When dealing with a crisis, “no comment” is always the wrong response. The right response must provide clarity and accuracy. There are several recent examples, however, where spokespersons have either issued statements without taking the time to check all the facts or they purposely provided false information.
One recent example was a physical assault by a congressional candidate on a member of the press. To initially defend the candidate from assault allegations, his spokesperson provided an account that was contrary what the reporter said happened. The campaign provided inaccurate information to support their defense.
You might ask, ‘how do we know the story was inaccurate?’ Well, there were witnesses and an audio recording of the incident. These where even referenced in the campaign’s statement, although they ultimately provided details that supported the reporters account rather than the campaign’s. Moreover, the candidate, now U.S. congressman, recently plead guilty to the assault charges.
Here is the problem — prior to issuing the statement, the communication professionals involved clearly didn’t have or somehow ignored key facts. They did not speak to the witnesses. They did not talk to the reporter in question. They also doubled-down by referencing an audio recording of the incident in their statement, it seems, to which they hadn’t actually listened. Worse still, there is the possibility the campaign issued a statement that was a deliberate untruth.
The lesson here is simple: stick to the truth. If you don’t have all the facts, there’s nothing wrong with saying so, and qualify it by noting you are looking into the matter. If you or your client have done something wrong, admit it and apologize sincerely. However, before you issue a definitive statement, check your facts, explain the ramifications of false statements to the parties involved and use sound judgement. If there are witnesses, talk to them if possible. But don’t lie, ignore facts or act with only a partial idea of what happened.
In any matter, when dealing with the media take your time and check your facts. When your image or that of your client is on the line, you want your communications strategy done right. Never put yourself in a position where you’re providing false information or don’t know the full picture. Tell the truth – always. Doing otherwise can damage your reputation and follow you for years.