My last couple of blogs tackled the topic of spin in public relations. I maintain that spin is synonymous with deceit—sadly, a conclusion I’ve learned isn’t shared by all in the field.
That said, even the most spin-happy PR professional finds the political arena a bit too whirling dervish-y in the truthiness department, especially as elections loom. Indeed, outright fibs almost seem de rigueur—e.g., “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—and whereas getting caught once resulted in shame, today it’s merely a “distraction.”
That’s how Michigan state House candidate Brandt Iden described his “oopsy” discovered in a questionnaire for news agency MLive. When Iden got to the question about past criminal convictions, he answered “no.” Problem is, that’s not true. In 2010, he was convicted of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor.
Naturally, being good journalists, the MLive team did background checks on all the candidates; naturally, Iden’s falsehood found him out.
As crimes go, a misdemeanor DWI hardly makes Iden a Bond villain. Trying to hide it, then, seems all the more foolish. Yes, it’s embarrassing. Yes, his opponents would have made much hay of it, plastering Iden’s police mug shot across the expensive mailers I throw away without reading. But did he really think no one would find out?
If Iden had dealt with the issue proactively, he could have defused it at the start. He could have demonstrated a rare transparency that might have aided his bid for public office. Instead, he lied on a news media questionnaire, apologized (albeit profusely) only after MLive confronted him, and then promptly started spinning.
“My larger concern now is that the focus in this election not be on personal attacks and distractions, but instead on the issues that truly matter,” he told MLive. “These other things merely add distractions to the real issues of the campaign.”
So … an outright lie by someone who asks people to trust him as their representative is a “distraction” that doesn’t “truly matter.”
If Iden’s communications people are giving him this guidance, his first job today ought to be handing out pink slips.
Of course, Iden is hardly the first politician to tell a fib, nor will he be the last. As voters, we can resign ourselves to leaders who consider truth an option, or we can hold them to a higher standard.
As PR professionals, there is no choice: we must uphold that higher standard.