Paul Steiger
Paul Steiger, Executive Chairman of ProPublica's board of directors

Trade orgs, many times the size of the PR press trying to cover them, hammer them with boycotts, stonewalling, legal threats and defamatory remarks. Rich J orgs (ProPublica, Committee to Protect J’s), sit on sidelines.

Dave Murray, who rightly says that “no one has covered IABC as consistently over the years as I have,” blogged on June 10 that he has stopped chasing staff and leaders who don’t return his calls and e-mails. He says he will “answer the phone,” should they call.

Murray, a solo practitioner, is up against stonewalling by 24 IABC staffers and 12 board members operating on revenues of $5.6 million in 2013. He will depend on his “sources” to combat the “silence from San Francisco.” Murray did not attend the June 10 annual meeting in Toronto perhaps because chair Robin McCasland reamed him out at the 2013 meeting, comparing him to a dog “humping in the park.”

Gregory Kohs, founder of mywikibiz.com, the only journalist covering Wikipedia regularly and in depth, was banned from the WP conference in New York May 28-June 2 via an e-mail sent by a law firm that said the decision was “not subject to appeal.”

The WP Foundation had revenues of $39.7 million in the year to June 30, 2012, latest available, a gain of 46%. Net assets rose 44% to $34.9M.

PR Watch Reporters Ejected

Lisa Graves & Ruth Conniff
Lisa Graves (L) & Ruth Conniff

The Center for Media and Democracy headed by Lisa Graves, the only news organization regularly covering the American Legislative Exchange Council, has been barred from its meetings for years. Its reporters are evicted from Marriott and other hotels used by ALEC.

CMD, which operates the PR Watch website, took a 35% decline in net assets to $360,580 at the end of 2012 (latest year available). Revenues fell 15% to $737,223.

It is a miniscule operation trying to cover an organization of 2,000 mostly Republican state lawmakers and 300 reps of many big companies. Revenues in 2012 were $8.4 million and net assets, $3.3M.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in a June 30 column titled “Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas,” said ALEC is a “secretive group financed by major corporations that drafts model legislation for conservative, state-level politicians.” He said its “supply-side” theories that say lower taxes on the rich will create benefits for all “crashed and burned two decades ago.”

Murray and Kohs are solo practitioners dueling with entities many times their size. Graves will now be part of a larger organization since CMD merged in April with The Progressive, 105-year-old liberal monthly also based in Madison, Wis. It has moved into the magazine’s offices. Circulation of the magazine is 47,000.

PRSA Warred vs. O’Dwyer Co.

The PR Society of America has fought coverage by the O’Dwyer Co. for decades, launching a full-scale offensive in the fall of 2011 complete with legal-sounding 23 pages of charges against Jack O’Dwyer personally.

The attempt to discredit us failed because at no time did anyone from the Society dare to confront us in person with such inane charges.

However, the Society has continued to block O’Dwyer reporters from its national conference including its legislative Assembly and its exhibit hall where about 50 companies are prospects for stories and ads for the annual O’Dwyer’s PR Buyer’s Guide.

Press Blockage a Worldwide Blot

CPJ office lobbyCPJ lobby (photo: Sharlene Spingler, O'Dwyer's)

The pattern of blockage of coverage by the PR Society, IABC, ALEC and Wikipedia is part of a worldwide offensive against the press that has been documented by UNESCO and other organizations.

The longterm jail sentences that Egypt hit three journalists with have focused attention on persecution of the press.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, 330 Seventh ave., New York, is almost exclusively focused on what happens abroad. However, with a net worth of $14.4M (2012), it should be able to spare one of its reporters to look at press interference right under its nose. Salaries/fringes totaled $2.3M in 2012.

ProPublica, 55 Broadway, which had $11.9M in revenues in 2013 and lists five senior editors, six senior reporters and 15 reporters by name on its website, could spare one to look into the pattern of interference with press coverage by the two major PR trade groups, Wikipedia and ALEC. News salaries/fringes totaled $6,648,000 in 2013.

The National Press Club, alone among press groups, has urged the PR Society to cease its press-blocking tactics which have included barring all reporters from its Assembly for the past three years. Reporters are barred from joining and having access to Society finances, which cripples their coverage of it.

NPC is concerned that the 21,000 regular PRS members and 10,000 students are getting the message that avoidance of press coverage and attacking press critics are acceptable practices.

Invitations Given to CPJ, ProPublica

ProPublic officesProPublica offices (photo: Sharlene Spingler, O'Dwyer's)

Since neither CPJ nor ProPublica ever call us, an O’Dwyer staffer visited the offices of both in the past few days, delivering a copy of the 2014 O’Dwyer’s Directory of PR Firms and the May O’Dwyer’s magazine (ranking issue).

Letters addressed to Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ, and Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica, invited them to send a staffer to the O’Dwyer offices to view extensive files on press blockage by IABC, PR Society, Wikipedia and ALEC.

ProPublica editors are among the highest paid in the world. Paul Steiger, 2012 president and editor-in-chief, had a package worth $584,914 (latest year available). Managing editor Stephen Engelberg’s package was $391,378.  Five others made $200K+.

Steiger, M.E. of the Wall Street Journal from 1991-2007, was editor-in-chief, CEO and president of ProPublica from 2008-12 and now is executive chairman.  He was chair of CPJ from 2005-10 and is now on its advisory board.

Herbert and Marion Sandler, who sold Golden West Financial to Wachovia in 2006, earning the headline “Deal from Hell” in the July 22, 2008 WSJ (because of GWF’s many bad mortgages) bankrolled ProPublica by committing $10M a year to it. Others are also supporting the 501c/3 non-profit. The Sandlers gave $5M to ProPublica in 2011 and $4M in 2012 (latest figures available).

Murray, Board Rift Seems Evident

Joel Simon
Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists

The main perpetrators of the PR Society campaign against the O’Dwyer Co., VP-PR Arthur Yann and CEO Bill Murray, are now gone from the Society. Yann, 48, died suddenly of a heart attack June 13, 2013. Murray quit suddenly on March 7, 2014 effective June 1 with no explanation except that he had given the decision “deep reflection.”

Sources say a rift had developed between Murray and the board and his way of showing his displeasure with the board was his sudden departure without a successor in sight. It took nearly two months before a CEO search committee was formed.

A similar thing has happened in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, our summer hometown. The village on June 20 elected its first female mayor in it 86-year history, lawyer Maria Moore.

Police chief Ray Dean suddenly quit the force after 15 years, leaving no time for a successor to be found. The Southampton Press, noting a longtime “strained relationship” between Dean and the board, said his departure “with nearly no notice is a huge disservice not just to the board but to all village residents.”

We say the same about Murray’s sudden departure after more than seven years in the post. The board had just promoted him to CEO via the 2013 Assembly and it was revealed (after the Assembly) that he got a $61,000 bonus in 2012 to a total package of $423,000.

His less than three months’ notice was far too short. Previous COO Catherine Bolton gave a year’s notice.

Murray waged war against this reporter, reaming us out for one hour in our office, saying the Society would never deal with us again because we had done unforgiveable things to it. He reiterated all those charges in a 1,000-word e-mail to consumer advocate Christopher Elliott on Oct. 8, 2012.

What we can’t figure out is whether Murray did not try hard enough to discredit us to please the board, or whether he tried too hard.