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Handling Bad News and Scandals

When Dealing with Bad News, Be Honest, Fair and Fast


Bad news is inevitable. It happens to everybody and every organization.

But what turns bad news into a scandal?

The recipe is simple:

1) Take someone in the public eye: the CEO of a corporation, the right fielder for the Red Sox or a city council member.

2) Add a healthy dash of hubris that makes it a story. Usually, greed or hypocrisy.

3) Cook it over a slowly roasting fire of denials, cover-ups and new information that keeps the scandal in the news for days, weeks or months.

The old saying in journalism is, "It's not the crime, it's the cover-up."

Reporters hate mysteries. If they think somebody is stonewalling them, or lying, they'll dig and dig forever. It'll become a crusade to them, a point of principle.

Talking without really saying anything isn't really a solution, either. To most journalists, "No comment" sounds an awful lot like "Guilty," and only handing out the truth pieces at a time keeps the story alive longer.

If Nixon would have come clean on the first day, or first week, Woodward and Bernstein wouldn't have written story after story, chipping away at his presidency.

Ivy Ledbetter Lee, the father of public relations, said it best: "Tell the truth, because sooner or later, the public will find out anyway."


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