In an historic meeting (our first interview with a sitting PRSA chair since early 2006) this writer and O’Dwyer editor Kevin McCauley met with chair Gary McCormick and president Bill Murray for nearly an hour March 19 in O’Dwyer offices.
We think all would agree that no one budged an inch on any of the issues raised.
We again stated our demand that the Society pay us at least $200,000 for the more than 50,000 copies of our articles that it sold up until 1994, when we exposed the practice. (PDF of four-page study).
The Society, while admitting no wrongdoing, immediately removed all our articles from the information packets, joined the Copyright Clearance Center, and announced that info pack prices were raised from $20 to $41 for members and $55 to $76 for non-members.
O’Dwyer articles constituted a quarter to a third of some of the 60-70 page packets.
CCC made the Society join its most expensive service, reserved for publishers who set prices for individual articles, because what the Society was selling was not “education,” but “professional development.”
Users of the service hoped to make or save money, hoped to improve their job skills, by using the advice in the articles.
Heavily copied O’Dwyer articles included one on “How to Hire a PR Firm,” copied and sold thousands of times. Packet volume was 3,800 in one year. Other articles told PR firms how to write contracts with clients, how to place stories in general and specialty media, etc.
Thousands of Society members were able to read O’Dwyer articles without paying us a nickel.
Society Saw “No Financial Harm”
Yet Joe Vecchione, 1994 president, wrote to Society leadership: “We do not believe we are in violation of the copyright laws nor have we caused Mr. O’Dwyer any financial harm.”
Both statements were absurd. The Authors Guild made the same comment when we showed them the Society’s practice.
Since then, the Society has been on a flight from reality, embarking on an all-out campaign to vilify this reporter and the O’Dwyer Co. rather than take up the responsibility for the unauthorized sale of hundreds of thousands of copies of works by authors without their permission.
A dozen authors hired a law firm and pressed for a lawsuit. But none of their publishers would back them. The copied authors, unable to afford the $200K needed to wage the suit, were left twisting in the wind.
But the moral obligation to pay them, in the form of money and ads for their books, remains.
M&M Believe We Are Evil Incarnate
McCormick and Murray presented a list of O’Dwyer behaviors that they say are so offensive that the Society will have absolutely nothing to do with us. That includes letting us join or buy ads or having our questions answered by Society staffers.
This vilification has been spread to the 100+ chapters for nearly two decades. No chapter president will talk to us much less buy any O’Dwyer products.
A sure route to ostracism at the Society is for a member to be caught talking to or helping the O’Dwyer Co.
Whether this war has hurt the O’Dwyer Co. is open to question since a lot of our readers like to hear about the almost endless shenanigans of the Society.
It has not done the Society any good because membership is only a little above the 19,800 members it had in 1998. More importantly, the Society has failed to live up to its lofty ethical standards.
We offer to publicly debate McCormick and Murray on these issues with the proceeds going to victims of the Haitian earthquake or the groups that help families of slain and imprisoned journalists.
Alternatively, we would like a trial before 12 PR pros in which we present our copious evidence. Only two should be APR. Others should be corporate and agency PR executives and several reporters.
Biggest Offense: Gail Baker
Pressed for concrete reasons for our ostracism, McCormick and Murray pointed to the full page attack on us in the Sept. 2008 Tactics. We had given them a copy of this attack along with a dozen pages on the copying scandal and the Society’s help to PR Week/U.S. when it was launched in 1998.
The board’s letter, after accusing this writer of stepping “far beyond the bounds of accurate and professional reporting,” specifically referred to our e-mailing and calling superiors of Prof. Gail Baker of the University of Nebraska in early 2008 (although neither Baker nor the University were named in the letter).
Baker had become Ethics Board chair although she had never served on the EB, a break with tradition. She wouldn’t return our phone calls or e-mails, which we consider unethical, especially in an EB chair.
Baker was Engraved Opportunity
Although past EB chairs such as Bob Frause or Dave Rickey worked for themselves or a corporation and also didn’t talk to us, an EB chair at an educational institution represented a golden opportunity to us.
Plagiarism or even failure to properly credit an idea taken from another educator are cardinal sins in academia.
One can imagine what educators would think of the massive copying and sale of articles without their authors’ permission that the Society engaged in for many years.
We presented documentation of this practice by e-mail to University Chancellor John Christensen at 11:55 a.m. on March 20, 2008. Less than four hours later, at 3:49 p.m., staffer Joseph DeRupo e-mailed us that Baker was no longer EB chair. The school had obviously given her a choice: stay as EB chair or stay with U of N.
So the full page attack on us in Tactics was based on a faulty investigation of what happened.
We did no wrong. The Society refused to give us space in Tactics for our version of this incident and McCormick and Murray reiterated that stand on March 19.
Audit Chair Unfairly Attacked
Another one of our unforgiveable offenses was attempting to question 2009 audit chair James Finkle, managing editor of Booz Allen Hamilton, McLean, Va., $4 billion consulting firm that mainly works for the government.
Finkle had no business being audit chair since he had no formal financial background and was not even on the board as demanded by Sarbanes-Oxley.
The Society’s website pledges “commitment” to SOX.
Attempts to reach Finkle by phone or e-mail resulted in an e-mail from him saying he had never heard of the O’Dwyer Co.
When further questions were sent to him we got a phone call and e-mail from a BAH lawyer warning us not to try to contact Finkle again.
According to Murray, this was another instance of us abusing our role as a reporter.
Query to Fiske Was Rebuffed
Not mentioned at the meeting March 19 was another instance of us “going far beyond the bounds of accurate and professional reporting.”
Rosanna Fiske, chair-elect, talking about herself on sources available on Google, says she is the daughter of a famous photojournalist who traveled the world taking pictures of kings and heads of state.
But when we asked Fiske to give us the name of her father, we were accused of improperly invading her personal life and causing her distress that could lead to charges of harassment against us, a criminal offense.
Fiske, a PR professor at Florida International University who is making her fourth trip to the board (although Society founders decreed that directors are not to succeed themselves and everyone on the board is a director), has stressed her Hispanic background. However, bio details provided on the internet say she is also Jewish, French and Chinese.
Why won’t she discuss this with us?
Unkindest Cut: Comparison to Hapsburgs
An especially unforgiveable offense was saying that leadership suffers from too much inbreeding like the Hapsburgs who developed physical and mental deformities. [Story link]
We stand behind our view that picking leaders from the fewer than 20% of members who are APR for more than 35 years has resulted in an deepening of anti-democratic, anti-communications and anti-New York practices.
The APRs are a special class of members who believe their APR status makes them better than the other members.
Only a few percentage points of the 20% are actually available for office-holding as evidenced by the return of numerous directors to the board after leaving it.
The founders did not want a self-perpetuating clique running things which is just what happened.
We Called Them Nazis?!
Another capital offense we are allegedly guilty of is calling Society leaders “Nazis.”
What we have said and wrote is that it took decades for the victims of the Nazis to collect reparations and that, like them, we would never give up on trying to collect for our copied articles.
We were encouraged in our pursuit by Horst Avenarius, 2008 chair of the German Council for PR.
There is no “statute of limitations” on righting a wrong, Avenarius told us, specifically mentioning efforts by German companies to conceal “their behavior in connection with forced labor during World War II or the expropriations of Jewish possessions.”
Avenarius said “transparency is the lifeblood of our information society” and this includes “transparency without any reservation in the accounting of past events involving the misconduct of an organization.” [Story link]
The Society should follow the ethical practices of the Council which has an enforceable ethics code. Offenders are publicly chastised.
Blatant Anti-New York Practices
As for anti-New York practices, the move of h.q. downtown is evidence enough. New York director Lynn Appelbaum only agreed to join the board after two nominating deadlines had passed. New York influence on the board approaches zero.
Further evidence of this bias is that the 2013 national conference will be in Philadelphia although that city hosted the conference in 2007.
Bypassed again is New York, which had the biggest conference ever in 2004—attendance of 4,000 spurred by a keynote address by Donald Trump. Previous New York location was in 1990.
McCormick and Murray said one reason for picking Philadelphia is that hotel rooms are only $150 while they are $300-$400 in New York.
We don’t buy that. We think the 25-35 staffers who go to the conference (when at one time only 5-6 went and local members were used) like out-of-town because it’s 7-10 days of living on the Society expense account. We agree they work hard.
But New York has upwards of 20,000 PR and IR pros plus the national media and numerous associations. Philadelphia has nowhere near that reservoir of potential attendees.
New York is also a much more convenient location for exhibitors and saves hotel and travel expenses for staffers.
PRSA vs. O’Dwyer Is Apples vs. Oranges
The Society’s casting of aspersions on our reporting ethics and accusing us of unfair verbal attacks on leaders, in response to our documented charges that it illegally copied and sold our articles, is a case of apples vs. oranges.
We are accusing it of palpable intellectual theft and they are accusing us of saying bad things about them.
It’s like someone stealing our car and refusing to return it because we denounced them. Oooooh. We have hurt their feelings. We have offended them.
Ignored by the Society are our positive suggestions: that Prof. Tim Penning’s essay in Tactics on PR being debate, discussion and dialogue be put on the Society website; that members be given a complete list of Assembly delegates; that Society financials be distributed early in the year (which 1997 president Debra Miller did); that the 2010 Assembly be audiocast; that the June 4-5 “Leadership Rally” be converted to a spring Assembly; that minues of board meetings be distributed two weeks after the meeting and not two to five months later, and that APR be removed from throughout the bylaws (as recommended by the 1999 Strategic Planning Committee).