When the ongoing tale of Tiger Woods’ misdeeds began its media circus, the avalanche brought back memories of other misguided efforts to dodge negative news coverage.
My last seven months of U.S. Air Force service, after my WWII combat flying career, were as a military public relations officer. Just days after reporting as PRO for Bowman Field at Louisville, Ky., I was awakened at 2 a.m. with instructions to report immediately to the base commanding officer.
The CO informed me that a training flight had crashed, ordered me to take care of the media by “keeping it out of the papers” and told his sergeant to find me an office and telephone.
Promptly I began calling the wires, local papers and radio stations — there was no TV in 1945 — to inform them about the crash. And remembering my newspaper days when I would be incensed by sources trying to hide unfavorable news, I promised to provide more information as it became available.
When the sergeant reported my actions, the colonel was furious about me “blatantly disobeying orders.”
I reminded him he had told me to “take care of it,” and said that was exactly what I was doing.
“You must be crazy! I’ll bust you,” was his angry response. “Why the last time when we wouldn’t talk to them, they kept the story going for weeks!”
I attempted to reassure him that by promptly disclosing the crash and by providing details, the story would fade away in a few days. Which is exactly what happened. Later the colonel did apologize and I went on to employ the same crisis communications’ approach as during my Air Force PR days.
After more than 63 years later, this remains the agency’s standard operating procedure when the news ain’t good.