Honesty - Still the best policy

In our media training sessions, we always spend a few minutes talking about why it's a bad idea to lie to a reporter. I know, it sounds like one of those statements that doesn't really require additional explanation. Yet spokespeople continue to bend the truth in interviews with the media. The results are never pretty.

Case in point - this story from today's Toronto Star. The story states that Vaughan mayor Linda Jackson told a reporter earlier this week that there was no alcohol consumed as part of her many thousands of dollars of meals that she expensed in upscale restaurants.

"There is nothing at all wrong with me having business meals with my assistant. There is nothing wrong with it and if you were to go and pull those bills there is absolutely no alcohol,” Jackson is heard saying on a tape of Grech's interview.

Apparently that statement wasn't quite true. In its story, the Star indicated that it had seen receipts that showed alcohol was frequently involved in business lunches and dinners with councillors, senior bureaucrats and others. And we're not talking about the occasional Coor's Light. In one instance, a $100 bottle of Amarone Corte was included in a $345.50 meal ($415.50 after tip).

When confronted with the receipts by the Star, Jackson, "changed her tune, saying she was misquoted and that, in fact, expensing alcohol to the taxpayer is common practice in her municipality."

Untruths in media interviews can come back to bite the spokesperson in an embarrassing way. Rather than making the story go away, Linda Jackson's comments poured gasoline (or some type of flammable alcohol, perhaps) on the fire. She was relying on the fact that the journalist wouldn't have access to her receipts. From a PR perspective, it was a costly error in judgment. We'll have to wait and see if the taxpayers remember this incident when voting season comes around in 2010.