Crisis PR and telling the truth

Over the past week, we witnessed two amazing displays of truth.  First, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted that he had used crack cocaine, something that was alleged but he denied.  However, when word came that a video existed of him using the drug, and the police had the video, he had no choice but to tell the media that he had not been truthful.

Then, President Obama cited the words so few presidents ever dare utter: “I’m sorry.”  He was not only apologizing to the American people, but implying that he had misled them by promising that they could keep their “old” health insurance if they wanted and not be forced into Obamacare.

The list goes on and on with public figures admitting wrongdoing rather than continuing the denial game.  Is this a sudden display of truth over lies, or is something else going on here?

Lying is certainly nothing new to people in positions of influence and power.  But what is new (relatively) is something called the internet.

It is impossible for a public figure to say anything without the risk that it will come back to haunt them on the web.  It often comes in the form of a cellphone video.  In the case of the president, everything he says and does is documented and there is no denying anymore.

The “mainstream” media have played and replayed Obama citing his promise about people keeping their insurance.  Faced with his own words, president had no choice but to own up to what he said.  Ford was happy to deny his drug use until he knew for sure that a video existed of him using drugs.  Then, he had no choice but to admit it.

So are our public figures better people for admitting the truth, or are they just appearing to be truthful to save their jobs?  The new remedy for lying seems to be telling the truth and asking for forgiveness.  But it is pretty clear that the catalyst for this truthfulness is YouTube and the internet.

When faced with a crisis PR or marketing situation, telling the truth is always the best policy.  Continuing to deny will almost always come back to bite.  There are just too many cellphones around and too many YouTube videos.

Truthfulness has always been good public relations even before the advent of video.  The public can be surprisingly forgiving for making mistakes.  What people don’t forgive is lying.

That’s the Watergate story, and for another time.