Everybody’s Talking


The authorities finally arrested a suspect in the 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. Key evidence includes the suspect’s having admitted to his involvement in the murder over the years in his memoir, in discussions with associates, and on YouTube. These things are what are known in the sleuthing trade as clues.

Two teenagers were arrested last week after they recorded themselves aiming their car at — and murdering — a retired former police chief in Las Vegas. They were laughing as the driver floored the accelerator. The video is available online.

Part of what jammed up Donald Trump in a judge’s recent decision to declare the developer’s representation of his properties’ value fraudulent was his admission that such estimations in filings were widely known to be “worthless.”

Hunter Biden has famously “selfied” himself in various stages of undress, drug-induced haze and toothlessness, which had sparked rounds of media coverage and no doubt emboldened prosecutors.

My favorite new podcast is hosted by “Skinny Joey” Merlino, who has been alleged to be the boss of my hometown (Philadelphia/South Jersey) mafia family. We’re the same age, and I remember seeing him around Ventnor, New Jersey during my time “down the shore” as a teenager. We chose different life paths, but I wanted to see who was the better interview given that I talk to the media from time to time. 

I must tell you: Joey is terrific. He is knowledgeable about sports betting, he’s funny and he has great stories about his decades around some colorful characters, in and out of prison. The Feds estimate there have been two dozen attempts on his life. He’s been hit by lead and walked away. I don’t think he has implicated himself in any new prosecutable crimes, but the law is undoubtedly watching — and seething.

These extraordinary examples belie that those in more conventional walks of life are broadcasting, too. In nearly all the crisis cases I work on, malfeasance is nicely documented by an avalanche of emails. You’d never believe another conspiracy theory if you saw what I’ve seen. Everybody’s documenting everything.

When I once expressed wariness about working with a client’s unwieldy crisis team, an associate said, “You’re not much of a team player, are you?” I responded, “It’s hard to be a team player when a third of the team sends meeting notes to the Wall Street Journal and Senate investigators. 

There is a dark irony to all this leakiness: The only stuff that will get out will be the stuff that makes you look awful. Nothing exculpatory will ever see daylight, or if it does, your attorney will mention it, and the only people who will see it are those who subscribe to legal data services and might enjoy locating page 1,472 of a deposition no one cares about.

I used to spend a lot of time counseling discretion. I’ve changed my position with a twist. If you’re naturally inclined to be discreet, keep it up, but stop evangelizing. Accept that 99.9 percent of human beings in the Digital Age are constitutionally incapable of discretion. It’s not because they’re bad people; it’s that electronic communications are now instinctive — and very few people have ever experienced the downstream consequences of a leak that changed their life (and not for the better).

For what it’s worth, historically, the best crisis teams have been discretionary warfare operations — strike forces mobilized to stop an attack. You can’t really do these as readily these days, what with the transparency-mania that deems anything discreet to be criminal. Put differently, it’s hard to sell hardball in 2023, and it isn’t smart to care more about the client than the client does about themselves. If there’s no will to fight, do something, but don’t think it’s possible to fight a little and believe you’re operating in stealth with twenty-six people on an email chain.

As an author and journalist, I’ve had gangsters tell me about murders, spies tell me state secrets, and psychiatrists tell me about famous patients. Perhaps this has happened all along, but the proliferation of porous technologies ensures that most people involved in an endeavor will be broadcasting. 

This new reality has changed crisis management strategies and tactics. There will be less pushback against critics. Crisis management will increasingly look like advertising. To the extent discretionary crisis fights will continue, the key will be having a client who understands the stakes and is committed to the enterprise’s survival. After all, some ventures are worth saving and not all critics are noble


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