A few years ago I was consulting for a prominent South African who at some period was at the receiving end of bad press.
For weeks on end the media had a major assault on this client of mine and some details of their private life were made public. Some of the revelations were about how this person allegedly also spent public money rather liberally.
Predictably this client was very unhappy about the “lies peddled” about them and wanted a right of reply.
I told client they are entitled to that right, but before then, I asked uncomfortable questions, top of which were “are the media lying?” and “is there any counter evidence?”.
Nothing was forthcoming, except the foam from the client’s mouth. All they wanted was to speak and clear their name.
I advised against it. I even said that in the absence of new evidence, perhaps the best way is to keep quiet or if push came to a shove, rather write an opinion article.
I was ignored. The results were disastrous to say the least.
This Monday morning when the now removed acting Chief Executive Officer of PRASA (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) Collins Letsoalo addressed the media to refute a Sunday Times story, memories of my former client came tumbling in.
Letsoalo, both by the tone of his voice and the content of his statement(s), was livid. He wanted to put the Sunday Times in its place. Except he didn’t. All that he did was deny and throw shade.
Letsoalo told the gathered media that “it isn’t true” that he inflated his salary by 350% as alleged. He said he had an agreement with Prasa and “a salary that has been approved by the board.”
The agreement he says, states that “during the term as acting CEO, Prasa will pay you an annualised salary rate applicable to this position.”
I do not know what that means. I doubt any of the journalists gathered in that room did either.
The simplest thing to say was that “I earn so much and not what the Sunday Times wrote”. After all this is a public job and such salaries should not be secret anyway.
But the giveaway was when Letsoalo said the allegations were “merely a media assault”. I call that refuge of the scoundrels.
If you can’t give facts, throw mud.
As if that was not enough, he went on to say: “I remain a proud, uncontrollable public servant. No amount of front page attacks are going to worry me much.”
The same afternoon the department of transport removed him from his post. Go figure.
One thing for sure is that Letsoalo did not refute the “allegations” the Sunday Times made. He just rubbished the paper and accused them of having an agenda.
He was rather confrontational when simple facts would have sufficed in showing that the Sunday Times “lied”.
Calling a media briefing is never a good idea, especially when all you want to do is play victim.
[Follow me on twitter @ramsbythehorns]