Clapper: Get all the bad news out first and fast — don’t let a Snowden do it


When the most secretive person in America — in this case Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — admits that getting all the facts and bad news out first and fast would have been a preferred decision in retrospect, the third-party endorsement is priceless.

This is a key rule of ours when dealing with a crisis. If you release all the bad news and do so factually, you get points for honesty and transparency.

If, however, you wait until an Edward Snowden does it, you look secretive, untrustworthy, deceitful, conspiratorial and dangerous. In the case of Snowden and the National Security Agency, he was able to selectively leak in week-to-week dribbles, all the secretive stuff as he chose, keeping the pressure on the NSA.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

This is all the more cogent and relevant to business and the public because it comes from a person required to be secret. And, he’s correct. If in the context of 9/11, the NSA said it had technology that would track everyone’s cell phones — which, 15 years ago were pretty rudimentary in what they revealed about us — the process would have been accepted in the mainstream.

In fact, as journalism awards season is upon us, awards are going to reporters who revealed this secretive program. If it wasn’t secret, where’s the scoop? Where’s the big news value?

And let’s be frank. For all of Snowden’s many hyped revelations, did any of them really surprise anyone? If the NSA hadn’t been working to ferret out terror plots — think about pre-9/11 naiveté and the perception the CIA was asleep at the switch — it might have been even bigger news.

But Clapper’s revelations bolster this key crisis management tenet for the rest of us. Be the deliverer of bad news about yourself and your company, take responsibility for it, reveal all the facts about it and apologize if necessary. Don’t let your critics do it for you.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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