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20 years

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What Was He Thinking?

The Loose Lips lesson seems to be at hazard these days, ignored or forgotten by people who should know better, and whose careers have been sunk as a consequence.

A couple of weeks back it was Hearst newspapers White House Correspondent Helen Thomas. She brought her stellar and ground-breaking career to an ignominious halt herself through some ill-conceived and inappropriate comments about Jews and Palestine captured by a part-time journalist and film-maker on the White House grounds. She was fired within 24 hours.

Now it's General Stanley A. McChrystal, relieved of duty as the commander for US forces in Afghanistan by an indignant President Obama, who accepted his resignation after publication of remarks critical of the administration’s policy and officials. In his statement announcing the resignation the President lauded the General for his exemplary career as a military officer, but reminded him and the American public that no one individual is bigger than an overall war effort.

At CommCore we cannot advise our clients enough that the place to disagree over controversial policies in government or in organizations is NOT in a public forum unless it's part of a deliberate communications strategy. Whether it's at a conference, in a media interview, in a public speech, or while blogging or commenting on someone else's blog or tweet, it's usually not career-advancing to stray off-message in public, and certainly not if the remarks are flippant, derogatory, or could appear otherwise disrespectful to any superior, not to mention the President of the United States.

Obviously the Rolling Stone reporter who published McChrystal’s comments knew had a big story; almost any reporter would have reported the statements. McChrystal should have known that; he clearly didn't remember it...or chose to ignore it.

The validity of the General's views is not the issue here. It's how his views were revealed to the public. There's a reason talking publicly about in-fighting is seen as dirty laundry. It's usually not a pretty dispute, and airing intrernal disputes in public with apparent off-the-cuff criticisms doesn't serve any constructive end other than to embarrass at best, cause actual harm at worst, and sully one's hard-earned reputation in either case.

What are your thoughts on Gen. McChrystal's remarks in the interview? How would you use this case study with your clients?

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