Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro could have been the state's agriculture secretary, the way he politically milked the release of the grand jury report on sex abuse by priests in six commonwealth dioceses.
Instead of playing it straight, Shapiro staged a "Focus Group Meets Netflix" production.
Did you miss it on cable or network news? You can stream an AG-produced video on a grand jury page that his office calls "The Holding Ground."
The video had such good production features that broadcast media used snippets of it.
To dramatize the enormity of the priests' crimes over decades Shapiro stage-managed his announcement.
Instead of standing at a lectern with a couple of associates behind him (normally seen with major law enforcement announcements), Shapiro positioned seated victims on either side of his lectern.
Shapiro made sure that anyone on the internet, reading a newspaper, or seeing TV news across the globe knew his name. How?
He used a poster company to create a big, round, new state attorney general seal floating above his head. His name was on it while the "Office of" was deleted before the "Attorney General."
What's wrong with producing your own office video, using victims as props, or creating a new seal?
As someone who has managed more 50 than news conferences for the U.S. Department of Justice in New Jersey, I know hype from hyperbole and have never used either in some of the biggest criminal and civil cases of their time.
Politicians may do it, but professional prosecutors should not.
First, victims should not have been seated around Shapiro.
He should have had them offstage in a green room, telling the media that breakout interviews would be available afterward for those who wanted to talk to reporters. Instead, by putting them front and center, he was exploiting their cases.
I know those on stage wanted to appear, to avenge the cruel treatment they received from priests and the church hierarchy who covered up the abuse.
I also bet most victims want to be next to the district attorney, attorney general or U.S. attorney at news conferences. But it isn't done and should not have been done here.
Three decades of internet and search engines have eliminated "practical obscurity." What does a victim do two years from now if he/she would rather not have everyone in the small town to which he/she retired, or where his/her grandchildren live, know the story? Nothing can be done if he/she were sitting on the stage Shapiro controlled.
If he/she talked to a reporter in the other room, then it was done affirmatively.
Hundreds of priests named in grand jury report | Grand jury: A child porn ring in Pittsburgh diocese | Read the full report | Dozens of pages shielded from public | Maria Panaritis: Thank the law, not the Men of God | Victim: 'It's your word against God's' | Key findings from each diocese | How the Allentown diocese dealt with an abuser | John Baer: Questions in wake of the report
I've managed news conferences announcing important federal cases and had victims or experts available for "breakout" after the U.S. attorney had announced the indictment, guilty, plea or civil settlement.
In Newark, when a Catholic relic containing a bone fragment of a saint from the seventh century was to be repatriated to Romania, I asked then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who was the head of the Newark Archdiocese, to be available on breakout to describe the relic and its value to the church.
But he wasn't standing next to the U.S. attorney at the lectern. (He did recently resign as a cardinal of the church of sex abuse allegations.)
The MP4 video that is on the state's website? Did taxpayers pay for the AG-produced video? It's got great production values, looks to be in HD and excellent sound. But was this proper?
And the branded Shapiro-advertised state seal? The official "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" at the top was moved around so Shapiro's full name is prominent at 2 p.m.
Breaking news — it's not on the Pennsylvania attorney general's website. Only the official seal is there. And Shapiro's "It's Me, I'm the AG" is not even on the grand jury report.
There are 12 seals for Pennsylvania top-line departments and even Gov. Wolf (who is running for re-election in November) hasn't splattered his name on the governor's office seal. Maybe he will now. I checked Delaware, Missouri, New York, and Rhode Island. No AG names on their AG seals.
Shapiro needs to know that public affairs is not public relations or political marketing.
Richard Lavinthal of Bucks County is a former daily newspaper and wire service reporter; federal and state prosecutors' spokesman in New Jersey, and national news organization marketing director.