Journalists who cover the White House seem to be tiring of conflicting or incorrect information they often get from the Press Secretary. I think much of the public, too, has come to put little stock in what they hear these days from official White House sources.
Sarah Sanders is in a very tough job, made untenable by a boss who often changes his mind or, in plain language, lies. Yes, it’s a PR person’s job to try to put a positive spin on information he or she gives out. But it’s not – or shouldn’t be – part of the job to lie.
If you work for the White House, you can be sure that reporters will do their jobs and try to verify and fact-check what you tell them. If they didn’t, those reporters would merely be puppets of the Administration. That would make any President very happy, but it would do a vast disservice to the American public. The free press is, by design, part of the system of checks and balances that our founding fathers put forth in the Constitution and its Amendments. It’s especially important now, when the Legislative Branch is doing a questionable job – if any – to balance the system.
Ms. Sanders said yesterday, out of frustration at a news conference, that she was more accurate than the media. A study reported in MediaPost found that she has an accuracy rate of 52 percent. That means that almost half of what she tells the media is wrong or misleading.
Half the time she’s right. So which half should the media – and the public – believe?
Ms. Sanders, I’ve learned a lot in the 40+ years I’ve been in the public relations business. One of the most important lessons is always try to be truthful to the media.
We all make mistakes. We all get things wrong sometimes. Reporters may give you a pass if you make an honest or even a careless mistake. But their jobs and their credibility depend on the honesty of what we give them. If they see you’re lying or bending the truth, you’re dead in the water.
Of course, doing PR for a company or an organization is very different from doing PR for the White House. Tell some lies and the media will still come to your press briefings at the White House. After all, what the White House does is, or can be, of national and international importance.
But continued lying to the media will only prompt even closer scrutiny of every word you tell them.
For a PR person, credibility and a reputation for telling the truth is the most important thing you can have. That should hold for the top PR person in the U.S. as well.