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Tone-Deaf or Bad Timing? Lady Gaga’s Reputation Management Nightmare

by Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications

“Help! I’ve been shot! I’m bleeding out of my chest!”

Wednesday night on Sunset Boulevard. A man walking three French bulldogs is jumped by two creeps demanding he hand over the pricey animals. He refuses. One of the assailants blasts him in the chest with a semi-automatic weapon. Two of the dogs, Gustav and Koji, are kidnapped. The third dog, Asia, escapes and is later recovered by the owner’s bodyguard.

Meantime, L.A. paramedics rush the bleeding man to the hospital.  Turns out he’s walking the dogs for mega-superstar, Lady Gaga, their owner.

In a breaking crisis of this ilk, you’d think Gaga’s publicist would release a statement about the singer’s deep concern for the dog walker. About how she reached out to the dog walker’s family to express her shock at the senseless act. About her generous offer to pay for his hospital stay until he recovers. About her cooperation with investigating authorities. About the enormous reward she is offering for the gunman’s apprehension.

Instead, every headline focused on the fact that Lady Gaga was offering a $500,000 reward for the return of the dogs. We learn the names of the dogs in media reports before we learn the identity of the gunshot victim, Ryan Fischer, purportedly a friend of Lady G. In a report posted nearly twenty-four hours after the shooting, the Washington Post still could not report the identity of the wounded man but reported the dogs’ names.

Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, told the New York Post “We’re just sick over it, it’s really horrible…it’s like someone took one of your kids.” He told his daughter, working on location in Italy, “Just try to be strong and remember that [the dogs are] together.”

Reactions on social media and the web were all over the fence – some echoing concern for the dogs, and many calling out the singer:

“I understand that people love their dogs, but anyone else find it weird that Lady G’s camp is not talking about the HUMAN who almost got killed trying to save her pooches? Isn’t offering a $500k reward for the dogs ‘no questions asked,’ kind of saying we don’t care about catching the shooter, just getting the dogs back? And saying the dogs are like children? That dude actually IS someone’s child.”


“She needed to offer 250k for the return of the dogs, and another 250k for ratting out the a holes who shot the dog-walker.  Noticeably absent from the [Washington Post] article is a word of acknowledgement from Gaga or her family about the dog-walker.  The dude risked his life for her dogs.”

Gabriel Thorne

TMZ broke the story and in Friday’s update quoted Ryan Fischer’s family as saying he’s expected to make a full recovery.  They said “Of course, we also want to thank Lady Gaga who has shown nothing but non-stop love and concern for Ryan and our family right from the outset. Ryan loves Gustavo and Koji as much as Lady Gaga does; so we join in her plea for their safe return.”

Was Mr. Fischer’s family sincere or simply cutting Lady Gaga slack because of all the dog reward headlines plastered across the media and all over Google search?

Whenever peoples’ lives are at stake, messages expressing empathy, sympathy or concern have got to be a communicator’s top priority. Lady Gaga has a tremendous reputation – burnished most recently by her appearance at the president’s inauguration – but this incident, and the endless spate of headlines focusing first on the massive dog reward rather than on her friend, Ryan, may well be a nagging threat to that good reputation.

Though she is in Italy on the other side of the world, a simple Instagram video shared with her 46 million followers expressing her relief at Ryan’s prognosis, her hope for his quick recovery and her hope that the gunman will be captured to face the legal system would go a long way in combatting this reputation threat. A message like this would have been ideal the moment Gaga was informed of the shooting. It’s not too late, but it needs to happen soon.

No singer wants to be portrayed as tone-deaf.


*UPDATE: On Saturday, the media reported that Gustav and Koji were returned unharmed. Ryan Fischer, however, remains in a hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest.

On her Instagram account early Saturday morning in Rome, Lady Gaga wrote at the bottom of a paragraph-long post: “I continue to love you Ryan Fischer, you risked your life to fight for our family. You’re forever a hero.”

It’s a start.

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