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How to Handle Rumors and Whispering Campaigns

There may be times when your reputation (the opinions others have about you) is harmed by bad rumors. The result of this would be that other people would get a false idea about you and they may not feel in agreement with you anymore. In their view, you are less real than you were before they heard bad things about you. So your relationships with others can become less friendly.

Good public relations is supposed to bring about “good works well publicized.” But having someone spread false and damaging rumors about you would result in the opposite, which would be “bad works falsely publicized.”

For example, take a restaurant manager who tells lies to his customers about the new restaurant that just opened across the street, saying it has lower prices because they buy cheaper and less healthy ingredients and so their food can make people sick. This is not true and it spreads false rumors about the other restaurant.

Sometimes a person can try to ignore false rumors that someone is spreading about him. He might have accepted this as part of life, thinking that this is just the way it is and human nature can’t be trusted. Or he may have tried hard to defend his reputation. But unless he had the skills of handling public relations, his denials may have only made things worse.

Slander (spoken false statements about someone that are harmful) does not just happen to celebrities or other well-known people. Rumors and lies can make life very unpleasant in any group.

What do you do when threatened with such attacks upon your good name or the name of your group or business?

There are standard public relations solutions to this problem that you should know and apply if this type of problem ever comes up. They are standard solutions because the actions are very good and they can work time and time again to help you accomplish what you have set out to do. And in this case, you want to restore the good reputation of your group, business or for yourself personally.

First, it’s important to understand what you are up against.

“Black propaganda” is the term used to describe the methods used to destroy reputation or public belief in persons, companies or nations. By black is meant bad or derogatory (insulting or expressing a lack of respect) and propaganda means pushing out statements or ideas to influence (have an effect on or change the condition of) people to think a certain way.

The technique (method) of black propaganda tries to bring the reputation of a person, company or nation so low that they are denied any rights whatever by “general agreement” among the majority of people in the area concerned. It is then possible to destroy the person, company or nation with a small attack if the black propaganda itself has not already done this.

There has not been any effective or easy method to stop the use of black propaganda. Difficulties and costs of legal suits against libel (false published statements to damage someone) and slander (incorrect information spread by members of the press)—these things make anyone a potential target of such a campaign.

All you need is an enemy. And there are few people in history who have not had enemies.

There are people in different areas of society who do not understand very much and who enjoy telling slanderous (false and damaging) rumors to other people, who in turn spread these rumors to others. In a society where many people are illiterate (cannot read) or who understand only a few words, a lot of knowledge is not available to them and they do not understand a lot of what is said to them.

This is not just a situation with those who are illiterate.

What they do not understand they fill in by just making things up that actually did not happen. Such people not only listen to slander but also twist it and make it even worse. In this way a rumor can go through a society that is not based on truth.

When many such rumors exist and continue on and on, you can suspect a “whispering campaign.” The term “whispering campaign” means an organized spreading of bad rumors about a person. The term comes from the idea of a wind that seems to have a bad influence wherever it blows and does not seem to have any source.

Black propaganda uses the willingness of such people to pass on falsehoods and make them even worse.

A lot of black propaganda is more bold and appears openly in irresponsible or secretly controlled newspapers and radio and television.

But even after a bad story has been printed or put out on radio or TV, the “whispering campaign” is depended upon by black propagandists to spread the slander through the society.

So any person is at risk.

You may come to fear bad things being said about you, your group or business. If it seems that a whispering campaign is directed at you, you can tend to withdraw, become less active and reach less.

This is equally true of companies and even nations.

And so, unless you know how to handle such an attack, you can in fact be made quite unhappy and ill.

The Law of the Omitted Facts

There is a natural law (statements of fact based on observation) at work that unfortunately favors black propaganda.


Omitted means that something is missing or not mentioned or included, yet should have been.

A vacuum (completely empty space) tends to fill itself. Old philosophers said that “nature abhors (hates) a vacuum.” Actually, what happens is that the surrounding pressure flows into an area of no pressure.

It is this way with a person, company or nation. This is how it works:

When lies are said about a person, he may want to withdraw and not talk about it. This has a tendency to pull in more and more problems and bad news. The person then does not want to put out any news or information that could block the lies. As a result, he starts to become a mystery to others. So people may start making up information because they don’t hear it from the person himself.

This is true of persons, companies or nations.

This is where public relations is a real necessity.

Basically, public relations is the art (skill or ability) of making good works well known.

It is a fatal error to think good works speak for themselves. They do not. They must be publicized. They must be broadly promoted and made known.

This is what public relations is and this is why it is—to fill that vacuum of omitted facts. When a person is in the middle of a black propaganda campaign, normal communication channels (means of communicating, such as newspapers, radio or television) are often closed to him. The press media will not run favorable stories, because the black propaganda campaign is using the media to spread the lies and false information. Anyone that thinks the media will help them is crazy, because the media is working for the people who have the money and power and who intend to destroy the reputation of the person who is being attacked by the black propaganda campaign.

“Authoritative” statements, such as the bad news and lies carried in the media, block the truth from being made known. So public relations people have to be very expert in their handlings when they have to handle black propaganda.

The Handling

When you are not fighting a battle against black propaganda, public relations is easy.

You might hire a reporter who gets to work thinking up ideas and turning out releases (written stories or news). That’s why reporters are often thought of as public relations people, which they are not.

However, when a black propaganda campaign is being used against you, your news releases are twisted, refused and that is the end of it.

There is far more to the art of public relations than this.

These are some of the rules that apply:

Fill the Vacuum

First of all, stop withdrawing. In public relations it is proven, without any doubt, that to handle black propaganda, the most workable thing to do is to get out information. Saying nothing may seem like the brave or honorable thing for a person to do, but it is fatal in public relations.

To just deny something isn’t very effective, because it may be used against you as a sort of confirmation, as if the lie was actually true. For example, if bad rumors have been spread about a person, saying that he shouldn’t be hired because he loses his temper at other workers, the person is probably going to have some trouble in getting others to believe him if he just denies this by saying, “No, I don’t lose my temper at other workers.”

You don’t have to announce or spread problems, such as telling everyone in your office or group about some bad news. You never should do that. In fact, public relations people often make the problems by violating this.

But don’t think this means that “silence is necessary.” You must get in a safe place and speak up.

Use any communication channel to speak up that you can, such as TV, radio, magazines, newsletters, group meetings, public events, presentations, etc.—anyplace where your message has been carried in an honest and positive way. But don’t try to use communication channels that will worsen what you say in repeating it, such as any media that is pushing the black propaganda campaign.

Another thing to know is that you must not stay on the same subject that you are being attacked on.

Here is an example of speaking up without denying the false information, since denying would have the effect of making it seem true. Instead, come back with a rebuttal, a statement that proves the other statement is wrong or false:

STATEMENT: “I read your company went broke last month.”

REBUTTAL: “My God. You’re telling me! If we hadn’t got out of that contract with another company, we really would have gone broke. There was a hell of a fight in the office. But Jones won. He said, ‘I won’t sign it!’ Almost tore the president’s head off with the shouting. Hell of a fight. Seems like we got 80 million buried somewhere and Jones is in charge of it and he won’t move an inch on it.”

The person who brought up the rumor now has decided you’re not broke after all. He’s got data. The vacuum is filled with a story of executive fights and 80 million of company money held in reserve.

Disprove False Data

This is where you completely disprove the false statement with documents or demonstration. You have to have a kit (a collection of documents) or be able to demonstrate or have something to show. Here is an example:

STATEMENT: “I’ve been told you are in trouble with the County Board of Health.”

REBUTTAL: “Here’s our recently issued health certificate and a letter of commendation from the Board of Health.” Shows the certificate and letter.

The result of this action is that the person who told him the rumor is no longer believable and can’t be trusted.

When anyone makes some statement to you that you can show it to be false, find out who told him this so that you put his attention on that person, and then give your response that proves it’s a lie.

STATEMENT: “I hear you aren’t married to the man you’re living with.”

REBUTTAL: “Who told you that?”

STATER: “I forget.”

REBUTTER: “Well, you remember and I’ll show you some proof.”

STATER: “Well, it was a man…”


STATER: “Joe Schmo.”

REBUTTER: “Okay. Here’s my marriage certificate. Who’s this Joe Schmo anyway?”

Now it’s Joe Schmo who’s the mystery. How come he lies? Why is he lying about you? Is he getting some benefit from spreading these lies?

When you haven’t got the document but can get it, you can say, “You tell me the name of whoever said that and next time I see you I’ll show you something very interesting about it.”

And be sure to get the document and see him again.

There are a billion variations.

Someone says to you “It won’t fly.” You then fly it. Someone says to you “The place is empty.” You show him that it’s full.

The subject matter of this is proof in whatever form.

You only challenge statements you can prove are false and in any conversation ignore the rest.

Disprove Every Rumor

Proving negatives is almost impossible. For example, “How do I know you don’t work for the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency)?” How can you prove that? You can’t just pull out a Russian secret police badge as that would be just as bad. No one ever wrote a document, “Bill Till is not a member of the CIA.” Also it’s useless because it’s a denial. Who would believe it?

Although, sometimes just saying, “I don’t” will work.

But the right answer to a negative, something that you don’t have proof to show is not the case, is to “fill the vacuum” by speaking about all of your good works.

And once in a while you can prove a negative. Accused of drug smuggling you could show that you’re a member of a group that fights against the use of drugs. The statement that proves something is a lie must be creditable, meaning that it is believable and acceptable as true.

There are millions of different ways you can apply this to disprove something. The basic point though is not to be the thing rumored about, meaning whatever you have been accused of you actually have not done, and to be able to prove it fast.

Continue to Fill the Vacuum

It is very important that you produce continuous good works and get out any material that spreads the good news about your activities.

Handouts, brochures, press releases, your own newspaper and magazine, these and many more, must be supplied with the information that shows identity of self, everything to make your activities understood and known.

By distributing or using these brochures and other materials, you publicize your own good works.

And you must also do good works. You must, through your good works and actions at least, be visible.

So a continual and truthful torrent (large continuous flow) of public relations pieces must be sent out. These pieces have to skillfully communicate the correct information that needs to be made known.

Then one day there is no enemy.

And your reputation is high.

There may be other attacks, but now you can handle them as small fires and not as a whole burning forest.

You can see that black propaganda is a hidden attack using slander and lies in an attempt to weaken or destroy the reputation of a person, company or nation.

That a person (or a group or nation) has to be defended when there are bad rumors being spread around shows that there must be something good. Usually, it’s just the complete criminals, people or groups that no one can say something favorable about, who have no one speaking in their defense.

You do not have to be perfect to withstand such an attack, but it definitely helps.

But even if you were perfect, it would be no defense. Almost all the saints in history have been the ones that such attacks have been directed toward. And most of them died of it.

The real answer to handle any rumors or whispering campaigns and to make your good works known is skillfully applying the methods of public relations.

To be skillful in anything, you have to know it and be experienced in it and do it.

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