When Dr Matt Taylor gave the good news about the Rosetta mission, and with every right to be proud of his achievement in space exploration for the European Space Agency, there was a disastrous failure of PR which nearly wrecked the project. The project that day was not space exploration. That's what they do on all other days. The job that day was to engage the public to gain support so that funding remained and might be increased.
Dr Taylor walked into the world media's eye in a graphical shirt made by a friend and Twitter went kaboom. The component which failed was the head of public affairs. Instead of insisting that the Mission was the star of the show and that a key presenter would be wearing a plain, comfortable, casual shirt with long sleeves, Dr Taylor was allowed to toddle out eupohric in his party wear.
The public face of the European Space Agency (ESA), at the point it was talking to the people who pay the bills, had accidentally fallen in to the hands of a kindly tattoo artist's wife in Chelmsford, and she had chosen a fabric design based on popular cover art for classic science fiction.
Amongst friends, at a barbie, maybe at the gala session of a professional conference, or all day at a comic con, that shirt is OK. But it was wrong in the context of the job to be done that day, which was to represent the ESA to the public.
Women who deconstructed the theme of the shirt shirt were immediately accused of being too fugly to understand the science and anyway, how come they had judged a man on his clothes? To which the reply was 'Welcome to my world'.
The vituperation ramped up with the usual cries of 'it's all the fault of the feminists' but, as with the rape threats against Jessica Ennis-Hill in a separate context, the purpose was to attack any woman who voiced a criticism, how dare she. Women complain they are attacked for voicing an opinion, and thousands of people leap up to patronize and threaten them for saying such a thing. Or telling a man what to wear in a professional context, the bitch.
Like yelling 'raaayyycist', a quick shout of 'feminazi' is used to marginalize the criticism to lazily avoid having to face it. The point is not whether some people were offended, but whether they are right about the message which goes out if you turn up to a major PR event wearing a softporn-themed shirt. There is little to argue about in PR terms; that was no way for the ESA to present itself. To be fair to the ESA, they made him change his shirt in later segments, so somebody was trying to get a hold on the bolting story as it galloped off with real science story clinging on to its back like a terrified monkey.
Provided Dr Taylor had not ignored dress instructions (we do not know if he was ever told what to wear) it was cruel of the ESA to require him to make the apology; somebody could have done it for him in a simple statement, but the criticism stands. The point of the day was the Landing, and a shirt has no business undermining that.
The moral of the story is that if you ever wondered what use a PR is, this is what happens when PR fails.
If you must do retro ironic print shirts, please follow the master: