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Did Brian Lie By Accident? Can Someone Lie By Accident?

Brian Williams - Caricature by DonkeyHotey, Flickr, Creative Commons license

Brian Williams – Caricature by DonkeyHotey, Flickr, Creative Commons license

Some are now saying that Brian Williams just accidentally lied because it was so long ago in a war zone.

Look, liars always know. In more than 40 years of working with organizations, institutions, senior people, businesses, agencies and the news media through an extraordinarily broad spectrum of problems and serious circumstances, I have yet to meet anyone who accidentally lied.

Has anybody reading this ever accidentally lied?

Our culture is full of professional and serial liars. Among the biggest are the entertainment industries, including the news.

  1. Lying on the face of it: When is the last time – if there ever was a time – when the movie you saw at the theater matched its description in the newspaper and the promotional hype? These are deceptions at best, lies at worst.
  2. Deception: For that matter, live theater never tells the truth either about the programs you’re about to pay big bucks to see. They lie by omission, commission, intentional negligence – i.e. failing to tell you that the “romantic comedy” you’re about to see has three murders, two rapes, suicide and a child molestation.
  3. Dishonesty: Breaking News warnings . . . On CNN the sign never goes off despite the fact that they use the same video footage and repeat stories hundreds of times a day. Much of the footage they use runs for days, and we never know when news clips were produced, originally shown, or how many times the clip has been replayed. This is deceptive and unethical.
  4. Fabricating news when there isn’t any: This is extremely obvious when a news organization tosses on a bunch of reporters and paid consultants (everybody’s paid in television) rather than actual news subjects, victims or individuals directly connected or affected by the story material being discussed. Hoe many experts does it take in a day to repeatedly say, “They are still searching for the black boxes.”
  5. Exaggeration: Tiny, inconsequential news stories are blown out of proportion or attaching false urgency to stories that have actually played out and been resolved hours, sometimes days, before.
  6. Politics: Don’t get me started.

These are just samples of well-known lying habits we and our culture tolerate every day.

Liars and fakers always know. When they are caught and confronted, they always cry. Yes, people can be naive, simpletons, stupid or victims . . . But there is something in human nature that sets off the lie alarm or the perpetrator alert. Whether you are nine-years-old or 90-years-old, most of us can spot a lie and a liar, detect a fake and a faker.

Don’t start crying for Brian Williams. He is rich and will be richer. He is at that altitude where no matter what you do, you’re going to get paid for coming, for staying, for succeeding, for failing, for keeping your mouth shut, and for leaving, quietly.

An old friend of mine was in the FBI for a dozen years in New York and the Caribbean. He retired as the head of security for a Fortune 250 company. He used to tell me an FBI truism about criminals; what criminals learned quickly was that it was always better to commit a large crime. The burglars, the bullies, the petty thieves are crushed by the criminal justice system. Commit an important crime, and you get better treatment, cells, lawyers, press coverage, better meals, and you’re protected from the riffraff.

The same rules apply for celebrity misbehavior, criminal or not, especially the media coverage part. Media loves criminals and important people who do really stupid things, then behave badly.

The most powerful indicator of being a perpetrator rather than being guiltless or a victim is silence. Silence is a perfect indicator of prior toxic behavior.

The person, organization, business, agency, movement, or foundation with integrity speaks up, stands up, and fesses up immediately. In fact they seek forgiveness immediately.

SEEKING FORGIVENESS:

Nine Steps to Rebuilding and Rehabilitating Trust

Seeking Forgiveness is society’s requirement for relationship, trust, and credibility restoration. Adverse situations using this template are remediated faster, cost a lot less, are controversial for much shorter periods of time, suffer less litigation, and help the victims come to closure more quickly. Obtaining forgiveness involves completing the nine steps below. To achieve success in the shortest possible time, these steps should be completed as quickly as possible: like start them all today. Skip a step or be insincere and the process will be incomplete and fundamentally fail.

Step #1. Candor: Outward recognition, through promptly verbalized public acknowledgement, that a problem exists; that people or groups of people, the environment, or the public trust are affected; and that something will be promptly done to remediate the situation.

Step #2. Extreme Empathy/Apology: Verbalized or written statement of personal regret, remorse, and sorrow, acknowledging personal responsibility for having injured, insulted, failed or wronged another, humbly asking for forgiveness in exchange for more appropriate future behavior and to make amends in return.

Step #3. Explanation: (no matter how silly, stupid, or embarrassing the problem-causing error was). Promptly and briefly explain why the problem occurred and the known underlying reasons or behaviors that led to the situation (even if we have only partial early information).

Step #4. Affirmation: Talk about what you’ve learned from the situation and how it will influence your future behavior. Unconditionally commit to regularly report additional information until it is all out or until no public interest remains.

Step #5. Declaration: A public commitment and discussion of specific, positive steps to be taken to conclusively address the issues and resolve the situation.

Step #6. Contrition: The continuing verbalization of regret, empathy, sympathy, even embarrassment. Take appropriate responsibility for having allowed the situation to occur in the first place, whether by omission, commission, accident, or negligence.

Step #7. Consultation: Promptly ask for help and counsel from “victims,” government, the community of origin, independent observers, and even from your opponents.

Directly involve and request the participation of those most directly affected to help develop more permanent solutions, more acceptable behaviors, and to design principles and approaches that will preclude similar problems from re-occurring.

Step #8. Commitment: Publicly set your goals at zero. Zero errors, zero defects, zero dumb decisions, and zero problems. Publicly promise that, to the best of your ability, situations like this will be permanently prevented.

Step #9. Restitution: Find a way to quickly pay the price. Make or require restitution. Go beyond community and victim expectations, and what would be required under normal circumstances to remediate the problem.

One thing I’ve learned over my career is that if you begin the nine steps immediately when adverse circumstances occur, things will get better by the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, things will get worse for a while before they get better, no matter what you are going to do.


James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, Fellow IABC; APR, Fellow PRSA, BEPS Emeritus


If you have questions, or would like to dive more deeply into the subject of this blog, you can reach me 24/7 at jel@e911.com; 203-948-7029 (voicemail, email, text). I look forward, as a friend and colleague, to helping you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself for having a happier, more influential, successful and meaningful career.

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