Tracy Schario, communications officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, has put the spotlight on Pew, one of the biggest charities in the U.S., by running for Mid-Atlantic director of the PR Society.

CEO Rebecca Rimel’s support of an “unfettered and robust press” and her belief that citizens to have the right to “basic information on candidates’ issue positions” are in direct conflict with PRS policies and practices.

Rimel should direct Schario to behave like a real, live candidate and answer the questions that have been put to her by members and the press.

They include whether APR should be removed as a requirement for national office; whether proxies should be used in the Assembly; where is the full list of Assembly delegates?; should PRS PDF the members’ directory?; should reporters be allowed in the Assembly?; publish the transcript of the Assembly again?; whether the Assembly should be the ultimate policy authority like it is for the ABA, AMA and the major professions, and whether reporters should be allowed to join and have access to Society financial reports.

Rimel, president and CEO of Pew since 1994, is a former emergency room nurse who joined the staff in 1983 as health program manager.

Journalist Tracked Rimel’s Career

She boosted her career at Pew, according to Philadelphia journalist Noel Weyrich, by becoming second-in-command to Pew president Thomas Langfitt.

Weyrich wrote in the August 2004 Philadelphia Magazine that Langfitt “fired just about every senior staff in the house—except Rimel.”

His critical article is one of the few on Rimel on the web except for bios and other materials generated by Pew itself.

Weyrich calls her “the most feared woman” in Philadelphia and says she is rarely interviewed by the press.

He is especially mystified at why it should cost so much money to give away money.

Pew, with revenues of $303M in the year ended June 30, 2010 (latest figures available), made grants totaling $110.9M and spent $71.5M on salaries/benefits for its 683 employees. Payroll costs jumped 46% from the $48.9M spent in the previous year. EIN: 56-2307147.

Rimel’s pay totaled $1,071,525 and included $665,063 base pay; $350,729 retirement and other deferred pay; $42,947 in “other,” and $12,786 in nontaxable benefits.

Ten other executives were at the $200K+ level. Staff has expanded from fewer than 60 employees when she became CEO.

Wikipedia puts Pew’s endowment at $5 billion while other estimates range from $3.5B to $4.5B. [Source is Sun Oil Co. (Sunoco) family members.] Weyrich wrote that switching from a private foundation to a 501c/3 public charity meant it had “the fattest pile of unrestricted cash in the entire charity world.”

It acquired “vast new abilities to run its own projects, raise money from other foundations, lobby Congress and even start for-profit spin-offs,” wrote Weyrich. It spent $3.6M on lobbying in fiscal 2009.

Will PRS Candidates Stonewall for 2.5 Months?

Schario and the other PRS candidates so far are refusing to answer questions sent to them by this website as well as members and non-members.

The nominating committee invites comments from members and non-members but another part of PRS blocks members from answering questions without the permission of the PR dept. Members can file challenges to any of the candidates up until Sept. 13.

Are the candidates going to follow precedent and stonewall for the next two-and-a-half months?

Rimel’s 2012 statement says “citizens need basic information on candidates’ issue positions” and that an “unfettered and robust press is indispensable to a well-informed populace.

We have described the stonewalling by Schario and the other candidates to Rimel and Pew staffers and hope that she and they will urge the candidates to face the PRS electorate.

Press Interference at Record Levels

Institutional and government resistance to press coverage has reached record levels according to UNESCO, the NewYork Times, the Society of Professional Journalists and the common experience of reporters in dealing with institutions.

Almost all calls to blue chip companies and major institutions are screened by administrative assistants. In many cases, reporters’ only recourse is to put a question into a website “question box” and hope for a reply. Almost all communications will be in the form of e-mails which are supervised by the legal, financial and other depts.

Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights of UNESCO, expressed alarm in April that not only have 372 journalists been killed since 2006, many of them hunted down and murdered rather than suffering death in a combat zone, but that many thousands of other journalists have been blocked by governments and institutions while trying to do their jobs.

Worst of all, she said, is that such crimes are committed with “impunity” because governments and professional associations look the other way.

UNESCO published a 51-page report on press attacks and has promised a program aimed at cutting down on press interference.

NYT Editor Abramson Says “Worst Ever”

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said June 16 that information from the U.S. government has never been “harder to dislodge.”

Addressing the Investigative Reporters & Editors in Boston, she said the Obama Administration has brought six prosecutions involving leaks which is more than double such actions in all previous administrations.

Sources “fear legal retribution for even talking to reporters,” she said, adding that “reporters fear being hit with subpoenas or even prosecuted themselves.”

Abramson said the family of Air Force veteran Thomas Drake was subjected to years of torture when he was accused of lying and obstructing justice. Drake and others criticized the “Trailblazer” National Security Agency project that was to have analyzed worldwide data. Drake said there was a better and cheaper program. All but one of the charges against him were dropped in June 2011 (unauthorized use of a government computer).

John Ensslin, SPJ president, said in March that an SPJ survey showed that seven of ten D.C. reporters believe the public is not getting the information it needs because of barriers being imposed by PA officers.

NYT columnist David Carr complained on Jan. 29, 2012 that “The modern CEO lives behind a wall of communications operatives, many of whom ladle out slop meant to obscure rather than reveal.” Reporters end up dealing with “underlings” who provide “written statements that state nothing,” he said.

Institutions Need Training, Not Journalists

Despite evidence of the almost total collapse of institutional PR from a reporter’s viewpoint, chronicled by NYT reporter Claudia Deutsch as far back as May 31, 1987 in an article titled “The Haves—and Have Nots—in PR” (the “Haves” being the agency side and the “Have Nots” being the corporate side), journalism school are based on the premise that journalists rather than the institutions they cover need to be “trained.”

A body of literature has built up that disputes that including the cover story in the July 1993 New Republic by Michael Lewis titled, “J-school Ate My Brain,” the November 2010 essay by Harper’s columnist Thomas Frank in which he describes the “collapse” of journalism and says, “This may be the worst time ever to attend a J school,” and Atlanta journalist Richard Sine’s piece in the Huffington Post titled “Close the J-Schools.” A student might as well take up blacksmithing or bloodletting, he wrote.

Pew Tracks Decline in Belief in Press

The “Pew Research Center for the People and the Press” has tracked the decline in public’s belief in the accuracy of reporting since 1985.

Its latest report, published Sept. 22, 2011, had such headlines as “Press Widely Criticized”; “More See Press Hurting Democracy”; “Broad Criticism of Press Performance,” and “Partisan Perceptions of the News Media” (Republicans are more critical of the press than Democrats).

Said Pew: “The widely-shared belief that news stories are inaccurate cuts to the press’s core mission. Just 25% say that in general news organizations get the facts straight while 66% say stories are often inaccurate. As recently as four years ago, 39% said news organizations mostly get the facts straight and 53% said stories are often inaccurate.”

Pew also notes that the public has greater faith in the accuracy of favorite media.

Institutional Stonewalling Ignored

There is no acknowledgement of the stonewalling that has become standard at corporations and institutions. Institutions, including Pew, especially need training in the need to report their finances promptly and fully.

The latest IRS Form 990 available from Pew via GuideStar or Foundation Center 990 Finder is for fiscal 2009, the year ending in June 30, 2010.

There’s no reason that non-profits cannot report their unaudited financial results within one month of the close of the fiscal year, a practice followed by all public companies. The PR Society reports unaudited quarterly financials so there is no reason for it to withhold its annual financial report until nearly mid-year. Reporters are barred from seeing any of those reports.

Corporations and institutions need to be trained on how to hold press conferences and deal with the press other than via e-mails.

We wonder whose side Pew is on—the press or institutions? The last thing needed in this period of corporate/institutional insularity is the PR Society conducting a press boycott and indulging in numerous information-withholding and information-blocking practices.

PRS’s legal bill of $400,465 in the last five available years (while no staff time has been spent at all on “ethics”) speaks volumes.