Is it ever acceptable to bare-faced lie to the fourth estate?
I remember as a sports journalist sitting in a manager’s office with the rest of the assembled media many years ago.
There were rumours, perhaps fuelled by an agent, that a French striker was going to sign for the top flight club whose manager we were talking to.
“A French striker? No chance, I don’t know where you guys get these stories from” uttered the manager.
A few minutes later, with the topic forgotten, there was a knock at the door. The manager called out that the visitor could come in and in a deep French accent, the afore-mentioned striker said “Boss, where do I go to sign the papers?”
Everyone laughed and the manager had and has such a strong rapport with the media that he got away with such a bare-faced lie.
Why? He was good value. He gave the journalists gossip, he came out with good soundbites and he provided enough material to last more than a day in a world where access was already being stifled.
John Cross, one of the leading national newspaper journalists, wrote a story yesterday about his dealings with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
It was a fascinating read and brought back memories of the game of bluff that managers play.
Of course they do not want to admit who they are trying to sign in order not to alert other clubs and therefore push the price up or to protect their reputation in case the deal does not come off.
The sports media are hungry for stories and controlling the messaging to ensure managers and players toe the line is always going to be a challenge.
With the football transfer window about to close, it is difficult ascertaining what is bluff or bluster but credibility remains key.
Whether off-the-cuff comments could affect share prices or just cause uproar or excitement among the club’s fans, sports reporting and in particular that of football journalists (and I’m still a signed-up member of the Football Writers’ Association) relies on gossip, speculation and drama.
Football managers are usually forgiven for their economy with the truth – after all, journalists need them.
But for pretty much everyone else in the world of sport and beyond, the usual rules apply.
If you don’t tell the truth, you’re likely to get found out and that can be terrible for reputation and credibility.
If something is of commercial or professional sensitivity, of course it makes sense to explain that you cannot respond, however many times and ways a journalist asks it.
Preparing messaging in advance, including the things you want to say and how to answer the questions that may well come up is the best preparation any spokesperson can do when facing the media.
Remember that even when the cameras have stopped rolling, the microphones switched off and notebooks put away, nothing is ever off the record.
However friendly you are with a journalist, they are after big stories. If you tell them something in confidence, the chances are that they will try and find someone else prepared to comment or confirm the story. Even if they don’t use quotes, the information is in the public domain.
At Calacus, we would never agree to lying or spinning on behalf of one of our clients, however challenging a situation they find themselves in.
Football is, pardon the pun, in a league of its own.
For the rest of us, credibility is easily lost and difficult to recover if ever the temptation to lie overcomes reality.