I was talking with a incredibly smart lawyer yesterday, trying to draft a statement about what I’ll lightly call a potential shitstorm. I wrote something and he sent back what I’ve found to be the standard legal response to these issues – the it’s our policy not to comment on these matters but we dispute their validity. It was the only way to play it, he said, because a different response would encourage tabloid press. The more we give the more it will turn it into a feeding frenzy.
A tabloid cycle is propelled by news organizations scrambling for facts. The New York Post has this, the Times has that and they go back and forth battling for exclusives. To keep going they need someone’s cooperation, be it with quotes or facts or accusations. They are stuck in this box, in other words, and the best response makes that box as small as possible. You kill the story by depriving it of air.
That ends with the internet because the web works on a different set of economic assumptions. The main one being that information scarcity is not longer a limiting factor. What a Gawker reporter writes is in no way boxed in by what he doesn’t know. In fact, its in precisely in those grey areas that he is free to write and speculate as he pleases and where the best material comes from.
Obama understood this the way I am starting to understand this. We’re coming upon a world where the feeding frenzy is no longer over bits of information but over the lack of it. The worst thing that can happen in this model is that you leave things open to speculation.
What I think this means is that you won’t be able to kill a story the old way anymore. “No comment” gives the story life instead of taking it away. The new way will be to flood the market with facts and information, to root out grey areas and get the target off your back by taking the fun out of it.