When the Brand Flies the High Road
My first job after graduating college was as First Lieutenant and command information officer at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. I wanted a job as a writer in New York City. Ergo, a non-traditional decision and one I have never regretted. Before I could be assigned to Fort Hamilton, the Army sent me to the Defense Information Officers school. I am reminded of the training I received there as I ponder the news of the day, today.
The credo drilled into us was forged in the crucible of the military’s many missteps during the Vietnam War. It was straightforward, memorable and a genuine North Star for generations of public affairs officers: Maximum Disclosure. Minimum Delay.
Clear, right? Don’t lie, don’t hide, don’t kick-the-can and stall. The overt and covert prevarications advanced by the military and civilians charged with informing citizens about the war had taught a powerful lesson: Bad news does not improve with age. The body counts, the attempted cover up of atrocities like My Lai, the raw, inhumane wrongness of Agent Orange and Napalm. The truth will out.
Watching the news unfold this week, I think of those public affairs officers now conscripted into the task of minimal disclosure, maximum delay. This approach did not end well in Vietnam. Truth has a power to foist itself upon us. It will not stay hidden long. It cannot be stopped. It craves the light. But the character-corroding, blunt force ethical trauma of being a willing co-conspirator in this present subterfuge offers further proof (as if we need it) of man’s inhumanity to man. We may be becoming more and more a secular society, but somewhere within us is that wee small voice that won’t be silenced: Wrong is wrong.
Often over the past months I have heard pundits take refuge in the notion that we are a nation of laws, not men. This provides no solace today as we see the cold viciousness of policies being enforced without human sensibility. For what glimmer might we hold hope? Thank you, American Airlines. Can business and brands point the way back to the America we love? Of course. The better question is will they? This is the time for minimum delay.