3 Ways to Escape Media Scrutiny
Media is all abuzz over Fox Network’s defense of Bill O’Reilly and his alleged fabrication of news story details during his early beat reporter days. The meaty questions include “why is Fox responding differently than NBC over similar allegations against Brian Williams who apologized and was pushed by the network into a six month exile?” (hint – it is all about who each perceives as their niche markets); and “Is the media feeding Fox’s desire for publicity above truth by even reporting on the O’Reilly flap?” (CNN Reliable Sources, 3/01/15 edition.)
The best course is to let the titans of media world duke it out. My interest lies in how you as a leader can respond if you get in the middle of a media storm. Chances are that if you haven’t been there, you most certainly will be at some point. That is how the world works today. Case in point? Take the recent misstatement by Robert A. McDonald, newly appointed Secretary of the Veteran Affairs Department, with his specific mission to restore trust in the VA system. (you can’t make this stuff up – it really happens!). While speaking to a homeless veteran who informed McDonald that he had been in the Military Special Forces, McDonald offered that he too had served in that elite force. He admitted this was not true and promptly apologized for his misstatement. While I am far more interested in hearing the story of how the homeless veteran who claims to have been in Special Forces came to be homeless, I am also interested in McDonald’s fate and whether the apology will assist him in keeping on track to restore trust in the Veteran’s Administration.
A headline in the New York Times states: “Head of the V.A. Receives Support After Apologizing,” (New York Times, February 25, 2015.) Though too early to determine if this was an effective strategy, it is clear that heartfelt apologies are gaining stream as evidenced by the praise that the owner of Airasia received when he apologized upon the crash of one of his fleet earlier in the year.
Assuming that we understand that as humans we make misstatements and exaggerations from time to time, how do you crawl out of the hole without become a media sensation and ripping a hole in the all the work that you have achieved? While the science of how to respond to a fractured media and where anyone with a computer and mouse can be judge and executioner in the viral world of public opinion, what seems to be taking hold is some pretty good old fashioned advice. Here it is in three parts:
1) Apologize if warranted and if authentic accepting the unpleasant truth that we all make mistakes; Apologies can be powerful if heartfelt;
2) If what you said was true, stand by your statement by explaining it thoroughly and truthfully while avoiding the trap of re-explaining it over and over – stick to your message; and
3) By being a true leader and accepting the consequences without causing harm to your institution by knowing you have done your best.
Learn more from Dodging Coconuts, a four part series consisting of knowing your Purpose and mission, being Prepared and Planning appropriately, and finally understanding the Perspective of Leadership in the world of today.
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