Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cover-ups are often worse than the original mistakes

Time and again, we have seen public figures make mistakes that they have tried to resolve through dishonesty with the hope it will cure their problems.

Sometimes it works, but many times, the cover-ups are actually worse than the original error. This is because the public is far more likely to forgive somebody who owns up to a mistake.

After all, somebody who is forthcoming and contrite appears more believable than somebody who gets caught red handed trying to hush a situation up.

This is not only applicable to public figures, but to all of us. At some point in our lives, we have made big mistakes.

And though we do not like to admit it, most of us have tried to weasel out of a situation through dishonesty at least once. Maybe that is a cynical statement, but given the state of human nature, I do not believe it is. We are all flawed and how we handle adversity reveals a lot about us.

A recent example of this involved University of Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl has admitted that he lied to NCAA investigators regarding the possible breaking of recruiting rules.

The rules violations the NCAA were investigating reportedly involved improper contact by the Tennessee staff with recruits. If this is true, it would be enough to put the program on probation.

However, by lying, Pearl increased the likelihood that the NCAA will really drop the hammer on the program. Breaking rules is one thing, but lying to investigators is a major mistake.

To Pearl's credit, he admitted his lie before being confronted by someone regarding it. Still, the damage is done. Tennessee already imposed sanctions on the basketball program, but the NCAA will likely add more.

Furthermore, Pearl may have made a mistake that will taint the rest of his career. If he is forced out at Tennessee, it will be difficult to get another head coaching job at a big school. This is because he will be known as the guy who lied to NCAA investigators.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of botched cover-ups that run much deeper than basketball. The most dramatic cover-up in recent memory involved President Richard Nixon's administration in the early 1970s.

The Watergate scandal began as an attempt to cover-up a 'third-rate burglary' at Democratic National Headquarters. The cover-up began a series of events that saw several Nixon administration officials go to prison, and the president resign in disgrace.

Nixon likely should have faced charges in criminal court for trying to obstruct justice but his successor, President Gerald Ford, granted him a pardon. This pardon guaranteed that Nixon would never go to court, but it likely was a factor when Ford lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter.

Carter's time as president was a fiasco and paved the way for Ronald Reagan winning the presidency in 1980. This series of events show that political cover-ups can have lasting consequences once the dominoes start tumbling. In this situation, Nixon's decisions impacted our nation for decades.

Another example of presidential cover-ups was Bill Clinton's attempts to avoid responsibility for poor decisions he made in his personal life. In his case, he eventually faced impeachment though now he enjoys the status of a respected senior statesman on our political landscape.

The bottom line is cover-ups can have devastating and long-lasting consequences if they blow up in people's faces.

It does not matter if the cover-up was a result of deep thought or a spur of the moment decision. Life is not too gratifying when we are walking around with a 500-pound gorilla on our backs.

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