will change that.

Ken Starr’s celebrity once generated attention, and money, for Baylor and now all it is doing is generating horrible headlines.

Whomever Baylor University had selected to be its President and Chancellor in 2010 would likely be faced with the same scenario as the one who just was fired and quit. The difference is we would not have cared this much because few university presidents ever have the credentials such as Starr’s, and none of them stage a PR campaign against his employer the way he just did.

By now it’s well known that the day Starr announced his resignation as chancellor last week he hired a long time PR staffer who lined up a series of interviews with members of the media. The intention was part Mea culpa, but really it’s design was to put some (all?) of Baylor’s butchering of this situation at the 35-plus members of the Baylor Board of Regents.

That was fine until during an interview with Julie Hays of KWTX in Waco Starr was confronted with the long letter one of the Baylor coeds who claimed she was raped and the verbal exchange she had with Starr about it. Starr butchered the interview and the clips have gone viral.

It painted the picture of a man whose primary concern was not to take responsibility but rather to spray the blame and deflect his role in this scandal.

It is clear now that the Board required all of its visible leaders to say nothing about this scandal until the Pepper Hamilton report was complete, which put men like Starr, Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw in a terrible position.

Starr’s response has been to fire back, but in doing so he did more harm to his reputation because there is no “winning PR strategy” that absolves leadership in such situations. If a PR professional tells you different they are lying in an effort to land a client to justify their salary.

The only way to handle this from a PR standpoint is counter to what a lawyer would say. The best you can do is to make the best of a bad day and hope for the sun rise.

Ken Starr’s best response is say the following: “We failed. I failed. I am sorry. We will fix this. While we cannot undo the damage that has been done to members of the Baylor family member whom we ignored, we can ensure that those in the future will be heard.”

In situations such as these there is no way to appease the masses; the media will grab four or five words, sound bites or whatever else necessary to convey that this is just another old white man with no clue about the damage of rape and sexual assault.

In many cases that picture is accurate. In others it fails miserably present the whole image.

And when there are potential six figure checks to be had, lawyers are going to lawyer and line up to care for “victims.”

After Baylor initially hired Ken Starr in 2010, he quickly became a beloved figure for the school, and was quite adept at fund raising. He knew the law, and he knew how to work a room.

What he did not know was how to handle a PR crisis because, it turns out, he was better suited to represent the GOP on the Supreme Court than he was to be represent Baylor University during a scandal.