If there's one thing Mark Sanford's trip down South America way illustrates, it's the notion that public officials need to get out ahead of a story, rather than letting a story take on a life of its own.

It's PR 101 that if you have bad news to dispense, you should put it out there right away. You take your lumps, but you don't allow for a slow drip of bad news and you don't turn on a one-day story into a three-day story.

Obviously, this is a tricky case. Questions were raised about where the governor had gone to and the whole point of his mission was to get away and not let his staff (or his wife, or the lieutenant governor...) know how to reach him. That was, of course, a big mistake in judgment.

But having made that mistake, things got out of hand quickly. The staff didn't know what to say, so they kept putting out different answers. Then they settled on the Appalachian Trail. That turned out to be wrong, although it was Sanford's original intention. What's not clear to me is why, when Sanford called in yesterday, no one thought to ask him where he actually was.

So now things look pretty bad. Sanford took off without leaving anyone in charge, leaving him open to charges that he was irresponsible and has poor judgment, to say the least. And now it looks like his staff lied about where he was.

As we know, the media hate nothing more than being lied to. The coverup, in our eyes, is always worse than the crime.

What Sanford should have done, at the very least, was to buy a new cell phone and given that number to one trusted aide. And maybe his wife, too. He should have said, don't call me unless there's a true emergency.

That way, his aides could rightly have said that the governor is taking a much-needed vacation, but plans are in place for him to respond immediately to any crisis. And since the crisis turned out to be one of communications, this would have taken care of that problem.