Is It A Better Time Than Ever To Pick Fights With The Press?
Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
That old adage, most frequently attributed to writers H.L Mencken and Mark Twain, wisely advised spokespersons to avoid picking fights with the media. (In fact, the expression traces back to the mid-1960s, when former Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson quipped, “I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”)
Crisis communications texts have regurgitated that advice for decades. But is it still a good practice?
After all, when Rep. Brownson offered his guidance almost a half-century ago, spokespersons were more at the mercy of the press than they are today. Today, spokespersons can rebut false or defamatory charges using their own websites, blogs, and social media channels. So here’s the question of the week:
In the age of social media, is it a good idea to occasionally pick fights with the press? Does the expression “Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel” still apply?
Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I’ll highlight some of your answers in a new article next week. And please share this link with your networks to help ensure that we get a good diversity of answers.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to reading your thoughts!
My thought is no. As exampled in yesterday’s post, a fight with the media really falls into their favor unless your goal is simply to keep the topic alive in the news regardless of the tone. By picking a fight, you are simply giving many news organizations their best gift: controversy and conflict. Gives otherwise routine or less interesting stories longer legs. And while I agree the digital age gives you additional options for setting the record straight or refuting allegations, there’s another old adage I heard once that seems to be true as well: “the first liar is always believed most.”
Thanks for the question!
I think it still applied. But I’d add you never want to argue with a fool with access to a blog or buys ink by the barrel. Reason? A fool likes to here is own opinion and he’s always right no matter what reason or reality dictates.
I would never pick a fight with the press. And speaking of blogs, would never argue with anonymous bloggers.
We now have more tools than ever to set the record straight, so we don’t have to sink or swim in their ink anymore. That being said, would be very careful to pick my battles!
I would make three points. First, being very picky about the words used in the question I would say it is never a good time to pick a fight. Picking (being the instigator) a fight with anyone makes you look bad, and will put off someone. My second point is that the idea of an ink barrel is changing, but communicators should be wary of anyone with a larger reach. Most company facebook pages and twitter accounts don’t reach the audience that even a mid-sized media outlet can. Thirdly, Social media make it a whole lot easier to react when the fight is brought to you. While you shouldn’t start a fight, if you attacked these make it easier to tell your story.
For me, you don’t even have to so-called fight. Just give your side, be truthful, and maybe hope for the best.
A tricky part maybe is telling and showing in a way that people can more or less understand and relate to. And ditto with Mary Denihan about picking your battles!