Sunday, March 06, 2005

Can't Win 

I have written here several times that there are events in which one cannot win, and reputation is going to take a loss --sometimes a major loss. Such crises are beyond the reach of PR.

The incident in which US soldiers fired on the freed Italian journalist is another example. It is too confused now to know who is at fault, if anyone. It could be a tragedy of wartime -- edgy troops mistaking a circumstance and engaging, a fearful driver failing to slow because he wants to get to safety. It makes no difference what the truth is. The incident inflamed Italian citizens opposed to US invovlement in Iraq. Even if the US could show convincingly that its troops acted properly, that doesn't subtract the bitterness of the experience.

What to do? The incident must be investigated in a professional manner. That is closing the door after the horse has escaped, but it still must be done, so it might be prevented in the future. Official apologies must be made, if appropriate, and perhaps, even if inappropriate. Criminal indictments should be levelled against troops, if they have acted recklessly.

All this is perfunctory, of course. Damage to US reputation has been done. It can't be undone. Worse, the Italian journalist is now saying US troops may have wanted her dead. (That begs the question whether US troops even knew if she was in the car.) It is easy to level charges without facts, and it is easy to make them stick.

I would not be so sensitive to such incidents had not a client fallen into an international incident less than a year ago. It was gut-wrenching and appalling. The client has been found innocent several times over but investigations continue. It is as if someone MUST find the client guilty of something. This is called railroading in a justice system, but in the court of public opinion, railroading happens often, and there is nothing one can do.


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