retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

"The past was filling the room like a tide of whispers." - Ross Macdonald

There were two stories that have emerged over the past week or so that demonstrate the degree to which past deeds can back to haunt people of perceived good character, and illustrate the reasons that so many people - especially young people - have lost faith in a variety of institutions.

There was the story of the Duggar family, stars of a reality television program called "19 Kids and Counting," which apparently was best known for having many children and espousing Christian values.

I say "apparently" because I have no first hand knowledge of this family. In fact, I'd never heard of them or their program until it was revealed that one of the sons had molested five girls, including some of his sisters, in his youth ... actions for which he had never been held legally - or even by many assessments, morally - accountable.

To be honest, I'm reading as little about this case as I can get away with. It isn't that I'm not a little curious, but I have a busy life, and pretty much every time I read anything about these people I feel the urge to take a shower.

For the moment, let's put the specifics of the case aside. Whether or not the criminal justice system can do anything will have nothing to do with whether these people are able to still command attention via reality TV. (Some of these clowns would give Charles Manson an hour in prime time if they thought it would generate decent ratings.)

What I simply cannot understand is how any of these people thought for a moment that the facts of this case would remain unknown, and that they would not be called to account for their actions. It strikes me as the ultimate hubris, a pervasive arrogance that somehow they would be the last people on earth who would be able to keep secrets.

Which is probably what Dennis Hastert thought, too.

Hastert, of course, is the former Congressman and Speaker of the House of Representatives who is accused of agreeing to pay more than three million dollars in extortion money to someone who - if reports are to be believed - knew that he'd had inappropriate sexual conduct with a student at a high school where he'd served as a wrestling coach before beginning his political career. While Hastert has not yet been arraigned, it likely will be hard for him to defend himself, since he actually appears to have paid the money and even reduced the amounts he took out of the bank to avoid drawing regulators' attention.

Again, let's put aside the crime. (Though I really don't want to. Both these cases are about child molestation. They don't come much lower than child molesters.)

Like the Duggars, Hastert probably thought he could avoid or at least survive the past and that the transparency that has turned so many lives, businesses and institutions into open books would not be his problem.

But to adopt the phrase coined by Ross Macdonald, the tide of whispers overtakes everyone. You can't avoid it. The results almost always are Eye-Openers.

It seems to me that both these stories serve to remind us that it is folly to believe that one can always control the narrative and obfuscate reality.

In the modern business environment, especially for so-called "big food" companies that seem increasingly mistrusted, it is important to embrace transparency, not resist it. Be upfront and honest, not deceitful. Be humble, and not arrogant. And do everything possible to engender trust, not give consumers a reason to doubt it.

"They don't need to know that" rarely is an appropriate response. Because "they" will almost always end up knowing it.

Deal with it.

I have to admit that what really worries me about all this stuff is that we may be losing our capacity to be shocked. Things that used to shock us now merely surprise us. Things that used to surprise us now merit a mere raised eyebrow.

Pardon me while I go take another shower.
KC's View: