How is Brian Williams NOT like Pete Carroll?

OK, I’m still in mourning over our Seahawks defeat in the Superbowl. Somehow getting there two years in a row–a feat few in our area ever dared dream of–is tainted by one play.

So that’s kinda how Brian Williams and Pete Carroll are alike. Both have had fantastically successful careers, rising to the top of their profession and being counted among the very best of the best. Both made huge mistakes in front of millions–mistakes that cause us mere mortals to shake our heads in wonder, with even a bit of pity. How have the mighty fallen!

Brian Williams’ mistake will likely not only cost him his job, but like Dan Rather, his place in the pantheon next to the place of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrows. Pete Carroll’s mistake will be remembered and talked about, but will likely not diminish much his stature as one of the truly great coaches of our time.

Why? Credibility.

Credibility is gold. It is the currency on which reputations live or die. It is the one thing no person, no organization, no government can afford to lose and expect to be effective. I made that point as strongly as I could in Now Is Too Late, and suggested that if you find yourself in a position where your credibility is lost, you only have two options: give up or borrow someone else’s.

Brian’s credibility was severely damaged by the revelation of being less than honest about his Iraq experience. It was destroyed by his inept explanations that have been denied by the witnesses present.

Carroll’s credibility as a supreme coach, tied closely to his competence and success in winning games, was and is severely tested by the decision to pass the ball rather than let Marshawn run it in. His response was different: he accepted full responsibility. (The fact that Russell Wilson attempted to also take full responsibility leads me to have more pride in the Seahawks in defeat than I could in victory.) There is considerable reason to believe that it was offensive coach Darrell Bevell who made the fateful call. But it really doesn’t matter as Carroll has taken full responsibility. If he had made even the slightest effort to shift the blame to Bevell, his credibility would sink like gold in a pool. Or turn to lead. Like Williams.

Certainly there are other differences. Football, after all is just a game (yeah, try telling that to Seattle right now). Being nightly news anchor means you have exceptionally strong pull over public opinion which can have huge consequences for the nation and world. One mistake was a question of judgment, the other a question of character. There are big differences alright. But the primary lesson remains the same:

Credibility is gold.

CEOs and their communication leaders must understand that nothing, nothing can be allowed to disrupt their credibility. Battles for public opinion most often come down to the question as to who can be believed, who can be trusted. Aristotle was right when teaching about rhetoric that the three basic appeals in persuasion are logos, pathos, ethos. Logic, emotion and the appeal to the person–credibility of the speaker. Of the three, he was clear that the most important was ethos. Yet, how often don’t we see credibility being tossed aside like it doesn’t matter. Even more, how often do we see individuals, companies and organizations fail to protect their credibility against attacks. This is why I highlighted Elon Musk and Tesla’s aggressive response to a negative New York Times review and US government safety investigation.

And how does one build and protect credibility: tell the truth, all the time. Don’t be like Brian.

 

 

 

 

Is Marshawn Lynch a PR genius?

Somehow, it seems appropriate. The guy getting absolutely the most attention from the media in this Superbowl ramp up is Marshawn Lynch. Why? Because he won’t play their game, at least not the way they think it should be played.

He’s obligated by his NFL contract to talk to the media. Now where did that obligation come from? The media one would suspect. They want unfettered access to the players. So, when Marshawn gets the big fine for not living up to this part of the deal, who goes along. Sort of. He first answers all questions with the same response: “Yeah.”

Then, he ups the game at this pre-Superbowl media day by answering all questions with: I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” I was watching “His and Hers” on ESPN last night and they were furious. But they spent probably 20 minutes talking about guess who? Not outspoken Richard Sherman, not deflategate, not Belichick and his propensity to break the rules. No, they talked about Marshawn Lynch. Same with the print news coming out of media day. What was the story: Marshawn Lynch.

Now, I might conclude that he is doing this because he is painfully shy, hates the media, or doesn’t know the first thing about brand building. Or he could just be a complete jerk.

But after seeing this commercial for Progressive featuring none other than the non-spoken Marshawn, I’m starting to conclude the guy is the smartest PR guy in football, if not in the world. (And Kenny Mayne’s got to get credit for making this happen). Now I could still conclude that Marshawn is just a jerk, but not from what I’ve heard. In fact, it was our son Chris of BaronVisuals who helped shoot the Lynch commercial–not he’s not the guy seen behind the camera (I’m not that old) he’s behind the actual camera. And he tells me Marshawn is for real.

What does this mean for crisis communication? That one should answer all the questions the media through out at you with “Yeah”? No. But what it does suggest is that not playing their game the way they want it played can sometimes, in the right circumstances, and done right, really pay dividends.

OK, this post was just my backwards way of slipping in a comment about the SuperBowl. Hey, I’m from the Seattle area. How about those Hawks?

Honda receives record fine, but the real story is truly frightening

The big news is that Honda paid a record fine to the federal government. The stories link this $70 million fine to failure to report “more than 1700 deaths and injuries” in its vehicles. Are you kidding me? This car  company killed or injured 1700 people and no one knew about it? You would think this would be the story of the decade.

The truth is, this is not at all the truth. And underlying this little reported story is the real story: a story of huge new crisis risk facing companies doing business in the United States. The risk is the unwarranted criminalization of business for the purpose of raising government revenue.

If you are a business owner or executive of almost any size, please look carefully at this chart developed from information provided by the Economist:

Economist chart fed fines.001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That hockey stick growth is the rise in government fines against US companies. The cover of the August 30 edition of the Economist featured “the criminalization of American business.”

It so happened that at about the same time I was working with a client on exactly one of these crises. I can’t reveal details because of the threats made by federal officials against my client. But believe me when I tell you that they paid a huge fine for doing absolutely nothing wrong–a claim supported by other government officials involved in the case. Then the agency fining them aggressively promoted a press release claiming the fine proved their guilt when the settlement was negotiated under threat. If the company didn’t agree to the settlement they would face a court case that if they lost would have destroyed them. When the company tried to set the record straight in the media, explaining it was a settlement done for business reasons, the agency official threatened them with possible jail time.

The Economist article points out the billions in fines against banks like BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and others.

Add to this the $1.2 billion fine against Toyota related to the safety recall. You may remember that the federal government (while a major investor in GM) famously said the only place you should drive your Toyota was to the repair shop. This was after a series of highly publicized accidents where the media accused the company of faulty electronic systems and slow recall. After NASA investigators got involved, all the accidents were shown to be driver error or faulty installation of mats–none related to the supposed Toyota problems. But, still, the federal government extorted $1.2 billion from the company. What for? Well, like almost all agreement as the Economist points out, the reasons were kept confidential as part of the settlement.

Why? Why is this happening?

If the dramatic increase cannot reasonably be attributed to a sharp increase in corporate misbehavior, then what? The head of the Department of Justice, Eric Holder, announced that the agency’s efforts resulted in over $8 billion in revenue for the US government against a cost of operating the agency of just $2.8 billion. That excellent return on investment was for 2013 and will be dwarfed by the much larger number for 2014. The Economist reports that the return on the False Claims Act enforcement net the Department a twenty to one return. State and local agencies who participated in settlements, such as Google’s settlement of $500 million for allowing internet users to advertise prescription drugs from Canada, have gone on spending sprees. It’s not surprising that Mark Rosekind says the Department of Transportation will seek to increase the maximum fine for violations or extortion such as this to $300 million. He needs to keep up with the massive amounts of money flowing into agencies like the Department of Justice and he can’t do that on paltry $70 million fines.

Is it any wonder that the Economist, which has endorsed President Obama in each of his presidential elections, called this administration the most anti-business in memory.

If you think this new risk of your own government turning against you unfairly and without justification, you should consider the “hot goods” case involving berry farmers.

In late July 2012 the Department of Labor investigated three blueberry farms in Oregon. Using a formula they established they decided the farmers were in violation of the fair labor law. Their formula showed the farm’s pickers picked more than the formula said they should so therefore they concluded the farm hired “ghost workers.” They had no proof other than the formula. To enforce the law, the Department invoked the “hot goods” provision and notified wholesalers that the fresh blueberries could not be processed. “Hot goods” allows the government to hold the product until the issue is resolved, but of course, when the product is highly perishable you could win the argument and lose the farm.  The Department offered a way out: agree they had violated the law, sign an order saying they would not contest the findings even if it proved they were innocent, and pay back wages and a large fine. Two farms ended up paying out more than $240,000 to get their blueberries back in time to avoid ruin.

But, despite the fact that the agreement said they could not fight it or appeal, the farmers did, and they won. The courts agreed that they were coerced into a settlement and agreement of wrongdoing by the Department of Labor and ordered the government to pay the money back. As of this writing, the government is still fighting the courts and refusing to pay. And as in the other cases, may be looking for ways to punish the farmers who had the temerity to challenge this extortion.

For complete details on this sad situation, read this.

Bad behavior by business owners and leaders needs to be punished. Laws and regulations need full compliance. Enforcement is a very important part of the accountability in our system. But, these actions by our government agencies cannot be included in justified enforcement. This is what happens when the government, feeling justified by a backlash against big government, resorts to bullying and extortion to raise funds and generate left wing applause. It represents one of the most significant, frustrating and frightening new crisis risks facing business in a long time.

Paris newspaper attack sickens–and concerns

Today it is Paris. Tomorrow, where? My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible attack that once again blackens the name of Islam.

The news reports of this horrific event bear out the prediction of myself and others that in this time of instant news, we are placed right in the action through social media. The video capturing the shooting makes you want to duck even as you stand on a balcony above the street.

But the real issue of concern here is the dedication of many to take away one of our most precious freedoms–freedom of the press. Even as that freedom is more secure than ever through the millions of reporter/broadcasters carrying their global transmission equipment in their pockets and purses, more and more seem intent on taking that freedom away. We saw it in Mexico where media outlets caved to the demands of drug lords who killed reporters when the media reported on their activities. We saw it in Denmark with the publication of an offensive cartoon. We saw it in Hollywood with North Korea’s attempt to to punish Sony for producing an offensive video. And now this–and many others I’m sure.

The sad truth is, if it was my family, my employees, my life at stake I’m not sure I would have the courage to continue. Indeed, we have seen the effectiveness of these efforts to squelch the offending media channels. I still get angry that a few evil people have made traveling so much more aggravating. What will we do when we see something essential to our understanding of how to live in society being attacked and taken away?

An after thought:

After posting this I read about outlets who were censoring the offending cartoon. This, of course, feeds the bullies and terrorists. Is there another approach. Imagine if a group of POWs were accused by their guards of some misdeed but the perpetrator was not known and not revealed by the prisoners. The guards say step forward if you are guilty or we will take one of you out and shoot you. Instead of waiting for the guilty one to step forward, the entire line of POWs steps forward. Now the guards must shoot all or none. What if all editors, publishers, broadcasters who were concerned about this kind of brutal intimidation published the offending cartoon. What if they upped the game and published a whole bunch of them?

What if every theater outlet in the free world offered to show the Interview for free? Seems that might do more to send a message to the dictator than a few little sanctions.

Just a thought–but this has to be stopped, somehow.

Are reputation crises as bad as we think they are?

A question has been nagging at the back of my head for some time. Are crises really bad for companies? Seems a dumb question, doesn’t it. We have a whole industry (including me) which seems to exist to first scare the crud out of leaders about the devastating impacts of reputation crises, then offer solutions to minimize the damage.

But, is there a connection between bad PR, big-time reputation crises and company or organization success? The question was raised by PRNewser in their review of the biggest PR losers for 2014. Here are a few examples that raise legit questions:
-the NFL–certainly had a bad year for PR, yet ratings for NFL games were higher this year than last
-GM — Congressional hearings, more recalls, reactions to exec salaries–but the company the best November in sales since 2001
– Sony cyber security–Sony was hacked and demonstrated a pattern of lack of data security. Despite most theater chains refusing to show the Interview, the film has already brought in $15 million in digital only channels
– Uber had about as bad a year PR-wise as can be imagined. But it looks like it isn’t having too much of an impact on its fundraising efforts which are valuing the company at about double its value since June.
 Microsoft–New CEO Satya Nadella made a huge politically incorrect booboo when he suggested women should rely on good karma for raises. At the end of November, Seattle Times reported Microsoft stock was at a 14 year high, nearly double since start of 2013.
– Congress–11% approval ratings, 95% re-election rates (explain that one!)

Beyond these headline grabbing examples, there have to be hundreds if not thousands of smaller crises affecting businesses and organizations large and small that don’t get the attention or traction of these major stories. In many, if not most of them, while intensely scary at the time, most of the organizations that I am aware of recover quite nicely and quickly once the furor and attention have died down.

However, and there is a very big however, things do not end so happily in all cases.

– Here are a few clear cases and some questionable where bad PR is causing serious harm:

– Police–already two NYPD officers have died in retribution. The well publicized examples of questionable (at best) killings of African-American young men is causing a serious problem for law enforcement–problems of trust and confidence that may affect community relations, recruitment and police safety for years.

– Cosby–I agree with the assessment, sadly, that one of America’s favorite dads is and should be gone from the public scene, and perhaps from the public streets.

-CIA specifically, federal spying generally–from Snowden, to the NSA’s late recognition of likely illegal behavior, to the global discussion about prosecution of American officials for torture, American spies–once the guardians of freedom–are quickly becoming the focal point of moral outrage and distrust around the world. Hard to say what it will take to recover from this.

This review creates a bit of a dilemma. Can it be that crises, at least some crises, are really not so bad for the company and bottom line? Why is it that some crises can be absolutely devastating while others seem to flit by the radar screens at ever accelerating rates?

I need to think on this some more, but a few initial thoughts:

– Crises are not such big news anymore–many of them anyway, partly because there are so many they are almost routine, and that in part is because of hyper-sensitivity. It’s hard to say much of anything these days without offending some person or group. Outrage (like most emotion) is viral fodder. The desperate need of the media for the headline not of the day but the hour, drives them to jump on the least offense and magnify it so that other hyper-sensitive types can jump on board and the two of them can declare a reputation crisis.

– Only big violations of common values really hurt. The Satya Nadella story is a case in point. His comments were clearly communicated out of context. The reality of equal treatment of women was made clear and Microsoft looked good in that respect. If his offense had been a clear and documented case of bias against women, Microsoft in general and Nadella specifically would have paid a much higher price. Cosby on the other hand, assuming of course the accusations hold, has violated on numerous occasions commonly held values. We will not tolerate people in high power who use their power to abuse others.  Nor will most of us tolerate the idea that torture is ever justified, or illegal spying by our own government against ordinary citizens. And clearly, unwarranted killing of anyone–regardless of color–can never be allowed. These are significant violations of not just law, but of deeply and commonly held values.

This conclusion needs much more testing and I offer very tentatively here. But, if it proves correct, it is important in responding to crises. The number one rule of crisis management is don’t make a bad situation worse. That often means don’t bring to attention what otherwise would not be an issue. But that has to be balanced with the need for transparency, honesty and being the first to tell bad news about yourself. An over-reaction to a perceived serious reputation crisis can fit into the category of making it worse. An under-reaction, or more commonly a too-late reaction–can also cause serious harm.

There is great judgment needed in deciding if a crisis is going to blow over quickly and leave little damage in its wake, or if it is going to fester, balloon and overwhelm an organization. How does one get that judgment? It seems it is more important than ever to understand at a very significant level the public perception and communication environment. I guess that means, there is still a need for those experts who can help provide that guidance.

Whew, I’ll breathe a little easier as we go into 2015 now.

 

 

 

Is news now conversation?

I had an interesting conversation/interview with David Bain of Digital Marketing Radio–the podcast available here.  As you learn in media training, you are never sure the “sound bite” the interviewer will use. You can talk for an hour, but find one comment gets highlighted.

In this case, I have no complaints. I was uneasy talking about digital marketing as I am far from an expert on all things SEO, social media for promotion, so-called “content marketing” and all that. Folks will laugh when I say my favorite digital marketing tool is a blog–I’m so 2005.

However, giving credit where credit is due, the thought of news as conversation came from son Geoff, busy developing a “conversation management” tool. It wasn’t the first I heard of this concept, but maybe first time I really pondered it.

It’s true I think. We live in a global water cooler. Someone with something interesting to say, or some first hand view of a high interest topic (such as plane crash or police victim) starts the conversation, sharing what they know or simply their thoughts. (Amazing how often their thoughts consist of little more than four letters, starting with an f.) That is just the start. Folks around the water cooler start to chatter. They get loud, that draws more folks. Everyone’s got an opinion, even if it is just to twitter on about what someone else has said. Someone listening in has a loudspeaker. They get on that and soon a much bigger crowd has gathered. The noise is deafening. Some of it good and important stuff, mostly just chatter, repeats, or more f words. And so it goes…

The conversation goes on until people tire of it (quickly it seems) or there is another conversation of higher interest on a nearby water cooler. We hear a loudspeaker going off next to another water cooler and get drawn there. We look around and there are all kinds of water coolers many of them filled with noisy people.

So, sometimes you just want to shut it off, go find a quiet corner in Starbucks and have a grande. But, no, that’s another water cooler.

 

The biggest crisis comm obstacle: high level ignorance

There are a great many challenges to overcome to prepare a sizable organization for crises, emergencies or reputation disasters. But one seems nearly intractable: the ignorance of those in high places. The very ones who will make the big decisions when push comes to shove. The lawyers, the CEOs, the regional execs, the Incident Commanders, the chiefs, the directors, the presidents.

If the ones who call the shots during a response do not understand the water they are swimming in, the effort is doomed–despite all the preparation that communication and public relations leaders may put in place.

A week or so ago I had the privilege of presenting to the Washington State Sheriffs and Police Chief’s association training meeting. Chief Bill Boyd and I were to give a four hour presentation to these law enforcement leaders. Bill did the bulk of the work on the presentation, but had a medical emergency and couldn’t present with me. One item he had gathered for this really hit me–and those present. The Boston Police radio message from the Incident Commander on the scene just after the bombing occurred included the calm but clearly adrenalin-filled IC’s details on what actions the police on the scene were taking. Then he said, “And I need someone to get on social media and tell everyone what we are doing.” That’s correct. One of the top priorities of this Commander was to inform the public of police actions and the way to do that he knew was through the agencies social media channels.

The fact that this is a police agency who gets it at the highest level was made clear by the incredibly effective use of Twitter Boston Police made during the subsequent manhunt. The video I prepared called NanoNews presents their success and the surprising reason behind it.

Despite an understandable reluctance to dive headfirst into digital communications, I was very pleased to see the effective use of these tools by many law enforcement agencies in Washington State. And was thrilled that about five or six chiefs signed up for Twitter during the training and several came up and said, proudly, “I just did my first tweet!”

The last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to present virtually to a number of communication leaders around the globe. I was struck again by the savvy of these communication leaders about the challenges they face, a savviness these seems far too often missing from those above them. Global communicators face many or most of the same problem as those in North America, but the good old USA seems to have an extra burden: lawyers. I was pleased to learn that lawyers in at least some other countries seem to have a far better understanding of the need for communicators to get information out fast and consequently willingness to allow some freedom and trust. In the US, this seems to be far less likely.

The issue of gaining senior leadership’s understanding of the need for speed, for freedom to use the channels that today’s media and audiences are demanding, was brought to light in one discussion. A major event that happened in one country demonstrated to the lawyers, Incident Commanders and senior leaders what happens when communication is not allowed to flow. Social media became filled with a narrative negative to the responders. That story was never challenged by those responding. The senior leaders asked: why are they allowing this happen?

Bingo. Lights went on.

There are many who will disagree with me on this one, but I deeply believe the great tragedy in this country called Ferguson is above all the tragic consequence of a failure to communicate. And that is no doubt because of the ignorance of the senior police leaders in Ferguson. An ignorance of the news environment they live in, an ignorance of their own community and the sensitivities and need for information. The narrative of the shooting of the young African-American man was seized by those who witnessed it and saw what they saw. Others, who testified in the grand jury, saw things quite differently. But it was only one story that was told, one story that was believed, one story that drove the community to take action.

I don’t presume to know the truth, the full story. But I do know that when untruths are repeated often enough, retweeted enough, network-effected enough, they become the truth. Failure to counter at least to indicate that things are not always what they seem, can be disastrous.

Would the world we live in today be a little different if the Ferguson police leaders understood the world we live in today? I think so.

 

Uber’s “God View” shows more power means more responsibility

In case you haven’t seen, Uber, the controversial (for taxi companies anyway) new contract ride service, is in trouble. Seems they have a way of knowing where everyone who uses their service goes. It’s available to those inside the company. It’s called “God View.”

Obviously there is considerable power in having such a God view. As Lord Acton reminded us, there is a corrupting power related to power. All it would take would be for someone not using their head to use it for bad reasons. Buzzfeed broke a story about the New York executive for Uber using the God View to track the movements of a reporter and others. One other executive said that Uber might use the tracking information to smear reporters who wrote critically of the company. He, of course, apologized and admitted saying that was “wrong.”

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of almost 200 Sheriff’s and police chiefs. Big data is getting to be big news, big opportunities, with big concern. There is no question that big data which is now being made available to law enforcement to provide “threat scores” including any questionable or threatening social media post, will be an important enhancement to law enforcement. But, given revelations like the NSA activity and the increasing awareness of the loss of anonymity, a backlash against big data and its use is already evident. No doubt, it will grow.

Companies like Apple, Google–even Uber–are amassing personal data of amazing detail and complexity. We need companies and executives who commit to “do no evil” as Google famously has done. More than that, we need leaders who don’t just say it, but do it.

There will be legislation–as so many seem to think rules fix all problems. Legislation alone won’t. We need people and leaders to understand the corrupting nature of power and have the moral strength to resist. When they don’t, as with these Uber folks, the public reaction should be swift and decisive.

I’m thinking that Uber’s reaction of now publishing its privacy policy is far too little and too late. It should have revealed the existence of God View earlier. It should severely limit the people who have access to it rather than making so widely available in the company. It should have a strict policy for when God View would be used and publicly disclose that. It should have an outside, respected panel responsible for approving any use of it. Overkill? Maybe, but if not the result may be market kill. Any more such revelation of abuse of God View may seriously damage rider’s willingness to use Uber. Suddenly, taking a taxi for many looks like a safer bet.

A personal (brag) post–and book recommendation

I don’t often use this space for anything other than my musings on crisis communication and the crisis of the day. This is no crisis. My wife and are so blessed to have three incredibly talented adult children and nine grandchildren. Our daughter Ashley Rodriguez (introduced here before) is a top food blogger (best cooking blog according to Saveur magazine) and now a cookbook author. (Her award winning blog is notwithoutsalt.com)

Her first cookbook, Date Night In by Running Press is available for pre-order on Amazon and officially released on December 23. But even as a pre-order only, it is inching up Amazon’s best seller lists!

So, sure I’m proud! (She’s a much better writer than her wanna be dad! and gets most of her talent from her incredible mom).

Date Night In is more than just a bunch of great recipes. Ashley is a fabulous food photographer, teaching classes on food photography and having her work in most of the major food publications and websites. In this book she reveals with striking candor and vulnerability the challenges of keeping love in marriage alive in the busyness of raising kids and professional careers. She gives some great advice that has inspired me to try to be a better husband as well.

Apologize for this brief personal and even somewhat commercial post, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass on to you a great Christmas (or early Valentines Day) suggestion.

Tim Cook, Ted Bishop, the invisible Ebola czar and other random thoughts

Lots going on in our world of crisis communication, but as I’ve been busting it getting a big project done for a client (series of 18 training videos on global crisis communication), I haven’t had much time to comment, let alone think about some of these things.

Ted Bishop, former president of PGA. He was stripped of his job, his title and all the privileges (considerable) of being a former president of the Professional Golf Association. He must have really, really screwed up. Well, yeah. He tweeted a somewhat thoughtless comment. Jumping into the post Ryder Cup discussion, he derided Brit golfer Ian Poulter who derided commentator Nick Faldo who had criticized Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia. What was his so highly offensive tweet? He called Poulter a “lil girl.” Ouch!

Obviously a good lesson here: think before you tweet. Another lesson: outgoing presidents probably shouldn’t tweet at all. Another lesson: opinions of any kind need to withstand the ire of the lowest common denominator hyper-sensitive among us. What do I think of this? This is a microcosm of what is happening in our world–and I find it disgusting. The level of what is acceptable and unacceptable is getting so ridiculously low (except for rude, lewd, and nasty language which seems to be almost universally acceptable) such that freedom of expression is being killed in the court of public opinion. Should he have said it? Probably not. Did the PGA–and the media who are all over this as indication of the “diversity problem” in the PGA–over react? Well, you know my opinion by now.

Tim Cook? Big headlines, all over the news, Mr. Cook comes out of the closet. Nieman Labs is among those saying what a glorious moment this is in journalistic history. Yet, they raise an important point. Wasn’t this known a long time ago? I doubt that Cook’s coming out was a big surprise to most in the tech world. And for that matter, most of the Apple community. Which brings up the point, when is news news? Apparently only when the major news media decide its news. Not really. This was non-news as well known as it was and yet there are so many pretending that it is news. Which means of course, that while a great many leaders still think about PR as “managing the media” there is very little management left. The conversation about Cook and what it means for the CEO of one of the most important and powerful companies in the world to be gay has been going on for a long time. It’s nice to have Mr. Cook join the conversation finally.

The Ebola “czar” and bungled crisis communication. Had a chance to discuss this briefly with my friend and social media expert Patrice Cloutier. Patrice, Bill Boyd and I collaborated on a project a couple of years ago with a major municipal public health agency helping them train staff and operationalize social media monitoring.

Now the media stories are filled with how confusing and contradictory the various messages about Ebola are. Well, of course, the media’s got to write something that will get people fired up. But, they are making an important point. When the fears first started hitting the US, particularly with Dallas, the CDC’s Tom Frieden was the face of the CDC and de facto face of the federal government and the health community. Yes, there were some glitches, but overall he was effective and we knew where we could go with the best available information.

Here comes this administration, obviously feeling the pressure. Like he did in the gulf oil spill, Obama took control of communications and since then it has gone to heck. Like it did in the spill. He dismantled the Joint Information Center operation, put twenty-something White House operatives in charge of communications and required that the several hundred highly experienced communication experts sit around while the WH had to approve and politicize all the information coming out of the spill. How do I know? I was there. While he used every opportunity he could to kick BP’s “behind,” it became clear that while the government was posturing, it was up to the company and its experts to put an end to the endless gushing. Did public trust in government go up as a result? No, and just when it was most needed.

The CDC is the nation’s best resource in a situation like this. He stripped them of their voice and credibility just when it was most needed. (I almost laughed out loud when I saw that CDC announced a rapid reaction team and the next day the news report that said Obama ordered the CDC to put in place a rapid reaction team. Shades of the spill communications all over again (remember the ridiculous posturing around dispersants?)

So he does he have for the face of Ebola? An appartchik as someone has said. Admittedly, Ron Klain is not twenty-something, but what are his credentials compared to a Dr. Frieden, or almost anyone from the CDC? And, where the heck is he? For being asked to be the face it seems all anyone has seen is his backside. As Krauthammer said, he is in self-quarantine.

Ok, I’m being curmudgeonly and overly harsh. I’m sure the PGA, journalists covering the Cook story, and Mr. Obama and Mr. Klain are all doing their very best. But, we have to take our lessons where we can.

And today’s lessons:

1. Come on people, let’s not overreact to one little questionable comment on Twitter and ruin a guys life over it.

2. Be careful what you tweet–don’t call big time golfers lil girls.

3. We live in a hypersensitive environment, one in which there are a great many who stand to gain from fanning the tiniest spark into a giant firestorm. (Makes you want to just buy a small farm and move out into the country, doesn’t it?)

4. In a crisis, especially a crisis characterized by irrational fears fanned by the flames of media trying to buy eyes, a calm, consistent, credible voice and message are essential. (And Mr. President, it doesn’t have to be you in every case.) If I get one wish from this is that the CDC and not the White House communications operation, will once again become the voice of best available information on Ebola and any future health crisis.

Innovative thinking on today's crisis communication challenges