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Posted by John Keller

My wife, a wise woman, warned me that at around age 50 I would look around at the world I inhabit and find an alien landscape. Well, I'm nearly 49, and I barely recognize anything.

I remember television in a major metropolitan area with only seven channels. I remember conducting business without cell phones, personal computers, or the Internet. Most notably I remember news announcements without "safe harbor statements" and "forward-looking statements."

I know the lawyers have taken over pretty much everything, but I think the lunatics are running the asylum, and have been doing so for much longer than I have taken notice of it.

I've been looking at press announcements almost every day of the nearly 27 years that I've been a professional news reporter. Add in my years as a high school and college journalist and ... I don't even want to think about it. New stuff creeps in over time that I barely notice, but I've reached my limit.

I'm routinely getting news announcements these days in which more than half the text is the so-called "safe harbor statements" and "forward-looking statements." I just got one yesterday that was 335 words long. Often my entire news stories contain fewer words than that.

What are these things, you might ask. I think they're mostly legal fig leaves intended to shield companies from litigation, as per the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

In other words, it's like a lot of things these days designed to stave-off lawsuits -- like warning people that coffee is hot, high-calorie foods can make you fat, and cigarettes can kill you. Is this news to anyone?

Well, the 335-word forward-looking statement I got yesterday has three core points. I hope you're sitting down because these are Earth-shattering revelations:

1) some of the things we say here are not necessarily historical facts;
2) some of the things we say here are guesses that might not turn out like we think they will; and
3) business is risky; real-life can sometimes get in the way.

I, for one, am shocked ... SHOCKED ... to hear that guesswork and risk are part of doing business. I never would have known, had this forward-looking statement neglected to tell me so.

Seriously, though, is all this really necessary? Please, find me a safe harbor from all these forward-looking statements.

Post a Comment

Blogger Lou Covey said...
Unfortunately, they are necessary as far as the lawyers are concerned.

When I first entered the PR world from the news side, I worked for a large multinational company that had just started the practice of running ALL news releases through the legal department because they had lost a lawsuit to a very small, garage shop. The subject of the suit was a statement in a new release the corporation had issued that stated it's new whatsis was the fastest watsis on the market. The garage shop was producing a whatsis that was actually faster. They sued and won. It set a precedent. From that time on, the corporation had to have it's lawyers approve all news release text because news releases had become official documents admissible in court.

There were two outcomes of that decision. The first was that there could be absolutely no absolute statements in news releases unless there was rock hard documentation to back them up. The second was that news releases started backing up in the attorneys' offices of every major corporation in the country. Something had to be done.

Thus, the safe harbor statements started showing up. That way, the absolutes could come back in, but they came with disclaimers written by attorneys, not writers.

If we were not such a litigious nation, we might not have this problem, but the reality is we are.
Sunday, March 9, 2008 10:41:00 PM EDT  

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Welcome to the lighter side of Military & Aerospace Electronics. This is where our staff recount tales of the strange, the weird, and the otherwise offbeat. We could put news here, but we have the rest of our Website for that. Enjoy our scribblings, and feel free to add your own opinions. You might also get to know us in the process. Proceed at your own risk.

John Keller for MAE
John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Courtney Howard for MAE Courtney E. Howard is senior editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. She is responsible for writing news stories and feature articles for the print publication, as well as composing daily news for the magazine's Website and assembling the weekly electronic newsletter. Her features have appeared in such high-tech trade publications as Military & Aerospace Electronics, Computer Graphics World, Electronic Publishing, Small Times, and The Audio Amateur.

John McHale for MAE John McHale is executive editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, where he has been covering the defense Industry for more than dozen years. During that time he also led PennWell's launches of magazines and shows on homeland security and a defense publication and website in Europe. Mr. McHale has served as chairman of the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and its Advisory Council since 2004. He lives in Boston with his golf clubs.