In this post, we’ll take a look at what went wrong with Justin Bieber’s visit to Anne Frank House and what he could do to make it right.
But first, let’s cut the pop star some slack. As noted by Yvette Miller, Bieber, while on tour, actually took the time to visit the Anne Frank House. He could have been anywhere else, doing anything else. So credit where due. (see also, here, here & here.)
What Mr. Bieber wrote in the museum’s guest book was:
“Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”
Had he just cut out the last sentence, this would have been a 100 percent positive story for him. It’s that last one that gets him into some trouble.
Now, I think he probably meant to say, in an annotated version, the following:
Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Everyone, and anyone can be a Belieber. Music crosses cultural and ethnic boundaries. Fans – the Beliebers – are united by the music. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.
No, it’s not perfect. But it’s a far cry from the critiqued as self-centered piece as written.
So we’ve cut him some slack and explained away his choice of words. Now what? Where does Bieber go from here?
What to do?
Well, he doesn’t really have to go anywhere, and some crisis communications pros would advise that. Lay low. Don’t do it again. Nod, smile, back away slowly.
But there is another route. Bieber can take this and run WITH it. Imagine if he, over time, became a celebrity advocate for Holocaust remembrance and a celebrity voice against hate broadly, or anti-Semitism particularly.
Well, he could start with an op-ed in the kinds of magazines his fans read or on the websites they frequent. I won’t write the whole thing for him, but something like this:
Words fail after coming out of the Anne Frank House and learning about her story. They certainly failed me. But thinking about it more, here’s what the visit meant to me, and some lessons we can all learn…
…On Anne’s bedroom wall she had pictures torn from entertainment magazines of her day. They featured Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers and others. Her room, hidden behind a secret door, so the Nazis wouldn’t find her and kill her, was a room that looked like that of any other girl her age. Anne wasn’t all that different from you, or from me…
…Would Anne have been a Belieber? Who knows. I know this though. I am now, and always will be, a fan of hers. And in her memory, we must all do more to stop senseless hate. That is the final lesson of Anne Frank. The way Miep Gies and others helped them hide and kept them alive. The stories of Danish Jewry being smuggled to safety under cover of night is another. Good people can fight evil; they can, and they did. They are an inspiration, and a challenge for us going forward.
Because there is still hate in the world. What are we doing about it?
Later, Bieber could talk about this, in interviews, or when he meets with young fans. He cold even take to Capitol Hill, or state legislatures, to testify about hate or bullying.
What shouldn’t Bieber do?
Two things he should avoid:
1. Having people question his motives. He made an error in judgement in what he wrote, but not in what he did or why. He shouldn’t let people demean him for going to the house and taking that tour.
2. He shouldn’t let people force him to take more tours or more meetings. He should feel welcome to do so, but only on his terms and timeline.
That’s my take anyway, for what it’s worth.