Friday, December 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Stories - Politics Muddy the Waters As Usual

Todd Starnes - Fox News
Fox News' Todd Starnes posted a story this week about a Georgia School District's censorship of Christmas decorations. At first the school didn't comment. Then Americans United, a Soros-supported liberal group shot back with a story saying Starnes was lying.  Later NBC local station WSAV issued a story deploring how the attack in conservative media was damaging the good work the Bulloch School District was trying to do with regard to religious issues in the school.

Starnes has since appended the school board's statement to the original story.  As I expected the school system doesn't really deny that orders were given to the school teachers regarding what is permissible with regard to Christmas practices in the school. The teacher whose husband wrote the original email upon which the story is based is likely in hot water at any rate.

In their statement, the School District didn't deny charges in detail.
Instead they preferred to limit their reposnse to a statement that they are concerned that the controversy may interfere with the “current open and ongoing discussions that the school system is having with local citizens about religious liberties and expression.” - bureaucrat-speak for "...we're trying to make everyone happy and to avoid being sued."  It's likely the lawyers are now involved and burying anything incriminating as we speak, so it's unlikely the whole story will ever fully come out for good or ill.

Friends accused me of not reading the opposing stories and relying entirely on Fox News. There was no need to be snarky, though it likely gave them some smug sense of satisfaction. Of course I read the AU story.  I also checked the NBC story. After all, a local NBC station is rather more credible as a news source than AU, given AU's rabid leftist leanings.  That said, however, I also read the story with my skepticism intact and the school district's attempts to quell the controversy fall rather short of the mark.  The story is evolving at this point and I'm not sure either version of it is totally accurate whichever end of the political spectrum the writers and protagonists occupy. 

I'm a PR guy in one of my incarnations and I know how NPOs and schools tend to react. At first they refuse to comment and then, after it's too late to correct the initial story, they issue a carefully worded statement that, while truthful, may only tell part of the story (the part that makes them look good). Lawyers usually write them and they only make you look more guilty. Lawyers write statements that are designed to be read aloud in court. They could care less what the public thinks as long as they can win their cases. (That's my little plug for hiring a good PR guy if you are having a newsworthy crisis!)

Saying "no comment" is always a mistake and almost inevitably results in bad press getting out there. Lawyers always tell you not to comment as they have no interest in your reputation, only in winning court cases. You may eventually force a retraction through legal means, but nobody ever reads the retractions so you are left with the original impression in people's minds. It works both ways politically, whether the story is about a conservative or liberal faux pas. I always advise my clients who are dealing with a newsworthy crisis to get out there fast with a statement. Get on camera, on mike and in the print outlets. Issue a press release. Saying "No comment" plays like an admission of guilt and that little note at the end of a breaking story (XYZ school did not respond to requests for verification of this story) doesn't make you look any better to the public.

All that said, "My position is that I, personally, will celebrate Christmas openly whatever anyone says. I'll spend my money where I want, use the Christmas greeting I want and sing the Christmas carols I want.  As to my Seasonal spending practices, currently, my policy is that if I see "Merry Christmas" on a banner hung over one storefront and "Happy Winter Holiday" on the one across the street, I will select the store that brings me the more Christmas cheer.  That is freedom of speech, assembly, expression and trade all rolled into one. Let the market speak.

I would also add, that those in the conservative media who have spoken out on this story should be prepared to make any corrections that might be warranted should the facts be different than at first reported to us.
That is what I am doing in this story - correcting, so far as possible, any mis-reporting of my statements about the original story or any incorrect statements I might have made. If there is anything else, then I'll be sure and report that.  For now, ya'll have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

Just one man's opinion,

© 2013 by Tom King


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