In my years as a newspaper reporter, I can recall only one time when I asked someone to show me their identification to prove that they were, in fact, who they said they were.
That instance, from more than 20 years ago, centered on a young woman making serious allegations of misconduct against four members of a police department. The community’s police chief had filed various administrative charges that were pending and the woman wanted to go public with her story.
Under those circumstances, I felt it was prudent to confirm that the woman sitting across from me at a local restaurant was indeed the same one leveling the accusations. Other than that experience, however, I never asked for the display of an ID from a source or interview subject.
On the other side of that coin, only rarely did people ever ask me to show my press identification. It was something that I readily showed. However, every time I did so, it was with the realization that anyone could have easily fabricated it with a photo, some official-looking stationery and a laminating machine.
For a comedic spin on this prospect, check out Fletch, the 1985 movie starring Chevy Chase who plays a journalist fond of employing, shall we say, dubious investigative tactics.
What is at the heart of those thousands of interactions?
It is trust—the implicit agreement that we take people at face value when they provide, when asked, something as basic as their name. If they don’t respond suspiciously, then we typically don’t become suspicious.
But with the rapid expansion of online access to information, that basic detail is the gateway to so much more information about an individual. Note that “information” does not necessarily equal “accurate information.” Those websites, such as LinkedIn, are only as true—or as intentionally deceptive—as the person inputting the words. Here again, another layer of trust emerges.
As a publicist, you will want to ensure that any content you create is accurate. While I counsel clients not to disclose certain pieces of information, I also prepare them to be ready to share it, when appropriate, if asked by a probing reporter.
So while you don't have to unload every detail—good, bad and ugly—at the same time you should never stoop to lying. The facts that you do share must be accurate, because even "little white lies" can inflict major damage to your reputation.
Amway Executive Diamond Bill Hawkins, a top teacher and among the leaders of the business training-and-development organization World Wide DreamBuilders, has frequently been among those who emphasize the importance of making only those claims that are supported by facts.
As he has elaborated at WWDB conferences like Free Enterprise Days, why tarnish your credibility, and that of whatever topic you are discussing, when the truth is already good enough?
It's the same message that any publicist should convey, when necessary, to protect a client from himself or herself. If you sense your client is stretching the truth—also known as lying--then intercede and explore another avenue to craft the story. Fabrication is the domain of lazy, uncreative types who have not plumbed deeply enough to unearth a compelling message.
So be prepared to back up the claims you make. Anticipate and mimic the proper skepticism that dedicated journalists, or anyone else, bring to bear. Your preparation will be rewarded in the form of confident, accurate proclamations that stand up under scrutiny and affirm the legitimacy of your endeavor.
Playing on the edges of truth is foolhardy. With a lie, if people see smoke, it’s a natural next step to detect a larger fire. That is when your entire story is apt to go up in flames—and no puffed-up LinkedIn profile or slick-sounding biography on your website will be enough to douse the devastation to your reputation.