Wednesday, November 12, 2008, 3:07 PM

The "Barack Whisperer"

Today's Washington Post includes a profile of Robert Gibbs, who is expected to be named White House press secretary in the Obama Administration. The profile is an educational read for anyone interested in the tenuous relationship between journalists and communicators who perform under white hot scrutiny. Reading the profile brought back memories for me, albeit on a smaller stage, having served as press secretary to the governor of Maryland.

I recall plenty of heated discussions with reporters over their coverage of the governor, but always felt it was worthwhile when it led to more accurate reporting. I remember one instance in which a generally fair reporter wrote an article slanted heavily against the governor. The morning it appeared in the paper I printed it out, highlighted all the misleading and unfair sentences in blue, and highlighted all the accurate and fair sentences in yellow. Needless to say there was a lot of blue and very little yellow. I gave it to the reporter along with my complaints. It was clear he didn't like my approach (and I don't recommend making it a regular tactic), but it led to more accurate coverage from that reporter in the future.

There are plenty of lessons corporate communicators can take from the Gibbs profile, including the importance of addressing even the slightest inaccuracy or falsehood the moment it emerges. Reporter errors can quickly become "facts" if left unaddressed, particularly as social media and blogs become the preferred mode of communication for more and more consumers. The burden lies on us, the communicators, to nip it in the bud.

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