Pam Strickland: Fraternity member’s lawyer needed P.R. pro’s help

Some friendly (and good) advice about how to better handle a situation. A friend today reminded me of this mishandled press conference. -KJL

By Pam Strickland

Before Tuesday, like the majority of East Tennesseans outside of the legal world, I’d never heard of Knoxville attorney Daniel McGehee.

I don’t know if he’s a good lawyer, but he’s lousy at public relations.

McGehee performed at an ill-advised news conference he called on behalf of his client, Alexander Price Broughton. Broughton, 20, is the University of Tennessee student and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member who was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center overnight Sept. 22 and found to have a blood alcohol content of .448 percent. According to police, one of his fraternity brothers said he’d received a wine enema.

McGehee, himself a Pi Kappa Alpha, stood in front of the UT Torchbearer statue Tuesday, Broughton to his left, and the president of the now-disbanded Zeta chapter, George Bock, to his right. Behind them in a semi-circle were some 60 former Pikes dressed in blazers, dress shirts and khakis. Many in dark sunglasses. It easily could have been a scene left on the cutting-room floor in the making of “Animal House.”

Broughton, in his unironed, pale coral dress shirt, squirmed a little as McGehee vehemently denied that his client was gay (as if that was ever really an issue) and repeatedly used the now-infamous term “butt-chugging” to deny what Broughton had done.

What Broughton should have been uneasy about was that after 10 days his lawyer was still not sure whom he was going to sue, but the list was, he told one reporter in a pique of anger, “as long as your arm.”

Oh, he was full of cliches, but I won’t bother with the rest of those except for his demeaning insistence on calling a female news reporter “sweetheart.” Really. He apologized, but then he took it back “because you really are.” But the most bizarre thing was a tangent about the pronunciation of Broughton’s name and the fact that it’s “Scotch.” Maybe he meant Scottish.

McGehee said his client had engaged in a drinking game called “Tour de Franzia,” a play on the name of the famous bicycle race mixed with the brand of boxed wine apparently preferred by the Pikes.

What McGehee should have done when he got a call that the fraternity chapter was once again in trouble for alcohol use on the dry campus (they’d appealed an alcohol violation to the UT Office of Student Judicial Affairs just that Friday morning and had been in trouble at least three times in recent years) was tell them to own up to what they’d done. That’s the way you grow up. You say, “Yes, I did this thing, it was bad and I’m going to learn from it.”

Or at the very least, he should have insisted they consult with a crisis management public relations expert. A good crisis management expert would have told him that it’s best to keep your client out of the news unless you have something positive to offer, which he clearly didn’t have on Tuesday.

The best McGehee could do at this point might be to send Broughton and his fraternity brothers to some alcohol education classes. Maybe something a semester long that requires abstinence.

Which brings me to my real concern. It isn’t how they consumed the alcohol; it’s that Broughton is blaming the media for making him look bad and saying that it’s OK to play drinking games involving massive amounts of wine. Would it have been the media’s fault if Broughton had died? Death from alcohol poisoning becomes a possibility when the blood alcohol content surpasses .30 percent. Broughton should consider himself lucky, and a little bit of embarrassment a small price to pay for his life.

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