Lothery & Associates

Petraeus, Allen, Kelley, Broadwell: a General Media Mess!

I know it’s going to be tough to put your morality hat to the side, so we can discuss how everyone is handling the infidelity scandal involving Fmr. CIA Director, General David Petraeus and General John Allen, but try it for a moment.

With every passing moment a new “slice” of information comes out for the media to snack on. First the resignation because of a mutually admitted affair. Then news of what Congress and the White House knew and when they knew it. Then the introduction of a second woman, then a second general, and today, the agent that started it all is also on the receiving end of an investigation. Just take a look at the sampling of people chatting about it on Twitter today! The sensationalistic nature of the story makes it an easy conversation piece driven by speculation, secondhand reports, and the lovable one-liners that always come with stories like this.

This story has been bleeding slowly into the public since Friday, and based on the new information, the slow leak will continue. This is a textbook case of what NOT to do when breaking a scandal. If you remember nothing else about scandals, please remember this:

Scandals take on a life of their own, if the parties involved believe in the myth of hope that something will remain a secret. Once it’s out, you should put it all out. Shorten the life cycle of the story.

We’re on day five of the public side of this story, and we still haven’t heard from Petraeus, Allen, Kelley, or Broadwell. The only person from the Obama Administration to comment has been Leon Panetta. Granted, with his resume boasting experience as WH Chief of Staff, CIA Director, and Congressman, he has credibility, but he’s not at the center of the storm. He’s the one ordering parts of this investigation.  There is a “feeding frenzy” going on, and the only thing that will satisfy the hunger will be first-hand word from the parties involved.

Recognizing there are policies and procedures in place about what to do during and investigation, who to inform, and what to do when it is complete, there are still proactive measures to take when dealing with a scandal. All you have to remember is that if more than one person knows, there’s no way to keep a scandal and all of the dirty details a secret. If you have a controversial story that’s about to break, remember these key tips:

  • It will all come out eventually, so better that it comes from you, than someone else.
  • If negative information comes from you, you can have some influence over the spin others may try to put on it.
  • Getting everything out early shortens the news cycle.
  • Breaking news at 5 p.m. on a Friday (as was the case here) is no longer a guaranteed way to slip one by reporters. The 24-hour news cycle will keep it alive through the weekend and into the following week with at best a recap, and at worst, more digging and in-depth exposés.
  • There’s no such thing as getting through a true scandal, unscathed. So after you dump all of the information, hunker down and ride out the storm.
  • Social media can help you get your quotes seen and heard, in your own words, without spin or creative editing by others, so take advantage of it, when appropriate.

It’s too late for anyone to “correct” the way this was handled, but they can minimize the damage by revisiting some of the points mentioned above.  I hope you never have to deal with a scandal in your business or personal life, but if you do, I hope you’ll bookmark this blog post to help you get through it.

Communicate to connect!

 

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