In the early days of American television game shows, a program called “To Tell the Truth” tried to stump viewers and a celebrity panel. Three contestants answered a series of questions as they worked to convince the audience that they were individuals that held an unusual job, had a unique capability or interesting distinction. Only one of the contestants was the real deal – the others were skilled liars.
Today, who would predict that a musician whose band is named after a bubbly drink has a better grasp about how to manage truthful disclosure than an award-winning journalist and national news anchor?
Brian Williams, the Emmy-winning national anchor for NBC news, announced that he is taking some time off after getting caught in what appears to be a series of lies about stories he covered in the past. His embellishments included surviving an enemy attack when he was embedded in Iraq and drinking tainted water – and contracting dysentery — after Katrina in New Orleans. New examples of his “truthiness” are popping up every day. When the troops that accompanied him in Iraq began to protest that his numerous accounts of his experience there were false, he issued an inadequate apology. He admitted to “conflating” his descriptions. Here’s a guy that millions trust to deliver truth in reporting, and he didn’t even use a word that most of them would understand to apologize for his actions.
Meanwhile, Pink Martini band leader Thomas Lauderdale announced that he wants to become mayor of Portland, Oregon. But before he officially throws his hat in the ring, he plans to write a tell-all book that owns up to everything that he’s done in the past that may become fodder for news media and detractors during his future campaign.
At OnPR, we know which individual aligns with the communications advice we’d deliver. When working with clients, we start by insisting they tell the truth: a lie will be discovered eventually. When potentially damaging information needs to be shared, we advise disclosing everything at once. A single well-managed credibility hit is usually less damaging than a series of dings. We also advise clients to apologize for consequences resulting from their actions. And after the slate is clean and the apology is delivered, they can enjoy a pink martini to toast a new start to rebuild their reputation.
February 11, 2015