Disasters are inherently confusing -– always while they're happening, usually afterward as well.
While disasters are happening, people respond as rapidly and reasonably as they can, often without understanding the full scope of what it is they're responding to. Afterward, they try to figure out what went wrong in order to prevent a recurrence, but pinpointing the precise problem can be a painstaking and protracted procedure.
It's human nature to speculate, and everyone does it during and after a disaster –- guessing at what went wrong, how it's going to turn out, and whose fault it may have been. There's no great harm in that. Although gossip and rumor triggered by idle speculation can be.
Speculation from prospective plaintiffs and their attorneys, however, demands a response. That's where public relations comes in. In its most basic form, public relations is telling your side of the story.
In a court of law or in the court of public opinion, people and corporations have the right to defend themselves.
In a law court, the right to self-defense is protected. In the court of public opinion, however, you have to be proactive and persistent to ensure that your own perspective is presented.
In the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, Massey Energy has cooperated with investigators trying to determine the cause of the April 5 explosion and has periodically apprised the public of its own theories about what went wrong.
This has prompted Charleston lawyer Timothy Bailey, who represents the families of two of the 29 miners killed in the incident, to cry foul.
Bailey charges that Massey is engaging in "a PR campaign to make sure their stock prices don't plummet." Of course, Massey is. The company is obliged to protect its interests and the interests of its investors.
Bailey complains about Massey's "one-sided piecemeal information." Whose side is it supposed to present? Surely not Bailey's? That would be redundant. He's already launched a strident, one-sided PR campaign of his own.