Mind your media

Steve LeSueur

When the first reports of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal identified a CACI International Inc. employee as involved in the abuse of Iraqi detainees, the company quickly was sucked into the uncontrollable vortex of controversy.

"We were just swirled up in this typhoon, sort of like a little leaf," said J.P. "Jack" London, CACI's chairman and chief executive officer. The company found itself buffetted by the currents of different opinions and viewpoints, often pilloried in print and TV coverage ? both domestic and international ? and closely questioned by Congress. Although subsequent investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing by the CACI employee, the company devoted significant resources to answering questions and defending its business.

CACI was just one of several contractors facing intense media scrutiny in the past year. Boeing Co., Science Applications International Corp., Titan Corp. and many others also came under fire for alleged corporate misdeeds or mishandling of government contracts. Whether the companies were guilty, innocent or partly to blame for their troubles, each had to decide how to handle the public relations crisis.

For our cover story, Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin examined how these companies responded, especially in the press. She also spoke with public relations experts, who offered insights and evaluated how well the contractors performed.

As one expert told Gerin, crisis management "is a function of doing business every bit as much as winning contracts is a part of doing business."

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