Today’s Houston Chronicle about the Las Vegas shooting has reminded me of a time when we experienced a tragic shooting while I was working in law enforcement, and how, after getting through the initial media event, other pieces of information continued to get in the way of the original press conference information. We even said to each other that this was a “gift that kept on giving” due to all the information, both right and wrong, the media kept airing on their news casts. News organizations were uncovering pieces of information that would cause us to review original comments made to the media, evaluate their new questions or accusations, and respond in a timely manner and carefully.
This is what I see occurring in Las Vegas now. According to initial news stories, a security guard was shot while responding to a door alarm on that same floor as where the shooter was located. The guard was immediately hailed as a hero because the initial thought was that the gunfire on the crowd stopped because the shooter turned his attention to the hallway at the security guard. In this story, the media has continued to dig and ask more questions, now learning that the “timeline” was wrong, their slant now being, “Could Vegas police have acted more quickly”? During high profile incidents the media is constantly looking, questioning, and reporting, right or wrong, newly discovered information. News media is in a race to be “first” to break a story, and they are reporting more and more now with information that is lacking credible sources, or just something they heard, without any accountability. So many times, news organizations will put just enough information in their story that is not totally false, but will not include positive steps taken by the organization that addressed the matter.
Now the Las Vegas police are being questioned about their response time to the scene. The media is insinuating that the police did not provide all the facts about the shooting and their timely response. Using terminology like, “raises questions”, “might have allowed”, smacks of how the department may have dropped the ball. You now see the media questioning the police department’s response to the shooter, when in fact it may be revealed that the delay was the result of the Mandalay Bay Hotel staff. They may have wanted to keep this incident “in house” and not have their hotel receive negative publicity by handling it internally, not realizing how serious this incident was.
Therefore, it is so important that you first get your facts together by talking with all your department heads, present the facts with a disclaimer such as, “as of this time we have been informed…”, “we’re still gathering information, but what we know so far, is…” or other similar starting points, never placing yourself in a corner, unable to back out. Don’t state facts until you are sure that all have been provided to you. If you are not sure, then don’t be afraid to say so by telling the media, “at this time we are still gathering information and will make a statement when we can”, and then set up a time when you can provide updated information. If all you can do is state the obvious, “all we can share at this time is that we have had a shooting incident and we are working on gathering more information as we get it”, then go with that and provide updates later. You should provide a time, place, and location where the media should meet you or your spokesperson. Unfortunately, in our haste to feed the news media we also find ourselves caught up in the releasing of information that was not reviewed or evaluated. There are also times that we do learn more information and we can provide positive and proactive terminology when we do make these statements. You can also resort to written statements for the media if necessary. If incorrect information does get out, then correct it and own up to the mistake. You do more harm by trying to hide information that will get out.
Don’t forget, you have the information that the media is wanting. You should not get trapped into the journalist’s statement that “the public has a right to know” or “you have to talk with us”. You don’t have to talk to them until you’re ready. And don’t forget…NOTHING is “off the record”.
If you find yourself without a plan to deal with the media, take time to reach out to me, email, message, or at rgonzalesconsulting.com and let me help you and your organization before you find yourself in trouble with the media.