If P.T. Barnum ever said that all publicity is good publicity, he was mistaken.
Sure, you can find cases where what at the time seemed like bad publicity later proved harmless or even helpful to an image or career. Bill Clinton. Oprah and the Texas Cattlemen. Tylenol.
But cherry-picking cases to support a premise is useless. It’s called selection bias, and it’s like digging out only green M&Ms from a bag and insisting you have proved that all M&Ms are green.
On the other hand, reverse selection bias can disprove. All it takes is a red, yellow, blue or brown M&M to disprove the claim that all M&Ms are green.
So to disprove the “no such thing as bad publicity” myth, we need only find cases in which bad publicity caused a product or celebrity long-term harm (even if they eventually recovered). Cases like, say, Pee Wee Herman, whose considerable fame grew exponentially thanks to an event that simultaneously halted his career. Or Mark Sanford, who famously hiked the Appalachian Trail right out of the South Carolina governorship. Or Richard Nixon, for whom bad publicity brought about a premature departure from the White House. Or televangelist Peter Popoff, whose career ended on the day James Randi and Joe Nickell caught him getting “revelations” about the needs of believers through a tiny, in-ear receiver, which just happened to be picking up a radio signal, which just happened to come from a microphone elsewhere in the building, into which his wife just happened to be reading from notes she just happened to have gathered while visiting with believers before the service. (Incredibly, today, some 25 years later, Popoff is back in the religion business.)
The “no such thing as bad publicity” myth is a restatement of the myth that “getting your name out there” is all there is to good advertising. Nonsense. Better than 50 years later, the Ford Edsel name is still out there. Perhaps you heard: during those five decades, Ford hasn’t sold too many Edsels.
So not all publicity is good. What about most publicity? That’s another matter. It would make an interesting study.