Thursday, August 09, 2007

President Bush's Lyme Diease: He Should Follow PR 101


I don't usually get political in this blog, because isn't a political website. But in the wake of the White House's statement about George Bush's Lyme Disease, there are PR lessons here that anyone in the public eye (or who wants to be) can learn. And, as someone who has a disease similar to Lyme Disease, and who deals with PR, I feel qualified to say something.

I have CFIDS*, an autoimmune disease similar to Lyme Disease. Some researchers even believe CFIDS is either caused by, or is a side effect of undetected Lyme Disease. From my own experience with symptoms similar to those of Lyme, and looking at public reaction to the White House statement, Bush should have disclosed his medical condition.

At my worst, I was confined to bed and had neurological symptoms that made it nearly impossible to read, dial a phone, comprehend a calendar, or do anything requiring a series of ordered, logical steps.

My personal opinion is, I think the American people should know if the guy who's supposed to be running the country has the possibility of similar symptoms. (Which, technically, despite the White House statement, could happen. New information is coming in about Lyme Disease every day...including disagreements among medical professionals about the length of its incubation period, and whether or not you're "cured" after treatment or if it will come back.)

This blog entry explains Lyme Disease, and what it can be like to have it, far more eloquently than I can.

My professional opinion is, from a PR standpoint, the White House blew it.

First, the White House statement about Bush's Lyme Disease conflicts with common diagnosis and treatment standards for Lyme Disease. In fact, medical information in the "learn more about Lyme Disease" link which appeared directly under the Bush news item on AOL flat out contradicted medical info in the White House statement. Oops. (No blood tests were necessary? Unless you test the tick--meaning the insect that gave it to Bush, not Bush himself--how can you definitively know it's Lyme without at least one blood test?)

And then there's the trust issue. (i.e., "He lied about the war, lied about his health, what else is new?" Or, "Since they waited so long to tell us, what more aren't they telling us about his health?")

Some conspiracy theorists are even on the lookout for budget cuts affecting autoimmune disease diagnosis and treatment. Or for new bills that would allow insurance companies to further deny coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune diseases (i.e.,"You don't need a blood test for Lyme Disease. Even the President's doctor didn't think so").

From a PR standpoint, when you don't let people know what's really going on, they tend to think the worst. A statement sooner, rather than later, is always better than waiting. (Even, in my opinion, in a time of war. Losing the Peoples' trust makes you look weaker.)

People respect you for it, and they'll trust you because you've shared something personal with them. People in the same shoes as you will even root for you.

Unless you lie. If you lie, they lose respect for you. Or if they already didn't trust you, they feel their mistrust is justified.

For those who are in the midst of symptoms, I wish you a speedy return to health. Meanwhile, hang in there.

RR :)

*CFIDS is sometimes called CFS. Many people who have it, including myself, prefer the name CFIDS (pronounced "SEE-fids") because the "I" and "D" refer to Immune Deficiency--which is the main problem and causes most of the symptoms. Without the "I" and the "D" people tend to get it confused with narcolepsy or just think you're tired. When people misunderstand and think it's about being tired, it's a lot more difficult to get research dollars!