Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdoch "Apology" Will Only Expand His Crisis Management Problems

Mr. Murdoch is learning the most crucial axiom of crisis management: Bad news ripens badly. This decay continues with the so-called apology statement published and signed by Rupert Murdoch in British newspapers over the weekend, just in time to soften up members of Parliament, before whom he is testifying and being grilled, today.– It is vacuous, weak, evasive, insincere, incomplete and therefore very problematic. Here it is:

“I realize that simply apologizing is not enough," wrote Murdoch. "Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.”

It is not even an apology. These are personally puffing remarks designed to continue his whining, self-centered, self forgiving, and “I am really the victim here-” approach to communication. Not one word about the victims and their suffering. Not one word about his co-conspirators and fellow perpetrators. No words of contrition. The word “sorry” doesn’t appear…because he isn’t.

This is a crisis management disaster and fits the pattern of most senior executive initial failures to take their situations seriously The time wasted avoiding what has to be done, and the additional critics and enemies these initial poor behaviors create can not be overcome.

Apology is a victim-focused, personal admission and responsibility taking process based on acknowledging specific damaging actions. The ingredients of a sincere and credible apology, one with integrity, arise from answers to the following questions for Mr. Murdoch, his fellow perpetrators and his growing army of image advisers:

1. Where is the true, unconditional admission and enumeration of specific destructive, illegal and unethical actions he knew about or should have known about that hurt thousands of people, damaged the reputation of journalism, his country, the British government, among others, and promises, that instant that he will subject himself to the most powerful outside scrutiny, letting the chips fall where they may?
2. Where is the list of specific wrongdoing, damaging behaviors, or the lists of specific individuals who were targets and victims, all of which is known by employees of Murdoch enterprises and Murdoch himself?
3. Where is the explanation, complete with specifics of what went wrong, who are the additional perpetrators, inside and outside News Corp., as well as those on the take who facilitated years of abuse, intimidation, privacy violations, reputation destruction and other human damage?
4. What specific steps does he plan to take, including stepping aside at least for a while, so this entire matter can be brought to light, exposed to public view, and the victims along with the public allowed to make up their own minds about the sincerity of Mr. Murdoch's contrition and future intentions? The public should have the opportunity to determine whether or not News Corp. deserves to retain any public permission to continue operations.
5. Where is his plan to seek forgiveness directly and specifically from those whose lives he has damaged or perhaps even ended?
6. How will he execute the heart of a true apology which involves extraordinary acts of restitution and the continuous verbalization of regret, contrition, plus other self-imposed but publically acknowledged acts of penance?

When Mr. Murdoch leaves News Corp, voluntarily or involuntarily, these events and the apology process begins and these words and actions start happening, you’ll know that Murdoch is offering real sincerity rather than mechanical, routine, PR crisis management activities designed to bore and numb the audience and the media into shifting their attention to other things and ignoring the victims and the suffering of so many.

Mr. Murdoch will only begin to regain his integrity, public trust, and successfully initiate the steps toward rebuilding whatever his future holds when he begins subjecting himself publicly to the same unyielding, relentless, ruthless and degrading public humiliations that he and his organizations inflicted on so many for so long.

It is said that there is no saint like a reformed sinner. Mr. Murdoch needs to publically get about the business of his own personal reformation. All the PR experts in the world will fail because this is a personal journey for Mr. Murdoch which can only begin after he leaves News Corp, rather than a crisis manager’s fantasy exercise.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tomorrow is Dying for Rupert Murdoch

James Bond would be extremely proud as he surveys the damage Rupert Murdoch has created for himself. You may recall the Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies" featuring actor Jonathan Pryce as the malevolent media mogul, Elliott Carver. The story is loosely based on the actions and companies formed by Robert Maxwell and Mr. Murdoch, whose worldwide media empires were, we now know for certain, really in the business of fabricating and staging the news stories they reported.

Mr. Murdoch has revived William Randolph Hearst's famous instructions to Frederic Remington, a famous photographer (technically an artist in Cuba during the Spanish American War). When Hearst asked for pictures of the war, Remington replied "There will be no war." Hearst replied, "You provide (furnish) the pictures, I'll provide (furnish) the war".

This is clearly the mantra of the Murdoch Empire. Remember, Murdoch, an American, owns Fox News, where we suspect the "F" often stands for Fabrication.

My forecast is that the Murdoch situation is just the predicate to an emerging media story involving fabrication of news in journalism as a whole. The New York Times' dramatic move to showcase opinion journalism and embrace it literally throughout its pages is the greatest manifestation of what we'll probably come to call the "Murdoch Effect". Since the news is simply too boring, it needs to be spiced up by energizing, colorful language and situations created by characters committed to changing the world from their own perspectives.

When PR News asked me to grade Murdoch's crisis management performance thus far, this is what I told them:

"C" for Catastrophe: Terminating a major business unit, losing a major acquisition deal, and his global humiliation before the British Parliament. These are just the beginning steps in the story.

"A" for Arrogance Run Amuck. He's been abandoned by those he intimidated and by his media buddies who salivate most at eating one of their own.

"E+" for Extraordinarily Evil Activity. How else do you describe the despicable actions designed to hurt, embarrass, and humiliate people?

Will Murdoch suffer much from this circumstance? Probably not. Will Murdoch's empire be harmed in many serious ways by this situation? Probably not. Will Murdoch learn many, if any, lessons from these circumstances? Probably not. Will the abuses and problems yet to be uncovered in the United States by federal investigators have much impact on journalism or Mr. Murdoch? Probably not. Fox News will continue to be the most watched of the bloviating channels.

Will bloviators, bellyachers, and back bench critics enjoy watching him suffer? Absolutely.

What is his crisis management strategy? It's called applying the Insulating Capacity of Money, something not often talked about. The more money you have, the more insulation you get from almost anything that could hurt you, damage your interest, or even make your life uncomfortable.

Malcolm Forbes, the Harley Davidson riding son of the founder of Forbes magazine and always one of the world's richest men, was inevitably asked by every interviewer whether he ever thought there might be some value in having been poor for part of his life. Every time he explained with great patience, something like "Given the choice, I would always pick rich." Mr. Forbes and Mr. Murdoch are two peas in a very comfortable and posh pod.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

The Toxicity of Silence

In crisis, silence comes in many colors and in two varieties: intentional and cultural. All strategies of silence have the same outcome: toxic shock to the perpetrator. Silence strategies are ethical impediments to finding the truth. Silence and denial, which generally go together, quickly fuel relentless attacks by outside forces to pierce the veil of secrecy and bring down the perpetrator. There are at least five environments where cultures of silence are often the first response to trouble, disaster, embarrassment, or threat of uncomfortable disclosures.

  1. The Blue Wall: Perhaps the strongest culture of silence, the police and all of law enforcement. Don't expect much change to the blue wall anytime soon. Prosecutorial misconduct is getting more attention and even some action but the behaviors continue.

  2. The White Wall: When physicians and medical personnel make mistakes, the medical community's first reaction is to rally around each other to protect against an "uninformed public" and a sensationalizing media. The medial professional's defense, "we save lives," is a powerful deflecting tool for controlling information which is getting less effective every year.

  3. The Green Wall: This is the code of silence among military professionals whose chosen profession is, when necessary and without reserve, to lay down their lives for the protection of their country and the deterrence of hostile forces. The tendency is to look at civilians as unworthy of respect and unwelcome intruders since they have not submitted themselves to the "tests of war." The U.S. military has its own rules, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and its own court system.

  4. The Stone Wall: The practice of prolonged denial of events to delay consequences, or in the hopes that someone else's bad news will come along and eclipse the current situation. This approach is, of course, transparently obvious to everyone, except the perpetrator. It generally fails.

  5. The Editorial Wall: This is the news media's tendency to take offense and lash out at any and all critics and criticism. After all, they too are saving the world from something every day. Without credible independent oversight, this institution has the most powerful code of silence in our society. If the media doesn't talk about "it", "it" does not exist.

Codes of Silence do get broken, along with careers and reputations. Codes of Silence create unnecessary victims who can irritate, retaliate, and then litigate until the perpetrator is humiliated and sometimes crushed. Overcoming or setting aside Codes of Silence is a crucial element in achieving successful crisis communication mangement.

For More Information and Insight, Please See the Following Links:

1. Seeking Public Forgiveness

2. Profiles in Jell-O

3. Why Community Relations Programs Fail

4. The Seven Dimensions of Crisis Communication Management

Visit our website at http://www.e911.com/

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