Denial isn’t the best defense

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Denial isn’t the best defense


Lee Hyun-sang
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

A worn-down office worker sits down to take a break and takes a bite out of a KitKat. Blood streams down his face and onto his computer keyboard. What he bit into was not a chocolate snack but an orangutan’s finger. The video is a criticism of Nestle, the maker of KitKat, and its exploitation of rainforests in Indonesia for its palm oil supplies.

The company was furious about the video from Greenpeace, the international environmental activist group, and won a court injunction. The video was removed from YouTube, but ordinary people got around that censorship. They spread the video around, and it went viral on social media. Nestle eventually announced it would stop importing palm oil, but the damage to its corporate name was done. This case from 2010 is now taught to executives studying corporate crisis management.

The Blue House has hit the ceiling after an opposition party lawmaker made accusations about President Moon Jae-in’s daughter and her mysterious move to a Southeast Asian country with her family. The presidential office said it will investigate how Rep. Kwak Sang-do of the Liberty Korea Party obtained information of Moon’s grandson’s academic record from the Seoul education authority. That’s how Kwak confirmed the move of Moon’s daughter Moon Da-hye. The Blue House accused Kwak of bad habits from his “dark spying” days as a prosecutor. The Blue House responded equally to two recent whistle-blowers: Kim Tae-woo, a former investigator from a special inspection team, and Shin Jae-min, a former Finance Ministry official. The two accused the government of irregularities. For that sin, they were publicly described in such unflattering terms such as “a loach” and someone engrossed in his “little world.” As for the charges of misdeeds, the Blue House has simply said no wrongdoings were committed without going into any details.

Whether Kwak’s exposure is indeed a malicious conspiracy cannot be known. If he got his information through illicit means, does that pardon the offense in question? Should it fall under the “fruit of the poisonous tree” — an exclusionary rule to make evidence inadmissible in court if it was derived from evidence that was illegally obtained? A court might say yes, the general public otherwise.

Moon Da-hye’s move could be perfectly legitimate. But it does raise a lot of questions. Her selling of a house remains a mysterious detail. Da-hye joined her father’s presidential campaign in the snap election in May 2017, proudly proclaiming that her father was the best candidate to create a nation where housewives and children can live happily. But with her father in the presidential seat, she has taken her child overseas. How can one not think that odd? The presidential family members, whether they like it or not, are partly public figures. Their lives necessarily converge with the public realm. The people have the right to be curious about why the daughter of a president decides to leave her country.


Rep. Kwak Sang-do of the opposition Liberty Korea Party alleges on Tuesday that the daughter of President Moon Jae-in mysteriously moved to a Southeast Asian country with her family. [NEWS1]

Questions can build into suspicions. In politics, speculation is always running wild — that is its nature. Whether rooted in the truth or in wishful thinking, speculation grows like a poisonous mushroom feeding on political conditions. Frank communication is the only way to tame it.

The Blue House is doing the opposite — despite the fact that this administration was most piquant in its criticism of its predecessor for obfuscation and a disconnection with the public.

There are three rules in corporate crisis management: Act fast in the early stages, be honest and have the chief executive personally deal with it. The worst tack is to resort to legal actions. Business management experts advise CEOs to turn to the PR office, not the legal office, when crises take place.

Since the fallout with Greenpeace, Switzerland-based Nestle building has installed a digital acceleration team that monitors customers’ electronic complaints around the clock. Nestle has made an exemplary turnaround. The Blue House should learn to not lose its temper over everything and anything.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 1, Page 26
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