Pulling the Trigger on Cecil the Lion

Hiring a PR firm won’t help, even with an apology tour

No one outside of Minnesota had heard much about trophy hunter Walter Palmer. That is, until this week. Dr. Palmer may be the most hated man in America right now, and he’s hired a PR firm to help turn around his image.

Not possible.

Palmer’s first mistake was to have guides steer him into shooting a lion that was legally protected and a well-known icon of conservation.

No doctor, no matter how much good he has done, would be able to live down the killing of the iconic research lion who went by the name of Cecil. The cumulative pain and suffering that has transpired over the decades in Palmer’s dental chair will be a fraction of the pain and suffering he faces now.

There is an adage I like to use: If you are uncertain of an action, imagine it reported on the front page of your local newspaper. Would you still do it?

It appears Palmer had not heard that piece of wisdom. For surely if he had, he would not have acted as he did seeing it now displayed on the front page of The New York Times. And maybe even the Eden Prairie Gazette, if there is one.

PR News reported online, and it has been confirmed, that Palmer has hired J. Austin & Associates, a PR firm founded in 2006 by Jon Austin. According to its website, it “is a full-service communications firm with expertise in crisis and issue management, special situations, transactions and transitions.” Thank God for that.

Also Wednesday, Safari Club International, a global organization of big-game hunters, said it is suspending Palmer’s membership and that of his Zimbabwe-based guides. Distancing your organization from this man is a good idea.

“Safari Club International supports a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Cecil the lion. SCI supports only legal hunting practices and believes that those who intentionally take wildlife illegally should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent allowed by law.”

So one day, you’re a successful dentist with a penchant for big-game hunting, and the next day you are the one being hunted. Call that karma. People go crazy over animals and animal rights, and some of the extreme reaction to this story is a bit scary. But, there are zealots on just about every issue out there.

I’m recommending that Palmer do what he did at base camp in Africa: Fold up his tent. Then change his name, move his office and steer clear of safaris with low-brow characters. He’ll have some loyal patients who stay with him, but, he’s going to lose others. I’m pretty sure the local humane society will not ask him to be their spokesman this year.

Readers may feel I’m an anti-hunting guy. Not true. I’m probably one of the few PR flaks who spent many years championing the rights of hunters in some of my previous jobs. Also, I did years of work on endangered species and African wildlife conservation programs at the Department of the Interior. I remember participating in the first release of a bald eagle from captivity into the wilds of Indiana. It was thrilling.

However, I’m not a proponent of shooting fish in a barrel or domesticated wildlife for some bizarre fixation. Good luck, Dr. Palmer. You might be paying that PR firm a lot of money, but don’t get your hopes up.

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