True AND Believable

When I conduct media training or give a speech on the subject, one of the first things I tell people is that your message must not only be true, it should also be believable. It may seem like those things always go hand-in-hand, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Last night, CBS News ran a story on the huge costs of the Obamacare website and its problems. This is not a commentary on the merits of the Affordable Care Act but rather a timely example from a topic that will dominate the news for the upcoming weeks.

A question was raised about whether the administration or the re-election campaign delayed the release of regulations – an important issue because experts say the website needed months of additional testing before going live.

The evidence is pretty compelling:

  • The HHS issued 109 proposed regulations and guidance between 2010 and Aug. 31, 2012.
  • Nothing was released from Sept. 1 until late November 2012.  
  • Following the election, another 60 were released.

A White House spokesman told CBS: “Issuing regulations was the sole responsibility of HHS. Their timetables were their own and not influenced by the White House or the re-election campaign.”

That may be true, but it isn’t believable. The incongruity of the statement not only causes doubt in this particular instance, but it also could damage credibility going forward.

If you’re in the middle of a controversy, vet the message with trusted advisors who have a feel for the public mood and will examine the statement not just for its veracity but also for its believability. You must have both to be successful, not just in dealing with the media but in any communications – whether you’re dealing with employees, customers or policy-makers.