How to embarrass the embarasser, or how transparency turns the tables

Say you are a NGO heavily involved in political activity. Someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum wants to discredit you–obviously you are being effective. So they hire a research firm to dig out embarrassing details and the research firm does a massive search for public records, intending clearly to find some tidbit of impropriety between you and your political contacts. Even the slightest misjudgment can make juicy headlines in today’s easily manipulated media environment.

What do you do? How about beating your opponents to the punch, gathering up all the public records and publicly making them public? That’s what LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) did. This op-ed by the LA Times’ Jim Newton ends up making LAANE and its executive director positively virtuous, while the research firm who requested the records ends of looking pretty sleazy.

Certainly there are those who might say that its all partisan politics–LAANE is pro-union, pro-environment, pro-immigrant rights, etc., and the research firm is known for working for conservatives. For those who would see it this way, the positive report by LA Times only proves their orientation. But, to simplify it this way would miss the point: transparency.

Fact is, the reporter did uncover some little tidbits. It even found that it under-reported the time and money it spent on lobbying on a tax return. I can see the headlines now. It’s the kind of juicy little thing that works so well in today’s. But, since the organization self-reported through this process (forced though they may have been by the public record’s request) the news communicated something entirely different–a minor mistake which was corrected in the next year’s filing.

The lessons here are obvious. Transparency builds trust. If you have something bad to reveal its a heck of a lot better coming from you. And if you are going to try to do a smear job on someone, you better hope that they have something big to hide and that they won’t just open their kimono. Might make you, the intended smearer, look like the bad guy.

4 thoughts on “How to embarrass the embarasser, or how transparency turns the tables”

  1. Transparency opponents would argue that you cannot be completely transparent, just as you would not walk in the nude. But “walking in the nude” is not the point of transparency either. The point, as you have said it well, is “to build trust.” You can never go overboard in repeating this because so many leaders miss this point constantly.

  2. I think the general public will always respond better if they hear the news straight from the horses mouth. In this case they turned potentially bad publicity into positive media coverage.

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