A lot of people think it’s safer to communicate with journalists via e-mail – ‘then you can’t be misquoted’. However trying to retract something – difficult enough at the best of times – then becomes next-to-impossible. At least with a phone conversation the astute PR has a chance of convincing the journalist there was a ‘misnunderstanding’. Two examples have cropped up over the past few days, from each side of the Atlantic, where people have come to grief on this. First off came a report in The Times on Labour Party dissent over UK government plans for free care at home for the elderly. Some senior Labour councillors – who had put their names to a list of signatories on a letter to the paper attacking the feasibility of the proposals – several days later e-mailed the paper to withdrew their names. These emails of retraction – all with identical wording – were printed alongside their earlier e-mails in The Times. See http://bit.ly/a4JDuv
The councillors looked foolish not only because their cowardice was exposed – Number 10 had clearly intervened – but because they appeared to think that the story could be made to disappear from history – and from the paper’s website – which it won’t.
A quite different political row has been brewing in New York over former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, said to be considering a primary challenge to a New York Democratic senator. The US gossip website Gawker reported that the former Merrill Lynch banker had never filed a New York tax return – this time with his PR being boxed into a corner over what had been clearly stated in an e-mail exchange, then apparently retracted. See http://bit.ly/cG70LH
The lesson – get it right first time and stick to it when dealing with journalists – you can’t rely on being able to airbrush history by getting them to change the story to suit, just because somebody has leant on you.