Being a liar is probably the worst sin from a public relations perspective. But right next to lying is hubris, the notion that the rules don’t apply to you, that your $#*t don’t stink, that you can get away with something wrong through the sheer force of confidence.
Hubris is alive and well in government and business all across the world. Take a seasoned CEO with lots of power and money, stir in a cadre of “yes men,” and it will grow like bacteria in a petri dish. You’ve probably seen it at some place where you work. If you were lucky, you got out alive.
Occasionally, however, you get a special case, in which there’s a complete disconnect between bending the rules to suit your goals and totally smashing them. Like when 1988 Presidential hopeful Gary Hart, who was suspected of being a womanizer, said to the media, “go ahead, follow me.” (they found him on a yacht named Monkey Business, engaged in … well, monkey business, with a young-woman-not-his-wife, Donna Rice).
Like when OJ Simpson vowed to spend the rest of his life looking for the “real killer.” Or when John Edwards tried to soften the impact of his infidelity, claiming that his wife’s cancer was in remission at the time.
And who could forget Bill Clinton, saying directly to the camera, “I did not have sex with that woman.”
And now we’ve got Rod Blagojevich, the colorful governor of Illinois, about to stand trial for impeachment. We’ve all heard the tapes of his conspiracy to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, his plans for the op-ed page of the Chicago Tribune, and the cursing. Lots of cursing. That’s a mighty big hole to climb out of.
But some people just don’t give up. They see insurmountable odds, and to then it’s just like walking across the street. Here’s some of that hubris:
That’s right, he’s comparing himself to Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
Now Blago is taking his story to the cable news and TV talk shows, sharing his story of persecution, how the trial is fixed, and tossing off bombs like Oprah Winfrey for Senator. The TV hosts share looks of mock concern, but they’re gleeful to join in this self-made execution. After all, it’s Blago’s words that will hang him, not theirs.
What’s the take-away for a public relations professional? All you can do is watch and wonder. And inoculate yourself – and your clients – from hubris. Remember that your deeds matter more than your words. And that cameras and microphones are everywhere; showing trumps telling.
We see a horrible accident in slow motion. Here’s what Blago sees: