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Arment Dietrich

Crisis and Candor: Have We Come to Expect Spin?

By: Arment Dietrich | August 30, 2007 | 
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Heart-breaking tragedies are all too familiar this summer.  A bridge filled with everyday commuters collapses in Minneapolis.  The worst flood in one hundred years sweeps through Findlay, Ohio.  Six men trapped in a mine collapse in Huntington, Utah, hopes of their safe return dashed when three heroes die during a rescue mission.

The images take our breath away.  The agony on the faces of survivors generates a saddening empathy we can only pray we never feel.  What do you say when such an unforeseen crisis hits?

Usually, nothing, or very little at all as a true crisis is no place for spin, just sorrow.  Hoards of advisors often huddle in war rooms to figure out who will say what or nothing at all.  When public relations first found its way to major airline companies, the role of the PR guy was to spray black paint over the logo so it wouldn’t show up in crash site photos.  Today, the airlines are much more sophisticated, though often distant in their empathy.  Other companies remain lost and non-responsive.  Even though millions of lead contaminated tops and trucks fill toy boxes, an anonymous message on a 1-800 line says it all for some manufacturers. 

Perhaps that’s why the mainstream media cannot pull their focus away from Bob Murray, a fourth generation miner who also is chairman of Murray Energy Corporation, the nation’s 12th-largest coal company.  Instead of showing the restraint that lawyers and advisors encourage, Bob Murray shows his passion and speaks his mind.  He’s just not a “cooperating with the investigation” kind of guy.

Six of his men are trapped.  Saying nothing for Bob Murray would be as out of character as doing nothing.  He’s been criticized by Congress and has argued with seismologists.  It’s been nearly three weeks and Bob Murray still has the courage to be the face of responsibility, the front-and-center spokesperson. 

When he said after the rescuers died that they could not try again, families took him to task.  They remember Bob’s promise not to give up until the six men are recovered.  Bob Murray recanted and is pursuing another approach. 

When will hope run empty?  Because this is a tragedy that is unfolding still, scholars have yet to determine if Bob Murray’s approach of speaking his unedited-mind during a crisis is wise.  No doubt, Bob Murray will be second-guessed for his candor during an awful crisis.

What I admire about Bob Murray is his tenacity and his anti-spin-approach to putting it all out there.  He might be wrong in his theory as to why the collapse occurred.  Time may show that he said more than was legally prudent.  But there is a lesson of accountability to be learned.  Rather than being a figurehead suit standing behind a podium emoting compassion, Bob Murray has coal in his lungs.  He speaks from his broken heart and puts action behind his words.   While engaged in the fight of his life, through example, he too is fighting against destructive spin.  — Shawn M. Kahle

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