PRSA VP-PR Arthur Yann said yesterday that the debate on the PRSAY website about the boycott of the O’Dwyer Co. at the 2011 annual conference, which had drawn 18 comments since the original posting by Yann on Oct. 26, has been “closed.”

Sixteen of the comments criticized this writer and the O’Dwyer Co., making all sorts of false remarks.

One posting, by John Lonsdorf, said that I make “some points that, on their face, appear to have some merit (lack of transparency at PRSA, the APR issue, and PRSA’s invisibility in representing the profession on the national stage, to name three). Wouldn’t an open dialogue, rather than the ongoing schoolyard rumble, be the more ‘adult’ way of handling things?”

Because of factual and other mistakes, I started on Friday Oct. 28 to seek “equal time” to rebut some of the postings.

After being asked by Yann to shorten an initial entry, 450 words were posted that day describing PRSA’s practice of selling hundreds of thousands of copies of authors’works from 1980-94 without their permission. Attempts by the authors to gain compensation were fought by the Society which said that as a library it was able to “lend” one copy of their articles and that a “loan fee” was charged to cover basic costs.

Further Corrections Blocked

When I told Yann I wanted to post further corrections, he said late Nov. 1 that the topic has been “closed” (after five days of the discussion).

One that should have been allowed was correcting the claim by Suburban Chicago chapter president Debra Bethard-Caplick that I falsely said Society e-group participants are asked to sign a legal agreement.

I have one of the four-pagers in front of me that says e-group members are not allowed to forward any entries or make more than one copy of a posting and that signers agree to “submit to the personal jurisdiction of the courts in the State of New York for any cause of action” relating to the service.

SPJ Is Sitting on the Sidelines

Another needed correction is the claim that the Society of Professional Journalists has asked me to resign because I’m not living up to the SPJ Code.

Yann said on the Society website Oct. 19: “We have also provided Mr. O’Dwyer with a 23-page document that outlines our concerns with his professional conduct. His conduct also prompted the SPJ to invite Mr. O’Dwyer to resign his membership in that organization.”

SPJ executive director Joe Skeel e-mailed me that SPJ does not wish to get involved in the “situation” between the Society and me and if I can’t accept that I should resign. SPJ is making no judgment of my conduct.

PR Society Feared Lawsuit

Yann, replying to those who wanted to know why the Society itself did not circulate the 23 pages and instead sent them to me to publish, said: “Sending it privately to Mr. O’Dwyer and challenging him to make it public protects PRSA against possible legal action. While we’re certain there’s no merit to such a suit (we’ve simply used Mr. O’Dwyer’s own words and actions against him), frivolous lawsuits are filed in this country every day, and we’d prefer to avoid that distraction.”

Those 23 pages are loaded with defamatory statements and accusations supported by a few selected facts. It’s no wonder the Society was afraid to publish it. This legal work is being done by the 600-member firm of Venable, Washington, D.C.

Society Is Not 'Private'

A major legal claim by the Society is that it’s a “private” organization and none of this writer’s business. However, our lawyers say the Society is public starting with the first word in its name. Private companies do not have to file public tax returns showing income and expenses, salaries of the top eight staffers, stock trades and other information.

The Society is a 501/c/6 trade association that doesn’t pay taxes and is supposed to be as supportive of non-members as it is of its own members. It should not charge non-members any more than what it charges members for services, according to the ASAE’s Handbook of Assn. Law.

The Society’s charter says there shall be no “inurement” to officers or volunteers. An apparent violation of this is giving the more than 20 living ex-presidents and chairs free lifetime admittance to the annual conference ($1,075 yearly) and free lifetime dues ($255 as of Jan. 1).

Claim of AIDS Mention is False

A claim by Yann is that I alleged that the partner of 2004 president Del Galloway “died of AIDS—a disease which (rightly or wrongly) carries a strong social stigma—despite having been told specifically that AIDS was not the cause of death.”

Yann added: “Was that ethical journalistic conduct? If he worked at the New York Times, would he still have a job? At News of the World…maybe.”

No O’Dwyer publication or the O’Dwyer website ever mentioned the word AIDS in connection with the death of dentist Keith Francois until Melanie Husk, a co-worker of Galloway’s, said that Francois did not die of AIDS. She would not give the cause of death.

Added 1:22PM: Yann has correctly pointed out to the website that an editorial in the March 24, 2004 O’Dwyer NL (page eight) said that “the assumption being made by many PRSA Members is that Francois died of AIDS.” The editorial said members wonder “if Galloway is at risk.” It did not state that Francois died of AIDS, only that there was speculation of that.

The worry among members was justified because a high percentage of all men who die between the ages of 25-44 do so because of HIV/AIDS, according to 1994 statistics of the Centers for Disease Control. Those were the statistics available at that time.

The March 31, 2004 O’Dwyer NL noted in the same item that according to the Centers for Disease Control, HIV/AIDS in 1994 became the leading cause of death among all men aged 25-44, accounting for 23% of such deaths. The death rate among gays alone was higher, it said.

DeVries Launches Sneak Video Attack

Derek DeVries, who spearheaded the attack of the “Flash Mob” on this writer at the 2010 Assembly in the middle of an interview with Art Stevens, launched a sneak attack on me while I was sitting outside of the Society exhibit hall at the 2011 conference.

DeVries videotaped O'Dwyer talking on the phone outside of the 2011 Assembly and posted the clip on YouTube.
He stood behind me and videotaped the top of my head while recording what I was saying on the phone. Remarks of mine are also printed.

I didn’t find out about this sneak attack until someone sent me the video.

DeVries ran away after the attack in 2010 and has repeated that behavior in 2011. He should have stayed and talked to me. However, that would have required professionalism not to mention courage.

He is with Grand Rapids Community College and we wonder if it teaches this type of behavior.

He is also on the board of the West Michigan chapter and serves as communications committee co-chair.

A fellow board member is Kristin Mooney of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. I hope the Museum will look into this situation. President Ford’s name should not be attached in any way to the kind of attacks that the PR Society is making on me and the O’Dwyer Co.

West Michigan is the chapter of Prof. Tim Penning, who wrote an essay in the September 2008 Tactics on the need for PR pros to take part in public debate.

In addition to quoting John Milton and John Stuart Mill on the need for people to “allow and seek out opposing views,” Penning described the “two-way symmetrical model” of dialogue characterized by “collaboration, negotiation and mediation” as put forth by Professors James and Larissa Grunig.

“Let truth and falsehood grapple,” wrote Milton, “because whoever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.”

In order to be “ethical and democratic,” PR pros must seek opposing views, said Penning, a communications professor at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich.