John Edwards Breaks the Golden Rule

I don’t really care that John Edwards had an affair and fathered a love child. But I do care that he lied to me about it.

Trained communicators know the golden rule: Never, never, NEVER lie to the news media (and don’t do it on Youtube, either!).

The new revelation that Edwards did, in fact, father a child with his mistress may come as a surprise to exactly no one. But notice the casual conviction with which he denied it, during an interview with ABCs’ Nightline last year.

The Worst Media Approach. Period.

Lying to a reporter is so much more than unethical; It’s dangerous. As Edwards fell from grace, media inquiries increasingly focused on his personal life. At some point, it would have been acceptable for him simply to say, “These personal issues are between my wife and myself, and I don’t want to discuss them publicly.”

Would the nation have assumed the worst? Probably. Would that have been better than being exposed as a liar a few months later? Same answer.

And yes, it is true that such a response would have tipped off his wife, Elizabeth Edwards (assuming she didn’t know already). But my business is media communications, not martial relations.

“The Record” Now Lives Forever

When I woke up to the news that Edwards had admitted paternity, it took me exactly 45 seconds to retrieve the old video I present above. In the age of Internet journalism, comments you make in the past never really stay there. They are eternally available to anyone with a Blackberry.

Lessons Not Learned

It is impossible to consider the Edwards scandal without thinking about another politician who suffered the consequences of lying about sex. And like Edwards, then-President Bill Clinton could have saved himself a lot of trouble had he admitted his transgressions, or at least declined to address them directly.

Of course, the best way to avoid negative publicity is to refrain from having affairs in the first place. But succumbing to your weaknesses, and then lying about it publicly, is the best way to become an instant media disaster.

Mark Bernheimer

Mark Bernheimer is a former CNN correspondent and the founder of MediaWorks Resource Group, an internationally renowned media training and consulting firm.