|April 29, 2010|
|Ethical Gap at Scripps Revealed; Complaint Lodged|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|E.W. Scripps Co., whose employees are subjected to grueling three-hour "Ethics Presentations," has been hit with an ethics complaint by this website.|
Although Scripps has a 20-page ethical code that pledges "fairness," "courage," "compassion" and "excellence," we don't find any mention of this code on the company's website.
Anyone seeking it has to hunt for it on Google.
Scripps executives, including CEO Richard Boehne and VP-CC & IR Mike King didn’t respond to our phone calls or e-mails. We have asked Boehne, a former business reporter for The Cincinnati Post of Scripps, to assign a reporter to this story.
Scripps in 2008 divided into the profitable Scripps Networks Interactive (entertainment/how-to cable and which employs PRSA chair Gary McCormick) and the unprofitable E.W. Scripps newspaper/local TV group.
The Scripps-Howard Foundation, headed by Mike Phillips, whose assets plummeted from $79M in 2007 to $50M in 2008, mostly from losses in the stock market, does not have a scrap of financial information on its website.
This ignores the advice of the Independent Sector (800 non-profits) that non-profits place on their websites "early in the year" both their IRS 990 Forms and their audits.
Non-profits are notorious for hiding or not clearly reporting their finances and/or reporting them so late as to make the numbers almost useless.
The S-H Foundation is supposedly under the Scripps Code that promises "the highest standards of accuracy."
Complaint Filed with EthicsPoint
Scripps makes employees attend a three-hour ethics lecture. After one such lecture, which sounds like a Bible Belt revival meeting, one reporter wrote, "Glory, glory, hallelujah…sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me…”I am overflowing with ethicsity."
The employees must sign an acknowledgment that they have read and understood "The E.W. Scripps Co. Code of Ethics: Keeping the Public Trust." The pledge notes that the agreement "does not guarantee any right of employment."
To underscore its dedication to ethics, Scripps employs Ethics Point, a private service that takes complaints.
Although one of our complaints is that McCormick is refusing to answer our questions, we confined our gripe to the fact the E.W. Scripps does not mention its ethics code on its website. We consider that unethical and in contradiction to all the high-flown promises and pledges in the Scripps code.
At PRSA, ethics chair Tom Eppes does not list his phone number or e-mail on the Society website.
'Where Did This Take Place?' (Everywhere)
The interviewer for ethicspoint.com put us through a series of questions, many of which did not fit our complaint.
Asked "Where did the ethics violation take place?" we answered "Everywhere" (since the internet is everywhere).
As for "Who did it?" we answered "Everyone in the company" (since all employees are supposed to notice and report transgressions).
Although offered anonymity, we identified ourselves and received a code number so we can look in a couple of weeks to see if there is any answer to our complaint.
A Pox on Both Their Houses
We thought McCormick might bring some ethics to PRSA but we were wrong. He's there to publicize HGTV.
He reneged on his promise to appoint African-Americans and journalists to the Strategic Planning Committee.
He came to our office March 19 and said PRSA will not discuss with us any of the issues we raise. That was a true but incomplete statement. PRSA will not discuss any such issues with anyone. Duck and run is all it knows.
Two senior members, both Fellows (one a former chair of the College of Fellows and the other former president of the L.A. chapter) have put questions to McCormick and the board via this website but have been stonewalled. One of the 17 directors subscribes to the website so ignorance can’t be claimed.
The questions include how can Philadelphia be picked twice for the national conference and New York not once; what right did the board have to move h.q. downtown and cancel the printed members’ directory without consulting members or even the Assembly, and when will PRS work out some settlement with the authors whose intellectual property it stole?
Sacred PR Cow Eats Economist
The Economist, described as noted for its "formula of thorough research and sharp analysis" by The Atlantic last year, did not live up to that billing when it said April 10 that Johnson & Johnson’s handling of the 1982 Tylenol murders is "the gold standard of crisis management."
Rather, it is the "gold standard of spin." J&J's endless bragging about how well it handled the PR replaced the actual tragic story of seven deaths in 1982 and another one in 1986.
Tylenol should never be referred to as anything but a double tragedy. CEO Jim Burke himself admitted J&J should never have re-introduced (in six weeks!) the easily-doctored capsules when tablets worked just as fast and could not be altered. They should never have been marketed in the first place.
Diane Elsworth, 23, of Peekskill, N.Y., was murdered in 1986 in the exact way that the other people were murdered in 1984—Tylenol capsules pried apart and poisoned.
J&J spin also put emphasis on "tamper-resistant" bottles when that did nothing to address the problem of a bottle that had already been opened and its capsules available for spiking one way or another. Many pharmacists refused to stock such capsules by any company.
J&J would not give up the dangerous capsules because none of its competitors would. It feared losing market share and that cost Elsworth her life.
Fortune, Movies, Books Ingest Tylenol Lies
The Economist (Tylenols removed "without hesitation"), Fortune ("gold standard for crisis control"), and numerous PR textbooks use such words as "immediate" and "quickly" in referring to the withdrawal of Tylenol capsules. Is seven days immediate?
Immediately withdrawn were two small lots that were distributed in the Chicago area.
Worst was the 1999 movie "The Insider" in which actor Russell Crowe said Burke "just pulled Tylenol off the shelves in every store right across America instantly" and used a sweeping wave of his hand to make the point.
PRSA's Tactics in March 2008 had a full page saying J&J's handling of the murders "has become an enduring example of crisis management done right."
Ronald Alsop of the Wall Street Journal in his 2004 book, "The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation," praised J&J for its "honest, direct and quick” recall of the capsules."
One Book Has the Truth
Only one book accurately portrays what happened in 1982 -- "Damage Control," authored in 2007 by former Reagan White House communications staffer Eric Dezenhall.
He notes that the capsules were not pulled off the market until the next week and after another near-murder in Oroville, Calif.
Dezenhall says that J&J, with its advertising and PR might, "ushered in a new wrinkle in crisis management: proselytizing how well the company has handled the crisis itself."
PRSA chipped in to this charade with a special Silver Anvil in 1983 after Hygrade Food Products won in the crisis category.
Larry Foster, who headed J&J’s PR in 1982, told the Home News Tribune in 2002 that "hardly a week or month goes by" that someone does not call J&J about researching the story.
We believe that’s still true and it's about time J&J or academicians stepped in and stopped this blizzard of lies.
Jordan of J&J Is Page Member
Raymond Jordan is corporate VP of PA and communications at J&J and should live up to the main principle in the Arthur W. Page Society, of which he is a member: "Tell the truth."
This is a sad story by any measure. What J&J did immediately was tell its employees not to send any money or gifts to the families of the victims lest J&J’s stance that it had nothing to do with the murders be compromised.
J&J's press relations were poor — signified by its refusal to call a press conference. It pretended it knew nothing about what happened although the Wall Street Journal pointed J&J was a fierce competitor, a serial acquirer (150+ companies), was litigation-prone, and had many enemies.
It fought the families for nine years before settling the day before a trial was to begin. It blocked closure for the families, subjecting them to years of pain.
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