The year 2020 has produced many PR lessons that practitioners should remember. But four that should never be forgotten are:
- Never attempt to camouflage bad news because,
- Bad news will eventually become public,
- Never think you’re the smartest person in the room,
- And reputations earned over many years can easily be tarnished.
The first three tenets were proven to be written in stone and refer to the actions of President Trump regarding his handling of the coronavirus.
The fourth referred to Bob Woodward’s delaying important information he learned during his interviews with the president for six months, until publicity commenced about “Rage,” his new book about the Trump presidency.
Trump’s first mistakes about his mishandling of the coronavirus has been evident for months as he attempted to convince the public that it was a “Democratic hoax” and that it was not a serious threat to public health and that his administration had it under control.
His second mistake was believing that the public would believe what he said, and that what he said would mask the bad news.
His third mistake was his belief that he is the smartest person in the room and has the ability to convince anyone that his reasoning and actions are unparalleled. He must have thought that he had the ability to convince anyone of his superior intellect and powers of persuasion. Why else would he have told Woodward that he had deliberately mislead, no lied, to the American public about the threat to public health caused by the coronavirus?
The fourth bullet refers to Woodward. It shows how easily a reputation earned over decades can easily be tarnished.
Woodward’s mistake, in my opinion, was not immediately informing the public not to believe what Trump has been saying about the coronavirus not being a serious health problem.
Certainly Woodward had enough material for his book even if he would have alerted the public not to believe what Trump said about the virus. And withholding Trump’s comments for six months likely led to the death of Americans who believe what the president says is the unvarnished truth.
Immediately after Woodward’s tapes of Trump admitting that he knew that the cononavirus was deadly, Woodward was criticized by other journalists for not promptly releasing the information.
Defenders of Woodward point out that the public knew Trump was lying about the coronavirus months ago, so Woodward holding back the tapes didn’t make a difference.
No matter your opinion of Woodward’s decision about withholding the explosive news, one thing is clear. His reputation has been tarnished.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com and ArtSolomon4pr@optimum.net.