MSU paid PR firm $500k to monitor victims, journalists on social media


  • MiSpartan Impact, Flickr Creative Commons
  • Former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon.

Michigan State University was billed more than $500,000 by a top-tier public relations firm hired to monitor social media activity surrounding the Larry Nassar sex abuse case, documents obtained by Lansing State Journal through the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

According to the documents, New York-based Weber Shandwick billed the university $517,343 for more than 1,440 hours of work in January, a time frame that included Nassar's week-long sentencing hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court. The firm sent daily reports summarizing social media reactions to the latest news, which included monitoring the accounts of Nassar's victims, the victims' families, journalists covering the case, politicians, and celebrities. The reports were sent to then-MSU President Lou Anna Simon, the university's Board of Trustees, and the university's in-house attorneys.

The bill included work done by 18 different employees, with hourly rates that ranged from $200 to $600 per hour. The firm is no longer employed by MSU.

This all begs the question: What exactly did MSU gain from hiring the firm? By all accounts, the way the university handled the Nassar case, including Simon's resignation letter, appears to have been a total disaster.  Total costs from the Nassar scandal — including legal fees, fines, and possible settlements for Nassar's 200 victims — could exceed $500 million. As of earlier this month, the university had racked up $9.69 million by outside law firms and consulting firms, with most of that money going to six different law firms.

Earlier this month, interim MSU president John Engler said the university could be forced to raise tuition because of the scandal.

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