Former UC Davis Chancellor Katehi Way More Obsessed With Her Online Reputation Than Initially Thought
from the get-me-off-the-google dept
Earlier this year, we discussed how UC Davis detailed in a report that it spent $175k with a reputation management firm to try bury the 2011 pepper-spraying incident that has become so infamous, as well as to bolster the positive reputation and search results of its former Chancellor, Linda Katehi. While Katehi was still Chancellor, she had issued something of a mea culpa that was unfortunately riddled with excuse-making and vendor-blaming, but in which she also appeared to take responsibility for the report’s contents. Students protested anyway, as they should have, given how the report detailed that Katehi was far more interested in her own reputation online than she was in any kind of reform of campus police. Which, if you’ll remember, was what kicked off all of the negative reporting starting in 2011 to begin with.
But now a new report has been issued that makes it clear that the $175k with the one reputation management vendor was just the tip of the iceberg, and that Katehi’s obsession with her own online reputation was far more serious than anyone had known. Indeed, her attempts to meddle in her own online search results started long before the 2011 pepper-spraying incident.
When she was appointed chancellor, news accounts questioned her tenure at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was provost and allegations emerged that children of politically influential backers were given preference in admissions. Katehi denied knowing anything about those admissions. The report found that she was so concerned she would be tainted by the scandal that she called an aide at UC Davis, whose name was redacted from documents, and asked him to take quick action.
“Though Chancellor Katehi was on vacation, she contacted and asked him to edit her Wikipedia page concerning her knowledge of the Illinois admissions scandal,” the report found. “(The aide) advised the Chancellor that they should not edit her online biography because Wikipedia would attribute any edits to UC Davis. Staff made the revisions under protest.”
In 2011, after a campus officer strolled past a line of seated protesting students and calmly unloaded a pepper spray can directly at them, the ensuing backlash was met by Katehi primarly with an expanded effort to control what the wider internet thought of her. While the initial reporting indicated a single vendor had been paid $175k on Katehi’s request to try to control messaging about the school and herself through a barrage of good, but trumped up, press, UC Davis actually hired three different reputation management firms to do this, all to the tune of over $400k. And she appears to have been more concerned with her own reputation than that of the school she was to be stewarding.
Katehi and her staff sought out firms on the East Coast and in Sacramento, meeting with them and discussing how to create a LindaKatehi.com webpage, edit Wikipedia posts and submit op-eds under her name to publications that might crowd out negative press from others. The report noted that improving Katehi’s reputation also would improve that of the university’s. But documents show that she constantly sought help in what one aide recalled as her desire that they “get me off the Google.”
“Linda wants to understand generally how we plan to address the lingering negative pepper spray-related online search content associated with her name,” reads a September 2012 email from Barry Shiller, who was brought in after the pepper-spray incident to handle her communications strategy.
All three firms eventually hired by UC Davis at Katehi’s request promised to bury the 2011 incident through editing in positive content to the Wikipedia pages of Katehi and the school, by creating a brand new website bearing Katehi’s name and filled with positive coverage, and to create “listening reports” to detail any news coverage that mentioned her or the school so that coverage could be further addressed by the outside reputation consultant. Included in all of this was an investigation into those who were creating negative edits on these pages. What Katehi intended to do with that information is unclear, but it hardly seems like the information could be used for anything but retribution.
It goes without saying that as we, the link above, and several other online media outlets are discussing these revelations, and placing them alongside the original 2011 incident for context, the work of the three vendors and the nearly half a million dollars paid to them has failed. Reputation management of this sort rarely works. And when it blows up, as it usually does, the cover-up is always viewed as even more horrendous than the original crime, which is now thrust back into public discussion.
And this was really easier than making an honest apology and trying to reform campus police abuse?