Whenever a scandal like Weinergate hits the news, experts chime in with the platitude about apologizing being the most immediate strategy.
New York publicist Jessica Kleinman echoed the position:
"The best way to deal with a crisis and do damage control is to face it head on and come clean. Not a lot of people like a cheater — but no one likes a bold-faced liar. We all make mistakes but admitting to them is the first step in repairing a tarnished reputation."
But this one-size-fits-all approach is dangerously simplistic in responding to complex, escalating situations.
Telling a high-profile person to rush out and apologize is suggesting they make themselves legally vulnerable in ways that often go far beyond the scale or impact of their personal screw-up. Their apology could generate false allegations from people wanting to exploit the spotlight. It could cost shareholders and employees who had nothing to do with it. It will drag innocent people – too often families and children -- into the public meat-grinder.
Also remember that the celebrity, politician or CEO under fire has already lied by pretending to be someone who wouldn't do what he or she did. That makes any apology terribly sensitive. A guy who screws around and then says how he's sorry for hurting his family earns mass cynicism, not forgiveness.
Then there's the biggest elephant in the room: the other pictures, girlfriends, video clips, texts and babies that we don't know about - yet. There's a good chance that the person ready to apologize for what he got caught doing isn't telling you everything. Shocking but true: Liars lie to their PR people.
Lying in the face of facts stems from all sorts of personality disorders. Many powerful scandal-mongers think they hold such public esteem that their denial will be the end of the matter. They're serious when they ask, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
Sometimes they're just delusional, or trying to convince themselves they can make it go away. Some are insulated from reality by swarms of expensive yes men and tookus smootchers.
But many high-profile types lie because they're trapped, not because they're unaware of the consequences. The problem is that they find themselves in a corner that wasn't covered in media training – caught doing something horrible, something that requires a yes or no to a direct question. They lie because they don't know how to handle what's under the tip of the iceberg, the stuff that's about to make their situation much worse.
You can't frame a public apology without understanding why the people involved first denied what they did, or why they might be lying about revealing everything there is to know. You have to know everything there is to know. Everything.
Only then will influential people caught up in self-created scandal be in the right frame of mind to listen to advice from their true friends, lawyers and PR handlers.
. . . . . . . . . . .