business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There has been a story in the news over the past 24 hours that I think offers a vivid business lesson. I want to wade in a little carefully here, because the context is political ... but to be absolutely clear, I am not choosing political sides. But the example is too juicy to resist.

Yesterday, it was reported in the New York Times - and many other places, which picked up on the story - that when she was Secretary of State during the first four years of the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton did not use an official State Department email account, but rather used a personal email account. What this means is that there is no official record of her email communications as seems to be required by law, and that Clinton - and not the State Department - controls the emails, though she certainly can be compelled to provide them if subpoenas are issued.

Let's forget the politics of the situation for a moment. It almost goes without saying that Republicans are going to attack Clinton, and that Clinton supporters are going to defend her. (I'm deliberately not saying that Democrats will reflexively defend her, because I've talked to a number of left-leaning folks who are appalled. ) And there may or may not be a legal defense for her actions, and that legal defense may or may not resonate in the court of public opinion and with Democratic primary voters.

Here's what I cannot understand, and where the business lesson is.

There should have been someone in the room at the State Department, or someone in the Clinton orbit, who could have and/or should have said, "This is a bad idea. Not just on the legal face of it, but because it plays into every negative stereotype about the Clintons. Especially if you want a political future beyond being Secretary of State, you need to be not just as transparent as everybody else, but more transparent. The only way you can control the narrative is by subverting conventional wisdom, not by confirming it."

Now, I suppose that it is possible that somebody did say this, and was ignored.

Which is the second part of my point. Somebody has to be willing and able to make the contrarian and unpopular argument, and then somebody has to listen.

I have made this argument in other contexts over the years. Many newspapers now have public editors or ombudsmen who serve as critics of policies, procedures and decision-making processes ... and they do it public, on the pages of those newspapers, because they know that at a time when the media has declining credibility, it is necessary. I've always thought that companies like Walmart (I'm not picking on Walmart here, just using it as an example) or General Motors ought to have a person in senior management whose job is not to drink the Kool-aid. (Some companies seem to be largely run by people who get their haircuts from the same barber, buy their suits from the same shops, drive cars from the same dealership, and worship at the same churches. That's not healthy, in my view.)

The Hillary Clinton story is just the latest example of a person who, believing that they can control the narrative, actually behaves in a way that subverts their best interests and hands control of the narrative over to others.

This is not a matter of politics. Or, to put it another way, not just a matter of politics.

And it is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: