One distinct feature of communication in the Internet age is that anyone can now be a fact checker. We saw during the recent election cycle how eager people are to know the truth about the assertions of politicians, and at organizations like FactCheck.org, politifact.com and snopes.com, investigators are poised to check it out.
According to President Barack Obama, Governor Mitt Romney said Arizona’s immigration policy should be a model for the nation. Factcheck.org reveals that Romney was actually praising a mandate requiring Arizona employers to check employees’ immigration status.
On the other hand, Romney blamed the Obama administration for the loss of 580,000 jobs by women, a number that was dutifully reported by various news organizations. As it turned out, according to FactCheck.org, it was closer to 93,000.
But the public’s demand for accuracy transcends politics. Anyone who’s not careful is vulnerable to “truth squadding” as well. When it comes to business, one misstatement can affect a company’s reputation in a heartbeat. Preparation before interviews is critical, but so is a general awareness that anything you say –publicly or not – can take on a life of its own.
In a recent speech at a Florida college, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter told his audience that the Affordable Healthcare Act, requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide insurance for them, might force him to cut back on staffing and raise his pizza prices. CNN looked into the actual impact the legislation might have on Schnatter’s company and found some holes in his story. The upshot: exemptions for franchise owners and part-time employees mean that Papa John’s expenses would be far lower than he had asserted in an arguably politically motivated claim.
Not even Apple Inc. is safe. In 2010, Steve Jobs put down competitors in internal e-mails for making seven-inch tablets, calling them “tweeners” and claiming they fell into an unattractive space between mobile phones and bigger tablets. So when Apple released the 7.9 inch mini, CEO Tim Cook had to do damage control. Cook, covering for the now-deceased Jobs, insisted that despite the similarity, the two products were in “a whole different league.”
And Snopes recently confirmed some bad news for executives at Hostess. Despite company claims that Hostess was having to shut its doors because of unreasonable demands and striking by its unionized workers, court filings first reported in the Wall Street Journal showed that the company approved large salary increases for its top executives even while preparing to file for Chapter 11. As Snopes says, the fate of the company is still up in the air, but the leadership has a long way to go before it’ll earn back the trust it’s lost thanks to the fact checkers.
When joining or leading a conversation, it’s always important to differentiate between facts, errors and opinions disguised as facts. CEOs and other senior leaders need to carefully vet what they say – out loud, online and even behind closed doors.