Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his legislative colleagues, and really the whole state, have been in crisis for a week.
Despite his protests, based on the facts as he sees them, a law passed about “religious freedom,” has been roundly criticized as discriminating against gays and lesbians. More tangentially, it has a lot of Indiana business leaders worried about a boycott or backlash.
He’s had to backtrack, agreeing to modify the law to make sure it’s non-discriminatory.
According to CNN:
Gov. Mike Pence pledged Tuesday to “fix” Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law to clarify that it does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But he insisted the problem isn’t the law itself but how it’s being perceived, saying a fix is needed only because of “frankly, the smear that’s been leveled against this law.”
How it’s being perceived is exactly the point, and where he went wrong. As any crisis manager could have predicted:
Stubborn on the facts, he dismissed perception. Perception is reality. Especially when a riled populace — even an activist minority portion — can say whatever it wants on social media. That fuels traditional media pandering to its lost audience by jumping on every Twitter trend and Facebook fable.
And, in this case, the law is bad, Pence is wrong on the facts and the perception and in 2015 America, victims of discrimination are going to protest. As they should.
Because of his insistence that he’s right on the facts, he lost the battle and will suffer a significant political setback. He embarrassed his state and the millions of Indiana residents who support LGBT rights.
And he did it because he dismissed perception and its power nationally.
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 and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with eight offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.