Most professional communicators have, at some point in their careers, had to answer difficult questions or justify official positions they don’t agree with on behalf of their employers. That is part of the job. Lying is not.
Early on in my career, while working at a global bank, I had to field pointed inquiries from the media related to banking practices that were not illegal but didn’t exactly pass the integrity smell test either. That was difficult. But what I learned was that clarity, consistency and honesty above all are paramount in dealing with the press. If, as an official spokesperson, you break that rule, you lose all credibility. End of story.
Does this golden rule still hold true today in an environment where the White House Press Office perpetuates lies regarding, for example, crowd size in the face of contrary photographic evidence? Yes, reassuringly, the PR profession is appalled, as we should be. A survey of 900 PR pros done by USC Annenberg’s Center for Public Relations confirmed that the golden rule still holds true. Per PR Week’s reporting on the survey: “A whopping 83% agreed that the top reason the White House team is damaging to the industry is that they ‘constantly change their views/statements’ said 83% of PR pros. The survey also revealed that a majority of PR pros agree the White House comms team ‘distorts the truth’ (80%) and ‘purposefully lie’ (63%).” Read more here.
Lesson learned? Professional integrity still matters.