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The movie Michael Clayton has a line:

Michael Clayton: OK. Look, it's very simple. Arthur has a chemical imbalance. He's fallen behind on his medication. He's back on the mend. He's gonna be fine. Now, I wanna make this crystal clear. What happened here stays in this room. This is not information that you wanna be out in front of. Anybody has a problem with that, I need to know right now.

How can one be out in front of a piece of information? The phrase appears to mean "to leak," but I haven't found anything online that shows it is idiomatic. Is this idiomatic language?

  • It could also be taken to mean that it is information you don't want released to the press or general public,. It stays in this room. We keep it secret. – Peter Jennings Sep 3 at 22:03
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In the context of public relations, to be out in front of something nasty or unsavory is to deal with it in the media proactively rather than reactively. By not waiting to respond but taking the initiative, the goal is to define the "narrative" to one's own advantage in order to limit the damage.

Here's a "narrative":

Arthur has a chemical imbalance. He's fallen behind on his medication. He's back on the mend. He's gonna be fine.

Here's an example:

The congressman has had sexual relations with a chimpanzee. We have to get out in front of the story. The lab was dark. The chimp knew sign language. The hearing impaired don't want to be treated like they're different.

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It appears to be a modern colloquialism which means to be representing, in the sense of defending the legitimacy of whatever you are in front of.

In context, if this information about the persons behavior is released to the public, then you will be required to defend the legitimacy of their behavior because you are in front of it, meaning fronting it or being a representative of this person and their behavior.

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If you are "behind on" something, you are trying to "catch up," or "get up to speed," or otherwise negate an implied deficiency.

To be "out in front of" implies the opposite. The Michael Clayton quote is a bit of an anomaly in terms of common usage, as usually being "out in front of" is considered desirable.

Think of it as such: when you're "in front" of a problem, you're also "ahead" of it, as in the idiom "ahead of the game." You're not trying to catch up, you're already in the lead, which gives you a chance to defend that lead.

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