Running to Rehab


Oct. 2, 2006— -- When ex-Rep. Mark Foley revealed that he had checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation facility over the weekend, few in the crisis communications field were surprised.

"This isn't new. This has been going on since the days of Errol Flynn. What Foley is trying to do is move from villain to victim," said Richard Levick, of Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington crisis-management firm.

Foley resigned from Congress Friday after a series of salacious e-mail exchanges between himself and several unidentified teenage boys were reported by ABC News.

"I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and other behavioral problems," Foley said in a statement issued by by his attorney.

Foley isn't the first embattled congressman to enter rehab in the wake of a scandal. He's not even the first U.S. congressman to do so this year.

In May, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., sought help at the Mayo Clinic for an addiction to prescription pain medication shortly after he crashed his car into a barricade on Capitol Hill.

And politicians aren't the only ones who run to rehab in times of crisis -- celebrities do it too. In July, Mel Gibson pledged to enter a recovery program after it came to light that he unleashed a tirade of anti-Semitic insults during a drunk-driving arrest.

Kate Moss entered a drug rehab program after her cocaine use was caught and exposed on video. Her career barely skipped a beat.

But experts caution that what might work for a celebrity might not work for others in the public eye. Strategies that work for actors and politicians might spell disaster for high-profile CEOs.

Crisis management experts emphasize that the first 24 hours of a crisis are critical. And that's why entering rehab often follows so quickly on the heels of an apology or statement of responsibility.

"You want to move from being a Frankenstein monster to become more sympathetic, more human … as quickly as possible," said Levick.

So, how does all this strategy play into an addict's actual recovery? Dr. Thomas Irwin, program director at the McLean Center at Fernside, a substance abuse treatment center, said it's not a recipe for success.

"Individuals need to ask themselves, what is the motivation for treatment? Is it to work on the problem … or avoid a crisis? Part of ... treatment is to come to terms with what you've done and take responsibility for it."

It isn't clear whether the apology, rehab and recovery cycle will work in Foley's case.

The FBI is looking into whether or not he has broken any federal laws. And the Republican Party has quickly distanced itself from the embattled congressman.

Levick's firm has already done a blog analysis of the Foley crisis. So far, there are approximately 80,000 posts in the blogosphere about the matter. Most comments seem to focus on allegations of a GOP cover-up -- accusations that the House leadership had known of the inappropriate e-mails for some time -- rather than the scandal itself.

Could this be good news for Foley? Not likely. In Levick's opinion, it's simply because Foley is already seen as irredeemable. Instead of writing about the scandal, bloggers have moved on to the next story -- the political fallout.

"The gods of politics demand a sacrifice," he said. "Is it possible to come back? It's possible. But it's not very likely."

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