“Can you believe what she’s wearing?”
“That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“This is booooring.”
We’ve all made off-the-cuff remarks like these assuming that we wouldn’t be overheard. We know it’s not appropriate, but let’s be honest: we all have opinions. We’re human and occasionally there’s too short of a delay between our brains and our mouths. Other times, our guard is simply down. We don’t take into account the people around us, nor the serious nature of the setting.
Just ask California’s Republican nominee for the Senate, Carly Fiorina. As the New York Times reported on June 10, Ms. Fiorina disparaged opponent Senator Barbara Boxer’s hair while waiting for her TV interview to begin – and her words may be a crucial turning point in her budding campaign.
This kind of publicity is not the first of its kind. As ABC News reported on March 24, Vice President Joe Biden used profanity when speaking to President Obama about the passage of healthcare legislation, assuming that the roar of the cheering crowd would cover his remarks. It didn’t.
These are just two of a long list of public figures whose private comments have become fodder for media attention. While the playwright William Shakespeare couldn’t have possibly foreseen this internationally connected world we live in – with each of us tethered to our smart phones and carrying around pocket-sized video cameras – he was dead on when he wrote that “all the world’s a stage.” Any Citizen Joe can post a video of a random moment he captured on tape or vlog about his thoughts on a particular conference; any Citizen Jane can tweet about her experience at a retail store or blog about her interaction with a public figure.
Ms. Fiorini and Vice President Biden’s public gaffes serve as good reminders to us all: we need to pay attention to what we say. Indeed, a long-standing basic rule of thumb in media relations is that if you don’t want something on the record, you shouldn’t say it all. “Off the record” and “on background” have become extinct terms in a world where everyone is a journalist.
That doesn’t mean we can’t be authentic. On the contrary, the lightning speed with which news spans communities and the globe makes it even more imperative to be transparent in our actions and true to our word. Indeed, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate nominee has recently had to apologize for “misstatements” made about his military service – but as the Hartford Courant and Fox 61 reported on June 13, the damage is likely done with voters.
The lesson here is that we need to understand – and drill home for our clients – that the microphone is “hot” at all times. No exceptions.
Perhaps a more careful attitude will lead to more thoughtful comments. Perhaps attention will be paid to the issues of importance and not the slips of the tongue that seem to dominate headlines. Or perhaps it will lead us to only make personal comments when we are ready to take the heat.
Besides…I actually like Senator Boxer’s hair.