Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hypocrisy Spurs On PR Nightmare

Looking for a surefire way of attracting the wrong kind of media attention? Then be a hypocrite—say one thing and do exactly the opposite.

Claim to be for ethical, fiscally sound government and then develop a shameless Friends & Family hiring program.

Prosecute prostitution rings, Mr. Spitzer, and then spend thousands on your own call girl.

Publicly declare your commitment to trimming fuel costs…and then let your buses idle for ridiculously long periods of time.

This last scenario gained prominent mention in the June 16 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, after an Evanston man, Bruce Witty, videotaped Chicago Transit Authority buses repeatedly idling for upwards of 20-plus minutes. This wasteful, pollution-laced practice occurs despite a CTA policy that tells drivers to turn off the engine if it has been idling for five minutes.

The episode underscores what I tell clients all the time: behave as if everything you say and do will show up on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper—because that might just happen.

A corollary to that caution: When it does show up in the paper, you want it to reflect well on you and your organization.

There's little that gets a journalist's crusading blood flowing more furiously than a classic case of "gotcha!" When I knew I had caught someone--particularly a public figure--in a lie, then nothing was going to stand between me and filing a story about it. Thus spawned stories like "Penguingate," the investigative piece I wrote about a township official, some 10 years ago, who spun tall tales of a professional hockey career.

Reflecting a few moments more on Mr. Witty's CTA surveillance: Do you remember the March 1991 videotape of LA Police officers beating Rodney King after a high-speed chase?

At the time, the notion that someone had captured the incident on film seemed like such a coup. Nowadays, with a camera embedded in everything but your kid's Scooby Doo lunchbox, it would seem unusual not to have some form of independent videotaping.

Speaking of Mr. King, an update on his life:


And if you want to take a look at the Sun-Times piece, which did an eminently fair job of providing the CTA with an opportunity to respond to the video:


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