The trouble with bad news
Basking in the glow of potential good news is something to be avoided unless you are familiar with the facts
The scene at the Virginia coal mine was like an episode of The Simpsons with Governor Joe Manchin becoming the real life portrayal of bumbling Mayor Quimby.
Quick on the draw, the governor was on the scene to celebrate the news, with jubilant family members, that 12 miners were pulled out alive from the underground explosion.
From a PR perspective, jumping on the PR bandwagon for brownie points to fit in with the demands of 24/7 media is career suicide. PR practitioners need no other lesson than to see the governor’s face when he learnt three hours later that they had been misled and just one miner actually survived.
The need to grasp the facts and deliver a stance is always an imperative, but basking in the glow of potential good news is something to be avoided unless you are familiar with the facts.
The governor’s advisers were quick to try and spin that the chief executive of the mine was to blame for the stunning error, having misunderstood a conversation overheard between rescuers and the command centre.
As ever public figures are under pressure to bleed all media opportunities dry and to take an advanced position on a breaking story to push forward their own perspective or agenda.
Staying ahead has become vogue, by using television news to position a figurehead at the forefront of the media rush.
TV news needs fillers who react to the facts. If these facts are skewed, the editors constantly refresh the story with the real facts believing all that has been broadcast before it is forgotten. I am not sure if we have developed the attention span of a goldfish – those that prey on these media moments should learn a lesson from Governor Manchin’s gaffe.
The real winners in this mistake will be hundreds of media training organisations who will see this PR blooper as a great break for selling their services to corporations on how to avoid such elephant traps in the future.
Pentagon staff are no fools and as the North Carolina News & Observer reported at the end of last year, there was a sharp increase in media training for forces going to Iraq.
The wise heads at the State Department held “one or two hours of briefings by public affairs specialists” mandatory for army troops, and distributed wallet-sized “talking point” cards to soldiers. One talking point was: “We are not an occupying force.”
Now that’s a well-versed soundbite.