Bill Murray, president and COO of the PR Society, said in an e-mail yesterday to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, that O'Dwyer's reporters will be barred from PRS-leased areas in the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Oct. 13-16.
Murray noted that O’Dwyer reporters were barred from PRS areas at last year’s Marriott in Orlando, including the exhibit hall and meeting rooms, and that “This is the same approach we will be following this year.”
Murray’s 1,089-word e-mail to Elliott, which Elliott has given us permission to use, is loaded with misstatements, distortions, omissions, and false charges and fails to contain even one link to supporting documents. It is carried in full at the end of this blog.
The PRS policy of blocking O’Dwyer reporters from the exhibit hall, Assembly and rest of the conference is an unjustified and gross violation of freedom of the press.
We hope that some of the 40+ exhibitors, who are paying thousands of dollars to reach an audience of 2,500+ for four days, will tell PRS that they want to be able to meet with O’Dwyer reporters who can write articles about them that will be in the printed and online O’Dwyer’s PR Buyer’s Guide throughout 2013 and that will reach an audience of 50,000+. All PR service firms receive a free five-line, 200-character entry in the Guide which will be in its 23rd annual edition and lists nearly 1,000 PR products and services in 60 categories.
The worst offense in the Murray e-mail is the false claim that the National Press Club, in calling on PRS last year to halt the boycott, was “conceding that many of Mr. O’Dwyer’s actions were ‘unfortunate’ and ‘even highly disagreeable.’”
NPC made no such concession.
Mark Hamrick, AP reporter and president of NPC, in a statement sent to 390 major media, said that “points raised” by PRS against O’Dwyer were “unfortunate” and “even highly disagreeable” but he made no judgment as to whether they were true or not.
Whatever the charges, Hamrick said that NPC is against barring reporters from events unless they are disruptive. This reporter only listens to what goes on at the Assembly and the other events.
William McCarren, executive VP of NPC, informed today of the new PRS O’Dwyer boycott, reiterated NPC’s opposition to it.
NYS Senator Krueger Criticized
Murray says PRS was “disappointed that a sitting politician (NY State Senator Liz Krueger) would ask PRS to “accommodate O”Dwyer” without “first asking for our side of the story.”
Krueger issued a formal statement on her stationery “heartily” agreeing with NPC’s criticism of PRS.
Murray complained she did not return PRS phone calls that sought to set up a meeting. This is an ironic complaint by PRS officers and staffers who are world class non-returners of phone calls and e-mails.
Krueger had apparently heard enough about this blockage of press freedom from the NPC. There is no evidence that can support a press boycott in America.
Doubts We Have Complained to Justice
Murray says this reporter “claims to have filed a complaint with the Justice Dept.” and that PRS has not been notified of such a claim.
PRS staffers in 2009, told that I have a hearing loss, refused to make any accommodations at the Assembly that year and refused to let me sit in the front row at plenary sessions.
I contacted the National Assn. of the Deaf which urged me to file a complaint with Justice. Justice acknowledged receipt of the complaint on Sept. 12, 2011, saying it would take at least eight weeks to process. I have called Justice regularly since then, talking to a staffer. As of last week, she said the complaint was still “being evaluated” and that Justice would mail me the decision.
NAD lawyers said PRS is breaking the law (42 U.S.C #12182(b)(ii) by giving some reporters free access to its events while denying that to me. There can be no discrimination against members of a category whether they have disabilities or not, says NAD. PRS ignores this.
PRS Is Hostile, Unhelpful to Press
One claim in the Murray e-mail is that although O’Dwyer reporters are barred “we encourage other members of the press to attend our event and report on it.”
That is false. No reporters at all were allowed to cover the 2011 Assembly. VP-PR Arthur Yann posted on www.newsroomink.com last year that the Assembly is “a private meeting” and PRS is “well within our rights to bar any and all reporters from attending.”
PRS does not allow reporters to join and membership is required to see the quarterly and annual reports of PRS as well as its audit. A reporter cannot cover PRS without access to its financials. PRS withholds its IRS Form 990 that has a financial report until late in the year not only from the press but from its Assembly. The 990s are not available until 3-6 months after being filed with the IRS.
PRS Sees Descriptions of its Abuses as “Attacks”
The Murray e-mail says this report has “incessantly attacked the Society over the years.”
What we do is describe the numerous undemocratic, information-withholding and information-blocking policies and practices of PRS.
Members do not know who is in their Assembly, what the delegates say, or how they vote. The Assembly list is not even drawn up until mid-August and only delegates may see it. PRS stopped providing transcripts of the Assembly in 2005. Votes are often not provided in the “minutes” although that is called for by Robert’s Rules. The Assembly in 2009 used 56 proxy votes to vote in the use of proxies, a double atrocity since RR forbids the use of proxies in a legislative body.
Many of PRS’s leading members, including past presidents and chapter heads, were among 450 signing the petition of the “Committee for a Democratic PRS” in 2010. It failed in its mission to win the right of non-accredited members (82% of the membership) to run for national office for the first time since the 1970s. PRS would not let the group blast e-mail the membership and only mentioned it in PR Tactics in the last month.
O’Dwyer’s Brings Biz to Firms, Services
The O’Dwyer Co. has helped to bring business to PR firms and service companies throughout its 44-year history (O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms listing 1,700 firms and PR Buyer’s Guide).
PRS has embarked on a foolish errand in trying to discredit the company whose five products compete with the Society and that has been called “the bible of PR” by the New York Times. That description is well deserved since three major stories in NYT were based on O’Dwyer research including the 1987 1,800-word feature by Claudia Deutsch detailing the downsizing of corporate PR and the rise of PR firms. A 1993 NYT feature on Dean Rotbart’s criticisms of the financial press was based on O’Dwyer reporting. A 2001 NYT article on the death of “PR Queen Denny Griswold” was written after reporter Winnie Hu spent three hours in O’Dwyer offices.
PRS spends too much on lawyers ($528,423 from 2004-2010 or $75K a year) and not enough on ethics ($1,406 in 2011 and $2,649 in 2010).
Murray notes that some journalistic groups have not supported the O’Dwyer quest for equal press treatment including the Society of Professional Journalists, ProPublica, the Pew Center and Poynter Institute. I’m very disappointed that they have ducked this situation. The Committee to Protect Journalists only deals with press interference by government bodies.
Murray e-mail to Elliott:
Dear Mr. Elliott:
Thank you for writing. Mr. O’Dwyer, who publishes a small newsletter and website related to the public relations industry, believes that he was wronged many years ago by the organization that I now work for, PRSA, which he claims violated copyrights he held. At the time he first raised his complaint PRSA disagreed that he was wronged, and invited him to press his claims in court, which he declined to do. Since then he has pursued PRSA relentlessly, something of which I learned upon joining PRSA about six and a half years ago.
This might be otherwise unremarkable – every organization has a gadfly. There are, however several particular aspects to this situation that merit mention. First is the unique nature of our organization. As a membership organization for public relations practitioners - professionals who work with media daily – one of our core values is to work cooperatively and amicably with all press, regardless of the views expressed or positions taken. Mr. O’Dwyer is a newsletter publisher, and thus while he has incessantly attacked PRSA over the years, PRSA leadership has balanced those attacks against a very strong preference to maintain open lines of communication no matter what was directed their way.
That changed about two years ago. In particular, while we had long granted Mr. O’Dwyer access to our Assembly and Conference, last year we reached the point at which we could no longer tolerate what we believed to be his unprofessional and unethical conduct towards our volunteers, our leaders, and towards gathering “news” and “reporting” on our organization. We explained our position in a 23-page letter to Mr. O’Dwyer (which will paint a complete picture of PRSA’s relationship with him and his company), as well as in a public statement and blog post which I invite you to review. At the events last year we could not bar Mr. O’Dwyer from registering as a guest of the hotel, or from using the hotel’s public/common areas, which is ultimately what he did. It resulted in several uncomfortable interactions with sponsors and attendees, as the Conference was taking place.
At no time, however, was Mr. O’Dwyer allowed to enter any area of the hotel that PRSA had contracted to use, e.g., the ballrooms, meeting rooms, terrace area, etc. This is the same approach we will be following this year; still, he’s threatening to attend again anyway, and to bring along another “reporter” (his wife!), ostensibly to videotape his “confrontations” with PRSA.
In terms of the fallout from this course of action, there were two organizations (the National Press Club and Center for Media and Democracy) that made statements criticizing PRSA. To put this in perspective, the NPC simply expressed “disappointment” over PRSA’s chosen course of action, while also conceding that many of Mr. O'Dwyer's actions were "unfortunate" and "even highly disagreeable."
The second aspect of this situation that is somewhat remarkable is the continuing ferocity and breadth of attacks launched against PRSA. Mr. O’Dwyer told me personally, during a visit to his office that “my company’s campaign against PRSA will continue after I die.” This year he has contacted major sponsors to our annual Conference and has taken them to task for sponsoring us, which we construe as an effort to interpose his own grievances with our business partners – just as he has done with major vendors such as Hilton and Marriott. He has actively sought support from a number of other individuals and organizations beyond those mentioned above, from Harold Burson and Jim Romanesko to the Justice Department, SPJ, Pew Center, Poynter Institute, ProPublica, Committee to Protect Journalists and Ethics and Excellence in Journalist Foundation, none of whom/which supported him in any way. It appears to us as if attacking PRSA is now his primary endeavor.
I do, however, want to specifically address – and condemn – several of his allegations. He has argued that somehow his hearing impairment is related to our refusal to grant him access; this is but a shameless red herring to enlist sympathy and attract attention. We invite our Conference registrants to advise us of any special needs. Apart from waiting to be notified of such needs, we routinely order hearing-assist equipment that we make available at our Conference. As we most typically contract all of our audiovisual services with the host hotel, we order such equipment through the hotel, which can verify this year (and in prior years) that we have done so. Mr. O’Dwyer claims to have filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging that we discriminate on this basis. Whether or not he has in fact filed such a complaint, we have never been formally notified by JOD of such a claim and stand ready to defend our practices in that regard. Given this situation – of which he is well aware – why would he continue to argue that we discriminate against him for reasons related to his hearing?
He also raises the issue about the NY State Senator who wrote to us suggesting that we accommodate Mr. O’Dwyer. We were disappointed that a sitting politician would reach such a conclusion without first asking us for our side of the story. Apparently she was contacted by Mr. O’Dwyer, and immediately wrote at his behest. When we then supplied her office with the background on this situation and asked for a chance to meet with her, her office simply didn’t return our phone calls.
Finally, he makes the case that we have “barred the press” from our event. That, too, is simply false. We have barred Mr. O’Dwyer; we encourage other members of the press to attend our event and report on it; we encourage attendees to use social media, we have hash tags to encourage communication, allow non professional bloggers to attend any media sessions we have, etc. So while arguing that PRSA discriminates against the hearing impaired and bars the press is an attention getting allegation, it is simply and completely untrue.
For all the reasons catalogued above, we no generally no longer correspond with Mr.O’Dwyer. I hope this provides you with but a small part of the story, but more importantly an overall context that helps you assess the situation for yourself. Sadly, we have thick files and have spent countless hours writing notes such as this to folks such as yourself who have been contacted by Mr. O’Dwyer as he continues on his way.
If you would like further information, please let me know.