Gini Dietrich

PR, the Murdoch Affair, and Telling the Truth

By: Gini Dietrich | July 27, 2011 | 
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On Inside PR this week, Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I chat about Rupert Murdoch’s appearance before Parliament.

What started the conversation was a really interesting blog post from Jeff Jarvis called “PR and Corruption Theater.”

Side note: I totally have a crush on Jarvis. It started when I read “What Would Google Do.” It’s only increased since reading his blog consistently. But I’m finally willing to admit it publicly after he went off on Washington about the debt ceiling. I won’t repeat the vulgarity here, but it’s worth a trip to his blog to see it.

Back to Murdoch. You see, Edelman counsels News International and, by way of that relationship, also Rupert, and his son James, Murdoch.

And, when the two Murdochs testified last week, I think we can all agree they seemed too scripted.

Jarvis says:

Was Rupert Murdoch’s dottiness a strategy handed down from Edelman or was that him abandoning his libretto to declare himself suddenly humble (if that’s humility…)?

Was James coached to be a parody of a droning MBA? Was it in the crisis-management script for Rupert to decline responsibility for the scandal in his company and to blame those below him and those below them? Was it in his PR script to lash out at his competitors to for causing him to lose BSkyB, and not at himself?

When we chat about it on the podcast, the thing I take biggest issue with is not that Edelman coached these guys or that they were well-timed or well-scripted.

It’s that, as business leaders, it’s our job to take responsibility for the actions of our employees.

Sure there are times that you don’t know what’s happening right under your nose. Illegal actions can take place without your knowing it. And you have to protect yourself so you don’t go to jail for the stupidity of others.

BUT.

From a communication perspective, the father and son duo should take responsibility and say something along the lines of, “My team screwed up. I don’t condone it. I don’t like it. Here is what I’m going to do to make sure it never happens again.”

Having worked crisis communication for many hearings, I get the lawyers are there handcuffing them a bit. But there are ways to negotiate telling the truth and taking responsibility without hurting legal proceedings.

David Weinberger makes another interesting point on his blog post “Edelman and Murdoch.

If I were Edelman PR, I would probably agree to take on NewsCorp, but only if I were satisfied to a reasonable degree (yes, them’s fudge words) that NewsCorp was ready to tell the truth. (Clients do lie to their PR companies. The first time Edelman catches NewsCorp lying to them, Edelman should quite publicly drop them.)

So, here we have a CEO who is blaming everyone but himself. A chairman of the board feigning humility. And a duo who clearly have been overly scripted and rehearsed to not serve the best interests of their public.

If it were Arment Dietrich counseling them, I’d pull the Murdochs into my office and have a stern talk with them. If they continued to behave this way, we’d fire them. Quickly and publicly.

It’s our job, as communication professionals, to counsel our clients to tell the truth. Not to spin a lie. Not to make themselves look better.

To tell the truth.

After all, Spin Sucks.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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