Posted by Bruce Pilgrim
Talking to My Cats: 9-18-07
Recently, some of the inestimable wit and wisdom of Baghdad Bob was highlighted in this space. For the next several weeks, I'll be digging deeper into some of Bob's best practices for the PR industry.
"Denial," Bob said, "is your friend. Americans are unbelievably gullible and they distrust the media. Denial buys you time to come up with a better idea – or implement your exit strategy and get the hell out of Dodge."
One advantage of denial is you can temporarily deflect attention from reality. The faithful will believe you, for awhile. They'll believe almost anything, especially if you throw a big enough scare into them. Declare war on terror, or blame the Jews, or tell them reducing greenhouse gases will hurt the economy. Tell them that whatever happened didn't really happen. Or that it happened a lot differently than they’ve been led to believe.
Denial is certainly the first strategy most perps turn to when they're thrust into the spotlight. It's also one of the five stages of coping with death or tragedy. Even though denial almost never works, we keep trying it. Even though fessing up to the truth is always the better way to go. You admit your mistake, and move on. If you choose to cruise down denial, you'll inevitably be caught out, adding additional charges to the original offense.
Even when we’re guilty of nothing, we still automatically play the denial card. When I was nine years old, playing catch with my dad in the backyard, a gust of wind slammed the back door shut suddenly, shattering the window glass. My dad looked at me and I immediately cried out: "I didn't do it. The wind did it." He laughed so hard he had to sit down.
Why did this seemingly instinctive, yet ludicrous, impulse to deny responsibility become the norm? Should we blame Dr. Benjamin Spock for cajoling parents to pamper all those baby boomers? This incredibly spoiled generation has, in turn, shielded, positively-reinforced, and empowered their own issue to the point that, in two or three generations, sociopaths will be labeled as "unconventionally-abled."
One problem I have with denial is that I really suck at lying. I don't have the mental agility to keep track of a tangled web of deceit, much less the skill to weave a decent fabric of lies in the first place. Besides, I have the world's lousiest poker face. So, I usually try to take my lumps up front. It saves a lot of work and gets the matter resolved quickly. Even so, when my wife Sharon asks "Did you just fart?" I always blame the cat.
As Richard Nixon famously said, "It's the cover-up that gets you." It certainly got him, along with a long line of politicians skilled in the art of denial.
To wit: "I did not have sex with that woman," Bill Clinton averred. His ridiculous, yet creative, argument that blow jobs don't count as sex was, you must admit, an audacious denial. (Most men lie about blow jobs that never happened, oddly enough. Clinton tried to go the other way.)
And then there's the seemingly endless line of "family values" spouting, vehemently anti-gay pols who get caught with their pants around their ankles and deny their true natures. They're trying hardest to convince themselves. "I'm a died-in-the-wool ultra-conservative, flag-waving, Bible-beating, fundamentalist Christian, by God. I can't possibly be gay."
I unashamedly enjoy watching the sanctimonious squirm when their hypocrisy becomes a media feeding frenzy. Of course I would, wouldn't I? I am a card-carrying, left-wing, secular humanist, hedonistic treehugger, animal lover with the morals of long-tailed macaque. You can't expose me, because I'm already pretty much out there.
Denial is always my first method explaining scary medical symptoms. It's a family trait among us Pilgrims to ignore such things in hopes they will eventually go away. Although this tactic invariably fails, we return to it each time with the tenacity of someone who bets on the Washington Generals to beat the Harlem Globetrotters. (They're due, man!)
Many of those who rode the dot com dream watched their stock options soar in value and then dive down to nothing. They never sold, hoping it would somehow rise again. Who hasn't held onto a bum stock way too long, drawn to an inside straight, or tried to save/revive a toxic relationship? Reality, they used to say in the 60's, is for people who can't handle drugs.
Denialism is rife in the corporate world, as well. I know a CEO who convinced people who knew better to ship poor quality software because the CEO had promised Wall Street the schedule would be met. The plan was: "Ship it and hope nobody notices how shitty it is. Meanwhile, we'll rush out some "patches" before most of them get wise."
A beta user of that crappy chunk of code told me that while he expected to find bugs in new releases, "It is very unusual to find them so close to the surface."
While this was not the first vendor, nor I fearlessly predict, the last, to knowingly ship poor quality products, this is an especially pernicious form of denial. Shouldn't we have a right to expect software to perform more or less as advertised and not to crash or lock up every few seconds, just as we require our cars not to explode, and our food not to be poisoned? (Remember Pollyanna? She's my twin sister.)
In the end, denial is always a dreadfully foolish strategy – especially in today's blogger-infested, YouTube-ish world. You might get away with small scale, personal denials such as shielding your children from the truth about Uncle Wilton, but any even remotely public entity who tries to sneak one by the public will be soon be exposed – globally and virally.
So if you ever find yourself compromised, caught red-handed, or otherwise under scrutiny, just hold your head up high, look them right in the eye and say it straight out: "The wind did it."
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