The cover up is always worse than the crime

There are many important rules of public relations in a crisis situation. Over the last two weeks, we’ve seen two examples of perhaps the most important yet most violated rule – one from the world of sports, one from the world of politics.

That rule: When bad news hits, come as clean as possible as soon as possible.

The cover up is always worse than the crime. ALWAYS. Obviously, lying about what you did will hurt you even more when the truth comes out (and it always will). But even simply refusing to reveal anything will make the problem worse. The truth will eventually trickle out in bits and pieces, and it will do so on someone else’s terms – terms that will likely be far worse for you. Now not only do you still have bad news, but that bad news is staying in the headlines longer.

Consider the two very recent examples I referred to earlier:

Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel: The coach of four Division I-AA and one I-A national championships at Youngstown State and Ohio State, Tressel resigned in disgrace on Memorial Day and left one of the country’s marquee college football programs vulnerable to harsh NCAA sanctions because he lied to school and NCAA investigators about his knowledge of NCAA rules violations committed by his players. Had he reported the violations to school officials as soon as he knew about them (reportedly in April 2010), the players would have served a suspension and that would have been the end of it. Instead, he covered up what happened, finally admitting to things only after they were reported in the press. Now he goes down as both a cheater and a liar, and will probably never coach a college football program again.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-9th District): When a blogger reported that the Congressman had tweeted a picture of his crotch (I’m trying to keep it tasteful here, folks) to another woman, Weiner should have immediately admitted what he did. It would have been immediately embarrassing, but it would have then gone away. Members of Congress have survived far worse. Instead, he denied the story, then semi-denied it, before finally coming clean this week after more stories leaked out. Now he is facing pressure to resign. And even if he survives politically (he represents a New York City district that strongly favors his party), any ambitions for higher office are likely gone now.

The moral of the two stories: don’t cover up your mistakes or bad news that you couldn’t avoid. Even if you make your confessional on a Friday evening of a holiday weekend, that’s still better than not telling the truth at all. Honesty will hurt some in the short run. But dishonesty, even by sheer omission, will hurt even more in the end.


One Response to The cover up is always worse than the crime

  1. Krista says:

    Good points, Josh! I think also that by coming clean sooner rather than later, the story is more likely to fade away from the public’s interest. Denial only begs for media scrutiny. Sometimes, companies or leaders in crisis situations think if they deny it long enough, the story will go away. But to your point, it only means someone else will continue to feed the story and keep it alive until the truth comes out.

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