What To Do When The Media Gets It Wrong
When working with the media, it is essential to ensure the story is as accurate as possible. While the media usually strives to report the truth, in some cases, fiction is more interesting than fact. Wayne Corbett, Public Affairs Officer for the Air Force, recounted a perfect example of this from 1973. Sometimes even when you provide the correct information, the story that runs is far from the truth. This has the potential to damage you or your client’s reputation, negatively impact or misinform the public or make you lose credibility.
THE TRUE STORY
An airplane coming in from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington had two men on board. While heading to Edwards Air Force Base, just outside Los Angeles, one of the engines caught on fire. Despite best efforts of the aircrew to control the situation, about 200 miles out of Edwards, the fire got so bad that they lost control of the airplane. They were instructed to evacuate the aircraft once they were over the desert, where no civilians could be injured. The aircrew parachuted to safety and were soon picked up and taken to Edwards Air Force Base.
THE STORY THAT GOT PUBLISHED
As this situation was happening, Wayne was in contact with the media, letting them know what was happening each step of the way. “I tuned on the news to see what kind of report, if any, they were going to report about the accident,” said Wayne. Despite having all of the correct information, when Wayne turned on the news, a different story was being told. “The lead story said, ‘unidentified flying object suspected of shooting down Edwards Air Force Base aircraft,’” said Wayne. “We let the media listen to the radio transmissions between the aircraft and Edwards Air Force Base. The media knew exactly what was going on before the aircraft went down. And they went right back to Los Angeles and made up a story of unidentified objects shooting down one of our airplanes. It was total fabrication.”
While the correct steps were taken by the public affairs officials, the media chose to spin it in a different direction. Regardless of the public affairs official’s honesty throughout, in the end, the accuracy of the published story is the media’s responsibility. But they did not publish an accurate story so Wayne had to get on the phone with them and let them know they did not publish an accurate story. “I got on the phone with the television station people and told them again what had happened to the aircraft.”
Sometimes, once you deliver the information, the story gets away from you. Wayne Corbett has shown us the perfect route to take if the media chooses to publicize a different angle. “If the story’s accuracy was compromised, I had to get back on the phone or sometimes I had to visit the media in person to repeat the story accurately. The story had to be consistently truthful and accurate day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month. The more consistent we were, the better off we were in the long run because the public was going to trust us a lot more. Consistency was the key for a good reason: It was practical, it was important and it worked.”