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Let the audience fill in the gaps

24 hours after being vilified for firing a disabled worker who stole a colleague’s drink bottle, the chief executive of Bunnings went on Newstalk ZB to explain the sacking. The explanation gave enough hints to suggest that there was more than one side to the story.

“These decisions aren’t taken lightly… it’s just not great for anyone.”

“There are [more] details and facts behind it but I’m just not able and I’m not willing to talk about individual situations, but certainly all the facts aren’t listed in the [news] stories.”

“Unfortunately when incidents happen we sometimes have to make tough decisions, and sad decisions as well.”

This was a useful mix of disappointment that sounded genuine, and hints that allowed the audience to guess that there were other reasons for the dismissal.

Bunnings demonstrated that it is possible to rebut opponents and media who try to run with the worst side of a story – even when you feel constrained by “privacy”. The public are smart enough to know there’s two sides, and to detect exaggeration and omission. It’s unfortunate that the original story had 24 hours to do its anger-stirring uncontested.

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