Lies, damn lies, and PR
Time to go

Bring in the clown

WoodwardOne of America's most respected journalists looked like a hyper-sensitive clown this week.

Bob Woodward took offense when White House counselor Gene Sperling told him he would one day "regret" writing that Obama was "moving the goal posts" in the debate about budget cuts. 

Woodward was so incensed he breathlessly recounted the story to Politico and to his own paper, the Washington Post. Initially, the Beltway media huddled protectively around Woodward, suggesting he felt "threatened" by the remark.

But Woodward began to look a little foolish when the email containing the "threat" was released. It turned out to be a benign, friendly exchange.

So he took to the airwaves to declare he never said he felt "threatened." Only that he didn't think the White House should "operate" that way. Meaning, I guess, they should simply clam up when they think a reporter is getting something wrong.

I dealt with lots of reporters during my PR career. I even lost my temper with a few. But I can't remember anybody suggesting I "threatened" them. 

And it doesn't seem to me that Sperling did anything of the sort either.

As it turns out, Woodward should regret claiming that Obama "moved the goal posts" by insisting any deal to avoid today's budget cuts include new tax revenue. It's clear in remarks Obama made way back in the fall of 2011 that he always said closing the deficit would require both increased tax revenue and spending cuts.

Which gets me to the PR lessons in this sad episode.  

First, try to be measured when responding to a reporter's story, no matter how loony or off the wall it was. 

Stick to factual information, provide context, but don't question the reporter's competence. Ask for a correction if some of the story's facts were objectively wrong. But don't ask for an opportunity to rebut the story unless correcting the record is really critical. Even then, ask yourself if it's worth keeping the story alive, considering how few people will pay any attention to your rebuttal.

Second, focus your response not on the reporter, but on your customers, investors, and employees. 

They're the audience that really matters. The media is just one of many channels to reach them. 

Third, resist the temptation to to engage in what's been called Hard Ball PR, i.e., complaining to whoever the reporter works for, pulling advertising, denying the reporter further access, etc.

It won't work and could even give the story a longer life, besides inviting unwelcome scrutiny.

Just ask Bob Woodward.

 

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