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I vividly remember a discussion I had with that client about shopping. A family member of the pastor had visited a local furniture store and purchased a few thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise, which the person had paid for with her own money, so there was certainly no wrongdoing. However, the shopping “spree” became a lead story in the pastor’s city. I recommended that the pastor tell his family that if they wanted to buy things they shouldn’t do it a few minutes from their home, where people could be watching and talking. It’s not a question of doing something wrong; it’s a question of perception. Be discreet and drive an hour away to shop. Once you have “made it,” your every move is highlighted and noticed, and even if you don’t know everyone, they all know you.
The reporter’s story didn’t uncover any legal improprieties, but it did create fodder for the town gossip mill since it presented, in tabloid fashion, the supposedly indulgent lifestyle the pastor and his family enjoyed. It led to blog postings, and local TV and newspaper stories as well.
Sometimes in the work we do as a crisis PR agency, it’s necessary to counter every accusation. There was nothing the pastor could have said to win this reporter over or persuade her to present the pastor’s side of the story fairly, but we were able to minimize the damage. Ultimately, our efforts resulted in a story that was 20 percent negative instead of 90 percent, which we considered a victory. Unfortunately, many reporters (this one included) have an agenda that affects the kind of story they write. Often, part of the agenda can be to destroy successful people with whom the reporter disagrees.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a great Jewish leader, had the following great quote in 1932:
A newspaper is a grand thing. There is no labor of higher worth than that of the journalist, whether he writes instructional articles or reports on a robbery that took place yesterday in the slums. Like the function of the blood circulating through the body, or like the function of commerce in the international market, so is the function of journalism in the realm of the spirit…Who were the first to teach us to always interfere in matters that are not ours, to judge people and nations, even though we were never chosen for the position of judge? The work of the publicist is a legacy from the Prophets of Israel…Our passion is to speak, to proclaim—“Shouting” is what the same audience calls it, ‘we have no need for words, give us actions.’ One thing that audience forgets is that speech is also an action – Perhaps the most authentic of all other actions.
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