Many Americans are disillusioned with the demeaning, vapid and fabulist rhetoric of the presidential race. While there may be nothing we can do to change the candidates themselves, we should ask one thing of the people speaking on their behalf: Don't lie.
In an increasingly fact-free world, it seems there are more equivocations, "Four Pinocchios" or outright lies than ever. It has gotten so bad that CNN is fact-checking candidates as they speak ("He's not"). Perhaps we communicators share part of blame for telling our clients to "bridge" to their message rather than answer the question put to them (see suspected steroid slugger Mark McGwire's excruciating "I am not here to talk about the past" answers to Congress).
I was thinking of this recently when speaking to some of the brightest college students in the country. I was asked, "Should I work for someone who asks me to do something that I disagree with?"
"If you feel strongly about an issue, make your best case for it with an informed and compelling argument," I answered.
The questioner persisted, "What I mean is, would you ever do something that is against your values, specifically, would you say something that is a lie?"
Ah, the question for the "corporate flack" that comes up every time I speak to students or to young communications professionals.
"No, never, don't do it…if someone asks you to lie for them, run in the opposite direction," I said.
Again, the questioner, and now other students persisted in a chorus, "But what if you really, really need the job?"
Okay, I get it now. It's easy for someone like me after 35 years in communications to say that no job is worth compromising your values, that you must take a long view of your career and protect your own reputation. It's harder for a young person striving to build a career and pay back student loans. But I insisted that my answer was the same, particularly in communications where credibility is everything.
The world's premiere organization of communications professionals, the Arthur W. Page Society, puts truth at the center of its principles: "Tell the truth" and "provide an ethically accurate picture of the enterprise's character, values, ideals and actions."
That is why I cringe at the linguistic contortions of Donald Trump's spokespeople when they try to explain the candidate's latest un-presidential provocation. At first I feel bad for them, but then I get angry. Angry because they are hurting our profession, reinforcing the worst stereotypes of "spinners" and "paid liars." Angry because their unconvincing and uninformed comments are a distraction from the seriousness of the issues. Angry because they undercut everyone's' credibility – including their own when the candidate says a few hours later, never mind, I was only joking.
Stephen Colbert's era of "truthiness" is no joke. There always have been "lies, damned lies and statistics," in public life but in a "digital never dies" world, no lie can hide for long. My advice to politicians is to jettison the silly statements and swampy language meant to blur meaning. No one believes you anyway.
My real plea is to my fellow communicators. The battle for the truth begins with you. Push for more clarity and integrity in your words – it is what the public is craving. It can be done. In 16 years as a spokesman for GE I didn't get everything right, but no one asked me to lie and I never did. If they had, I would have packed up my credibility and run in the opposite direction. Even if I really, really needed the job.
Considering the speculation of a red wave, the results of the midterm elections in the United States…
A week or so ago, I was in despair about the attacks on the credibility of a U.S. election by the pr…
By Jason Grumet American democracy is propelled by the belief that when the chips are down — when …