Mr. Murdoch is learning the most crucial axiom of crisis management: Bad news ripens badly. This decay continues with the so-called apology statement published and signed by Rupert Murdoch in British newspapers over the weekend, just in time to soften up members of Parliament, before whom he is testifying and being grilled, today.– It is vacuous, weak, evasive, insincere, incomplete and therefore very problematic. Here it is:
“I realize that simply apologizing is not enough,” wrote Murdoch. “Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.”
It is not even an apology. These are personally puffing remarks designed to continue his whining, self-centered, self forgiving, and “I am really the victim here-” approach to communication. Not one word about the victims and their suffering. Not one word about his co-conspirators and fellow perpetrators. No words of contrition. The word “sorry” doesn’t appear…because he isn’t.
This is a crisis management disaster and fits the pattern of most senior executives initial failures to take their situations seriously. The time wasted avoiding what has to be done, and the additional critics and enemies these initial poor behaviors create, can not be overcome.
Apology is a victim-focused, personal admission and responsibility taking process based on acknowledging specific damaging actions. The ingredients of a sincere and credible apology, one with integrity, arise from answers to the following questions for Mr. Murdoch, his fellow perpetrators and his growing army of image advisers:
- Where is the true, unconditional admission and enumeration of specific destructive, illegal and unethical actions he knew about or should have known about that hurt thousands of people, damaged the reputation of journalism, his country, the British government, among others, and promises, that instant that he will subject himself to the most powerful outside scrutiny, letting the chips fall where they may?
- Where is the list of specific wrongdoing, damaging behaviors, or the lists of specific individuals who were targets and victims, all of which is known by employees of Murdoch enterprises and Murdoch himself?
- Where is the explanation, complete with specifics of what went wrong, who are the additional perpetrators, inside and outside News Corp., as well as those who facilitated years of abuse, intimidation, privacy violations, reputation destruction and other human damage?
- What specific steps does he plan to take, including stepping aside at least for a while, so this entire matter can be brought to light, exposed to public view, and the victims along with the public allowed to make up their own minds about the sincerity of Mr. Murdoch’s contrition and future intentions? The public should have the opportunity to determine whether or not News Corp. deserves to retain any public permission to continue operations.
- Where is his plan to seek forgiveness directly and specifically from those whose lives he has damaged or perhaps even ended?
- How will he execute the heart of a true apology which involves extraordinary acts of restitution and the continuous verbalization of regret, contrition, plus other self-imposed but publically acknowledged acts of penance?
When Mr. Murdoch leaves News Corp, voluntarily or involuntarily, these events and the apology process begins and these words and actions start happening, you’ll know that Murdoch is offering real sincerity rather than mechanical, routine, PR crisis management activities designed to bore and numb the audience and the media into shifting their attention to other things and ignoring the victims and the suffering of so many.
Mr. Murdoch will only begin to regain his integrity, public trust, and successfully initiate the steps toward rebuilding whatever his future holds when he begins subjecting himself publicly to the same unyielding, relentless, ruthless and degrading public humiliations that he and his organizations inflicted on so many for so long.
It is said that there is no saint like a reformed sinner. Mr. Murdoch needs to publically get about the business of his own personal reformation. All the PR experts in the world will fail because this is a personal journey for Mr. Murdoch which can only begin after he leaves News Corp., rather than a crisis manager’s fantasy exercise.