Universities Brought In Top PR Firms To Prepare Them For Antisemitism Hearing That Went Off The Rails

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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Brandon Poulter Contributor
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Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) brought in top public relations firms before their presidents testified at an antisemitism hearing Dec. 5 that led to widespread backlash, according to Politico.

Harvard President Claudine Gay, UPenn President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth testified before Congress in a hearing in which the presidents refused to answer if calls for genocide against Jews were violations of the universities’ codes of conduct; the presidents’ remarks were widely criticized and resulted in calls for them to resign, with Magill eventually stepping down. PR adviser Susan Lagana of Invariant advised UPenn; crisis communicator Risa Heller advised Harvard and law firm WilmerHale advised Harvard, UPenn and MIT before the hearing, according to Politico. (RELATED: House Investigating If Harvard Looked ‘The Other Way’ When School Became Aware Of President’s Plagiarism Allegations)

PR giant Edelman also assisted Harvard in their response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to Politico.

“It seems to me they prepared for a legal proceeding and found themselves in a political environment bringing a knife to a gunfight,” lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, told Politico. “A congressional hearing is political theater, not a legal proceeding, and you need to really prepare witnesses for the sorts of political zingers and traps that most witnesses are sure to face.”

Over 70 Democratic and Republican Reps. called on Gay, Magill and Kornbluth to resign following their testimony. The House Education Committee also opened an investigation into the universities’ “learning environments, policies, and disciplinary procedures” following the hearing.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 05: Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Sources familiar with the preparation for the hearing defended the training one of the presidents received and said she was told to stay away from legal language and told to speak with “empathy and values,” according to Politico. Another source familiar with the preparation said that Magill’s answers to New York Rep. Elise Stefanik’s questions, which led to major backlash, were not in line with the advice she was given.

“I’ve never seen a worse hearing in 30 years of watching Congress really closely,” Republican lobbyist Sam Geduldig told Politico. “Either the Ivy League clients were hopelessly obtuse or WilmerHale’s prep was malpractice, or both.”

Stefanik called for defunding the universities following the hearing, bolstering calls that have been coming from Republicans following a rise in antisemitism on campuses due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, according to Fox Business.

“We must DEFUND the rot in America’s higher education. It is unacceptable and unAmerican that any taxpayer dollars are going to universities propping up their promulgation of antisemitism by supporting professors, students, and staff, many who have openly called for the genocide of Jews,” Stefanik told the DCNF in a statement.

Harvard, UPenn, MIT, WilmerHale, Edelman, Invariant and Heller did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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