However, strangely on the sidelines in this battle is a group of journalists that I have belonged to for 50 years -- the New York Financial Writers Assn.
The silence of our fellow reporters no doubt has emboldened PRS to the point where it not only refuses to answer any of our questions (or the same questions put to them by four PRS Fellows), but where it had guards stationed in front of last year’s Assembly, the exhibit hall, and all conference sessions to block our entrance.
NY Law Journal features O'Dwyer legal victory in 1995.
Other PR trade reporters were allowed to all the plenary sessions and the opening night reception of the 2011 PRS conference.
Blocking me while admitting them was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says equal benefits must be provided at a public accommodation to everyone regardless of whether they have disabilities or not.
It is illegal to give admittance to some reporters and not to others.
This writer’s complaint to the U.S. Justice Dept. because of our treatment at the 2011 conference is still being considered.
Confident of the silence of NYFWA as well as the Society of Professional Journalists, PRS COO Bill Murray and 2010 chair Gary McCormick came to my office on March 19, 2010 and told me for about an hour that I was too reprehensible a figure to deal with.
When I demanded to have the charges against me spelled out, Murray and 2011 chair Rosanna Fiske published 23 pages of them (PDF). They did not dare present them to my face. When I started to rebut them one by one on that website, the discussion was shut down after four days.
A campaign of defamation was launched by VP-PR Arthur Yann and PRS members on the Society’s own website, e-mails to Ragan, Advertising Age, PR Watch, Lucy Siegal’s blog, thegoodthebadthespin blog and others that called me “a pig,” “unhinged,” “a scoundrel,” “flat-out liar,” and one who “acts on warped, false and misleading information.”
Senator Krueger took about one day to decide that the PRS boycott was improper and sent a letter May 9 to Murray saying it was “deeply concerning given your status as a tax-exempt industry trade association.”
Staffers in Krueger’s office said PRS’s response was to send a package of “materials” about me by bicycle messenger. They were obviously dumped into the trash where they belong because Senator Krueger stuck by her opinion in which she “wholeheartedly” seconds the statement of the NPC.
NYFWA’s current silence is no surprise to me.
It apparently does not want to do something that might annoy the PR executives who bankroll its annual “Financial Follies” that raised $388,000 in 2010 (latest year available). Cash/savings as of Jan. 31, 2011 were $576,000. Dues of $10,155 were collected. Regular dues are $50.
The 70th anniversary show will be Nov. 16, 2012. About 1,000 will be present including hundreds of reporters who are guests of companies that pay $3,500 for a table of ten or $400 per ticket.
My first disappointment with NYFWA came in 1994 when NYFWA member Dean Rotbart sued me personally and the O’Dwyer Co. for $21 million, charging I libeled him with an erroneous transcript of his speech to the 1993 PRS conference, forced him to cancel a 30-city tour of his “Newsroom Confidential” workshops, and subjected him to “unfair competition.”
What I reported was that Rotbart described the influence of ads and news tips on news coverage. A former Wall Street Journal reporter and graduate of the Columbia J School, he said WSJ staffers knew about the illegal activities of Ivan Boesky, who later went to jail on various charges, but did not report them because Boesky gave the reporters so many valuable news tips.
Rotbart wondered if certain Fortune magazine writers were buttering up famous CEOs in hopes they would be hired to do bios on the CEOs. I sent writers at Fortune and other business publications who were mentioned by name large sections of the speech because they wanted to see in what context they were mentioned. Less than 800 words of the 14,000-word presentation were ever used in O’Dwyer media on the Rotbart address as advised by our law firm.
Rotbart’s description of tips and ads being keys to editorial placements was right on target. The only problem was that the PRS code specifically forbade the use of ads or tips as levers to gain coverage. Rotbart was describing, but not advocating, the use of such tactics.
The last place he should have been giving his speech was to a PRS audience. Whoever signed up Rotbart had neglected to find out what he was saying. This was hard to do because signing an oath of confidentiality was required of anyone going to his sessions, for which he charged up to $350. He and PRS cut a deal that gave PRS perpetual, unlimited copyright to the hour and 40-minute presentation in return for featuring him at the 1993 conference in Orlando. This contract came out early in the suit.
PRS videotaped the presentation with two cameras and was going to offer it for sale as a feature of its library. My revelation of the unethical nature of the practices described resulted in PRS never offering it for sale. Rotbart also cancelled a planned 30-city tour of his presentation.
I thought I had quite a scoop and shared all my notes with NYT media reporter William Glaberson. I wanted as many journalists a possible to know what Rotbart was saying about them.
Glaberson wolfed down what I told him and wrote 926 words, almost a full column. He called up Business Week editor Stephen Shepard and quoted him as saying about Rotbart: “This guy passes himself off as an independent media critic. He’s not. He is serving the PR community and is presenting a cynical and highly warped view of the major news organizations.”
Glaberson mistakenly wrote I made a “secret tape” of the speech. Actually, I was a PRS-credentialed reporter with a press badge and Rotbart acknowledged my presence at one point. I went to the front of the room and took a number of pictures including those of two crews who were making videotapes. I recorded the speech to insure the accuracy of my quotes and only intended to use a few of the quotes. All the stories I wrote were checked with a law firm to insure quotes were kept to a minimum and copyright was not violated.
Although PRS supposedly is dedicated to “truth and accuracy,” it would not give me the right to print the entire Rotbart presentation which would have ended the lawsuit. It would have shown that there were no material inaccuracies in O’Dwyer coverage.
In tossing all the charges against me personally and the O’Dwyer Co., New York Superior Court Judge John Martin said I was a “good reporter.”
More than 30 PR executives, including Howard Rubenstein, contributed to an O’Dwyer Defense Fund.
Media including the American Journalism Review reported extensively on the lawsuit.
AJR, in a full-page editorial, called the suit “serious business, and may well make new law.”
The New York Law Journal, covering the O’Dwyer victory Feb. 7, 1995, made it the top middle story on its first page with the headline: “Fair Use Exception Allows Excerpting of Rival’s Speech.”
Although the NY Times was glad to use my story about the Rotbart presentation, it never wrote a word about the lawsuit or the O’Dwyer victory. The story was also ignored by the Columbia Journalism Review and Quill magazine of SPJ. Biggest membership contingent at NYFWA is the 26 students of the Columbia J School. Next biggest memberships are 15 at Bloomberg and 11 at Reuters. NYT and New York Post have two members each while the biggest category of members by far is the 97 “freelancers,” mostly members who have lost jobs. This category was minimal 20 years ago.
I’m astounded at the ingratitude of NYT after I helped its reporters with two major stories.
NYU reporter Winnie Hu spent at least two hours in my office in 2001 to gathering materials on the death of Denny Griswold, who reigned for many years as the “Queen of PR.”
I exclusively reported Griswold’s death and that fact that she was in virtual captivity the last five years of her life at the Wilton Meadows facility in Wilton, Conn. PR friends failed to contact her by any means although all they had to do was go to the police.
I gave Hu documents I had obtained from state officials and much background on Denny. Hu’s 938-word story took up nearly a column. My calls and e-mails to Hu on the various PRS boycotts never drew a response.
NYT’s failure to cover the PRS boycott although it devoted its entire ad column last November to the quest of PRS for a new definition of PR is indefensible and borders on the scandalous.
PRS could not withstand a major NYT story on the boycott and its other practices that resulted in “The Committee for a Democratic PRS” being formed in 2010.