How to Break a Scandal

Everyone knows this moment.  Something dishy, something trashy, some god fallen, principles tested, and the street full of speculation.

If you, the writer, find yourself involved in this kind of story, something messy and dangerous, awkward and sad, how will you handle it?

Ask yourself:

Do you need to tell this story? Are you sure? Is there something worth knowing here? Who will benefit?

How much collateral damage are you looking at? Who is hurt? What kind of hurt? Is that fair? How much territory is likely to fall under your mushroom cloud? Can you limit civilian casualties?

Who is ruined? How big is big, this story of yours? And must it be that big?

Recognizing that you possess in this moment the preponderance of power, how will you break the story? What’s your timing? Is a warning appropriate?

As we learned from the IMF scandal, they don’t use “a perp walk” in France—that is, the accused, ushered by his lawyer through a flank of reporters, head bent, just make for the car, his instruction. How loud will you be? Is your publisher, for example, stocking three times the usual volume around town?   Will you tweet without end?

Words are both powerful and limited. As if a club in the fist of a giant, we know the power of them very well, but have you factored in the constraints? Have you considered how—try as you might, good as you are—everything you write is different than you had in mind, a bit adulterated, a bit off? Still want to swing that club?

What is this story to you, anyway?

And if the shoe were on the other foot, would you say the writer did right?

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credits: shame, female – Royal Constantine; shame, male – Bruckerrlb

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  1. As readers of this blog know, once in a while I take stock of the numbers. When it comes to the category of “Post that Generated the Most Offline Communication,” this one wins. I’ve heard from many, many of you, equally distressed it seems at some local coverage that spawned this post. I have circled back to the newspaper responsible for breaking the scandal, and we’ve had a good exchange. The specifics are not worth repeating, as it would simply fuel the flame, but I will say it’s especially hard to craft a cogent response when, in a small town, you know everyone involved.

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