Sunday, June 1, 2008

When in Doubt: Blame it on Public Relations

Mediabistro brings word that public relations ethics are at stake in this whole What Happened dust-up.

Let’s face it, as much as people complain about reporters and supposed media bias, in the Pit-Bulls-and-Labradors equation, journos are the Labradors and PR practitioners are the pit bulls. (PLEASE, a better word than practitioners)

So Gary Weiss piles on, wondering if PRSA should … what? … file a grievance or something about Scott McClellan admitting in his new book that he lied to the news media about Iraq and the administration’s response to Katrina.

Mr. Weiss seems to be the last person in the English-speaking world to come to the insight that – brace for passive voice – lies were told.

Codes of ethics are good and everything. The Sermon on the Mount comes to mind. But this journo finger-wagging at PRSA ethics is ridiculous. As in the dictionary definition. Blaming the messenger is a coward’s game.

Every three years or so this idea that public relations – whatevers should need licenses crops up. Every time somebody brings this reallyreally bad idea to me I have to ask them where in the First Amendment they find the notion that points of view require some sort of qualification. “That’s a great point, can I see your card before I consider your opinion?”

Yeah, me neither.

So now, a journalist wants the public relations community to hold the messenger accountable for the failures of his own profession. See, these journos are all in a bunch because HOW were they to know what we all knew all along?

The First Amendment is pretty straightforward:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Covers a lot of ground, eh? But very little room for ambiguity. As I read it relative to the situation at hand, people can think or say whatever they want.

Pretty sure Scotty’s covered, too.

Oh, yeah: people can print whatever they want, too. And maybe even ask questions. And print the answers. Ya’ know … if they WANT to.

Also, I’m confident that you get to broadcast and blog and maybe even shout out the window, too. But I’m not a lawyer: maybe that’s what the Supreme Court is for.

Or journo blogs.

I am no defender of Scott McClellan. I cursed him for days on end not too long ago. But to hold him responsible for repeating was he’s told? What does that do to the rest of us? Should we put our clients to polygraphs before accepting an engagement?


Who really didn’t do their job to the highest ideals of their profession here?

Over at McClatchy, they have an idea:

The news media have been, if anything, even more craven than the administration has been in defending its failure to investigate Bush's case for war in Iraq before the war.

Here's ABC News' Charles Gibson: "I think the questions were asked. It was just a drumbeat of support from the administration. It is not our job to debate them. It is our job to ask the questions.” And “I’m not sure we would have asked anything differently."


Or this from NBC's Brian Williams: “Sadly, we saw fellow Americans — in some cases floating past facedown (after Katrina). We knew what had just happened. We weren’t allowed that kind of proximity with the weapons inspectors [in Iraq]. I was in Kuwait for the buildup to the war, and, yes, we heard from the Pentagon, on my cell phone, the minute they heard us report something that they didn’t like. The tone of that time was quite extraordinary.”

And this: "“It’s tough to go back, to put ourselves in the mind-set. It was post-9/11 America.


Dissenters, or even those who voiced worry about where the policy was going, were ignored, excluded or punished. (Note: See Gen. Eric Shinseki, Paul O'Neill, Joseph Wilson and all of the State Department 's Arab specialists and much of its intelligence bureau).

So, Gary, whose professional ethics are at stake?

No comments: