Does Credibility Still Matter?Date - July 4, 2018
By Jennifer R. Farmer
Early in my career, I learned public relations professionals should dutifully manage relationships with the media. Above all, I was instructed to guard my credibility; without it, I’d be of no use to my employer or the causes I represent. Having watched President Trump’s administration interact with the press, it’s tempting to consider whether the rules of professional decorum still apply. One could be forgiven for questioning whether credibility is a relic of the past.
In my book, “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide,” I talk about ways to cultivate and maintain credibility with members of the media. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve watched the current administration in astonishment and, well, horror. I’ve compiled a list of top moments when the Trump administration’s credibility has been called into question.
- During a 2017 Black History Month event, President Trump appeared to suggest that distinguished abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was still alive. He said, “’Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.’” While this may not have been an overt attempt to manipulate the truth, it suggests a strained relationship with history, which again undermines credibility.
- During his initial address to White House correspondents on Saturday, Jan. 21, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted that more people attended Donald Trump’s inauguration than any inauguration in history. Aerial scans of the crowd suggested otherwise. Additionally, the Washington, D.C. area transit authority noted lower ridership for President Trump’s inauguration than President Barack Obama’s in 2009 and President George W. Bush’s in 2005. Following claims of record turnout in 2017, many in the media questioned the administration’s relationship with the truth. When pressed on why President Trump presumably ordered Spicer to quibble about a matter that could be easily disproved, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that Spicer gave “alternative facts.” I’m a proponent of pivoting during media interviews, but the alternative facts explanation was rich.
- Just a few weeks after Conway’s infamous “alternative facts” statement, she referred to a terrorist attack in Bowling Green, Kentucky that never actually happened. When challenged over the false claim, Conway stated it was a simple mistake. She later suggested persons making an issue out of the flub were “haters.” However, it was quickly discovered that she’d referred to the Bowling Green massacre on two separate occasions. Spicer, too, referred to a non-existent terror attack when defending President Trump’s travel ban impacting persons from Muslim-majority countries.
- Since taking office, The Washington Post reports that President Trump has allegedly made over 3,000 false of unverifiable claims. From claiming that millions of undocumented people voted during the 2016 election, to suggesting the border wall was already being built to noting that Democrats were responsible for the separation of children from their parents at the border, President Trump and his administration appear to be frequently at odds with the truth.
- After current White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders vehemently denied President Trump was aware his personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, White House Counsel Rudy Giuliani said President Trump reimbursed Cohen for the payment. Sanders reportedly went on to assure the White House press pool that she did not personally mislead them on the matter.
Even if the present environment suggests otherwise, it’s imperative to maintain credibility and extend professional courtesy when interacting with journalists, producers and radio and TV hosts. Further, outside of his base, President Trump’s credibility has led to a branding crisis because most Americans, according to polling, believe he is dishonest. Contrary to current events, credibility and decorum are as important today as they’ve always been.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget. Connect with her on IG/Twitter @pr_whisperer, YouTube or Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.