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PR 101: Confront the truth, no matter how ugly it is

One of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite movies is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the ’80s flick that makes rebelling against authority look like a whole lot of fun.

In the middle of it, Ferris’s principal, Mr. Rooney, finds himself in an arcade in his search for Ferris and his buddies. Toward the end of the scene, Mr. Rooney is standing in front of a television showing a Cubs game. The second he looks away, Ferris is shown catching a foul ball, coming perilously close to getting busted for playing hooky.

Mr. Rooney didn’t spot Ferris in the stands at Wrigley Field, but what if he had? What if Mr. Rooney’s hunch that Ferris was a school-skipping ne’er do well was proven correct when he saw Ferris, Sloan and Cameron on TV? All three of them would be cooked. Pictures don’t lie.

We were reminded of that classic sequence Friday afternoon while we were working up the story of MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown being arrested early Friday morning at the Beau Rivage and being charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. (The charges have since been dropped).

When we reached Brown on his cell phone, he confirmed that he had “just left” the Beau Rivage. In one of the weirdest interviews we’ve ever done, Brown flatly denied that he had been arrested and charged with anything. This despite the fact that his mugshot was sitting on my computer screen while I was on the phone with him. Brown was polite. The tone of the interview never got confrontational, but he insisted he hadn’t been arrested. The whole thing was odd.

Fast forward about an hour, after the story had taken up the top spot on msbusiness.com, and other media across the state had picked it up. Brown apparently decided to abandon his denial strategy and start referring questions about the incident to the Beau Rivage.

Why didn’t he do that from the beginning? Did he think that, just because he denied the whole thing, we would just drop the story all together? Especially when we had his mugshot?

If the first rule of public relations is don’t put yourself in bad situations, the second rule is to aggressively confront the truth when you do, no matter how badly you may not want to. Brown broke both of those rules Friday. Pictures don’t lie. People do.

Ferris Bueller, Brown ain’t.

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