Once in a while public figures come under attack because of a comment that they have made in the media. Usually they have said something that is not in line with their organization’s or political party’s official statement. Time for bailout tactic #1!
An example: recently Ms. Jet Bussemaker, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport for the Netherlands, publicly called it ‘a major disaster’ if Barack Obama would not be elected President of the United States. This comment resulted in serious criticism from her own party, stating that this could seriously harm the Netherlands’ reputation. Like many have done before, Bussemaker used a popular bailout tactic: she said that the comment was made ‘at personal title’. This is too easy and naive.
Too easy, because Ministers and other high-ranked individuals are not being invited by radio and TV programs because of ‘their friendly personalities’ or because they have ‘such nice blue eyes’. They are being invited because of the position they hold and the organization that they represent. Naïve, because you simply cannot expect the public to discern personal and work-related comments from each other. With the increasing amount of information that organizations fire at us, should we also make distinctions between personal and work-related opinions?
Naturally these people can still have a personal opinion, which they should be allowed to express. But power comes with responsibility. By accepting a public function, they should realize that their personal opinion is not personal anymore – by definition. Everything they say and do will be placed under a magnifying glass, also after they close the office doors 5 pm.
Alike making off-the-record comments to journalists: if you do not want them to be published, don’t make the comment. Simple as that.