|January 4, 2010|
|U.S. Needs More Info, Less Hype|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|There’s no doubt that what they are now calling “The Great Recession” is largely due to a lack of transparency in financial dealings.|
Vast movements of money including gambling large sums without adequate back-up helped to inflate the financial bubble.
It was the “Decade of Hype” in which expectations about lots of things including housing prices and even President Obama were raised beyond practical levels.
Among the victims of this imbalance, suffering in terms of lost jobs, lost homes and lost educations like everyone else, are none other than PR people.
Those in the industry of hype appear to outnumber those in the newsgathering industry. Certainly, those in the former are paid more than those in the latter.
Even now, bankers, brokerage houses and accountants are battling full exposure of off-balance sheet entries as well as trading in derivatives and other dangerous financial instruments.
The public is getting little for its trillion-dollar bailout of banks and others. The financial industry spent $300 million in overturning Glass-Steagall in 1999 and shows no signs of wanting it back. Citigroup led the march on that economic safeguard, instituted after the 1929 debacle.
Pundits Decry Decade of Hype
Pundits Frank Rich of the New York Times, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal did a good job in the past few days of dissecting what Frank called, “A low, dishonest decade.”
Rich saw Tiger Woods as the “Person of the Year” because he typified the “decade’s flimflams” including the run-up to the Iraq war and the overheated housing market.
Kurtz echoed Rich in saying “permanent stains” on journalism are its failure to challenge the falsehoods about Iraq and failure to unmask banks’ imprudent and quickly off-loaded housing loans.
Media credibility took a sharp dive downward, wrote Kurtz. Pew Research found only 29% of Americans feel media report accurately, down from 55% in 1985.
Poisonous Brew: Hype & Stonewalling
The double whammy of hype and stonewalling hit the economy.
NYT columnist Floyd Norris said CPAs let the nation down by allowing off-book cubbyholes to hide debt and that politics at the U.S. and international Financial Accounting Standards Boards is blocking reform.
Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter said a few hundred bankers are guilty of “what may well turn out to be the greatest nonviolent crime against humanity in history.”
Looking back on our 40 years of covering PR, it’s easy to discern a complete flip-flop in the attitude of PR pros to the press—from enthusiastic help and cooperation to cold, resistant, officious behavior. Hard sell replaced soft sell.
PR has become marketing and hype, which organizations need to prosper, but has pulled back on its duty of helping the press to cover topics in depth. The nation suffers. Media suffer. Democracy runs on good information and the info pipelines have become clogged by lawyers, marketers, financiers and association people who are not keen about the public discussion, debate and dialogue that defines PR.
Leadership Needed from PR Industry
The group with the gold-plated PR name is the Public Relations Society of America. This name has both PR in it and America and many PR pros see this as a desirable thing on their resumes.
In most cases, their employers are paying the tab so they don’t much care what goes on at the Society.
However, do we find examples of openness and transparency at this Society? Cooperation with the press? Regular press conferences? Regular meetings of officers and staff with rank-and-file members? Complete and timely financial reporting? Broadcasting of the annual Assembly to members? Providing a transcript of that Assembly to members? No!
What sort of example is this group setting for the PR industry? PR considerations are almost non-existent.
Only three “PR” staffers are allowed among the 55 or so staffers and the three are kept under lock and key. PR is unwelcome in its own house.
McCormick Could Change Things
The new board is headed by Gary McCormick (pictured) of the HGTV unit of Scripps Networks Interactive, a spin-off from Scripps newspapers.
Scripps has the most elaborate ethics code (PDF of code) of any journalistic enterprise in the U.S. It promises “Compassion,” “Courage,” “Excellence,” “Fairness,” “Integrity” and “Respect.”
Employees are drilled in all the above and we don’t mean just on paper.
They go through an ethics lecture that sounds like a Bible-belt revival.
Columnist Nick Gholson of the Wichita Falls Times Record News (pictured) on Nov. 10, 2006 wrote of sitting through a “three-hour ethics presentation” that had him “walking out the door singing, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah, His truth is marching on.’ Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.”
“I am overflowing with ethicity…I am one company guy…when E.W. talks, I listen,” he wrote. “You need compassion? I got it ... Excellence? Did you ever doubt?” are also quotes from the column.
Gholson concluded that the session was inspirational but redundant since “all we really needed was to write the Golden Rule on a chalkboard.”
PR Society Split from Reality
Instead of leading the march for more transparency by practicing it itself, the 100 or so people who have taken control of PRS (we find it hard to use the “A” standing for America) are steeped in secrecy and undemocratic practices.
Members suffer, the industry suffers and America suffers. An example is its insistence on doing something about “diversity.”
This takes the form of naming new people to committees and seeking outreach with black and Hispanic groups. But probably less than one percent of PRS members are minorities and this is not likely to change given the $290 first year membership fee and $225 yearly after that.
Black and Hispanic groups are much cheaper than that, typically $50 a year, so this initiative is going nowhere.
The Society, not realizing what it was doing, got African-American counselor Ofield Dukes (pictured) to be a non-voting (???!!!) member of the board after the nomcom headed by Rhoda Weiss picked Barbara Whitman to be at-large director over Dukes.
Dukes at first turned down McCormick’s invitation to sit in the “back-of-the-bus” of the board.
Dukes no doubt he realized the image of a black not having a vote was nothing short of horrific. How many decades did it take for blacks to win the vote in the South? There are still complaints that they are not being treated fairly at the polls.
We advise Whitman to step down and let Dukes be the voting member.
PRS will not like it if national media get on its case for depriving a black of his vote.
The rejoinder we get from Society leaders is that it’s better to be part of a group you criticize than be on the outside and unable to make changes.
Okay, so why don’t U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan join the Taliban where they can be more influential? Why don’t Republicans join the Democratic party and vice versa. Joining a group is not the only way to reform it.
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