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Lies, damn lies, and PR

Pontius-pilatewithwordsforbanner2-e1330069378675Faced with a tricky judicial question, a first century Roman governor named Pontius Pilate was quoted somewhere skeptically asking "What is truth?"

It's a question public relations people face nearly every day.

They're seldom -- if ever -- asked to lie. But they seldom -- if ever -- know all the truth.

And even when they do, they have to figure out how much to tell.

Apparently, when Robert Gibbs was President Obama's press secretary, he was told to not even admit the U.S. was conducting drone strikes in foreign countries.

Curiously, as far as I can tell, no one in the news media has taken him to task for it, other than fake newsman Jon Stewart and Gibbs' fellow MSNBC colleague, Rachel Maddow. (But Maddow's heart didn't seem to be in it, while Stewart held nothing back.) 

Technically, Gibbs didn't lie. He simply refused to respond to certain questions. Or is that a kind of lying?

In today's Wall Street Journal, the Chairman of RSA Security described the criteria a company should use in deciding whether or not to disclose cyber attacks it suffered. 

"If an attack on you has the potential to hurt somebody else, then you likely have an obligation to disclose it," he says. "And for your shareholders, you have a responsibility to disclose if you suffered an economic loss."  Then he continues, "If an attack on you might be a source of embarrassment, but nothing is lost then perhaps you don't need to disclose it."

We'll never know how much Gibbs was arguing behind the scenes for greater transparency. But on the face of it, it seems that RSA's chairman has a better grasp of what should be revealed (though he leaves himself a loophole big enough for a few whoppers to pass through).

The rule of thumb I tried to follow in my career is relatively straightforward: people deserve to be told everything they need to know to make an informed decision, whether it's buying the company's stock, working there, doing business with it, or letting it operate in their community.

I can't say I followed that rule flawlessly. So I'm willing to cut Mr. Gibbs some slack. 

But unlike Governor Pilate, PR people can't wash their hands of their obligation to the truth, even if it's uncomfortable.


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