The talking heads are gouging each others’ eyes out on the babble
networks this morning to be the four hundredth “PR expert” to opine that
Tiger Woods needs to “come clean” and “get out in front” of this “scandal,”
whatever it is, although we’re pretty sure it has to be something more
extraordinary than man has fight with wife which, as most adults will concede,
ranks just behind dog bites man on the newsworthiness Richter scale.
Speaking as someone who has been involved in the spin business for many years from several different angles, I understand where the spinmeisters are coming from. I used to believe that a quick plausible confession peppered with the right measures of humility and repentance were the least damaging way out of an embarrassing situation for celebrities or CEOs caught in the act of being human.
Oddly, enough, it was the Dick Cheney who showed me the error of my ways. You may recall when our former Vice President shot a hunting companion in the face while attempting to slaughter some cute little birds on a Texas ranch. Local police were quietly notified, the victim went to the hospital to have some pellets removed from his face, Cheney has a nice dinner and good night’s sleep, got up the next morning and had someone called a weekend reporter at the Podunk Texas Times with a statement. And, no one ever said another word about it publicly. For the next three or four days, I (and I assume a lot of other people) waited for details or an explanation. Afterall, the Vice President of the United States can’t just shoot a guy in the face and pretend like it never happened, can he? Turns out, he can, and the only consequence was that David Gregory threw a hissy fit at a news conference. In less than one week, the story was gone forever.
Contrast that with the unfortunate episode of Don Imus who was pilloried in the press for two solid weeks because of a alleged “racist” remark he made about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. ((In the spirit of full disclosure I should say that I knew Imus pretty
well in the early days of his career and worked with him on a couple of
projects and know him to be an equal opportunity bigot.) Instead of simply sticking to his original explanation that making fun of people of all ethnic groups was how he has made a living all these years and that was no racist intent and going off to Aruba for a week or two, Imus agreed to go on Al Sharpton’s radio show to explain and apologize, which then led all of the cable shows to book Sharpton and fueled the “controvery” and led finally to a meeting between Imus and his wife and the Rutgers basketball team. The result was that a genuinely decent man who has done an enormous amount of good for children with cancer was falsely portrayed as a racist and and ultimately lost his gig on MSNBC.
All because he fed the beast. In the days when the beast was mainly the major TV networks and a few national news magazines (when many of the talking heads learned the business) , managed transparency was a good strategy. With the cable networks and the internet thrown into the mix the beast is simply too big and insatiable to satisfy. Every tidbit, every rumor, every word the people involved say, every attempt to explain or clarify, sets off a new feeding frenzy.
The only way you can stop it is starve the beast and if you’re lucky something more appetizing will come along in the next few days. Are you listening, Tiger? Starve the beast.
Jerry Bowles is the founder of Human Capital League.