PR’s effort to destroy mainstream media has succeeded beyond its “wildest imagination,” lawyer Delbert Spurlock told the ethics panel of PRSA/New York Sept. 8.


Spurlock, executive VP of the New York Daily News from 1993-2010, was general counsel of the U.S. Army from 1980-83 and then assistant secretary of the Army till 1989.

He hosts the Open Civics website whose goal is to encourage “young people entering their teens” to learn about American civic life.

He also said that “PR, to me, as it impacts on the civil structure of our country, is an extraordinarily deceptive practice. It divides Americans from themselves. It is deceptive in ways that are very subtle."

The New York chapter has added a link to the transcript of Spurlock’s remarks as well as a link to the video of the panel.

Transcript of Spurlock’s remarks:

Thank you Mr. Prosecutor. I want to identify myself with your opening statement. I thought it was extraordinary. I take issue with only one portion of it, and that is your identification of what you described as spin.

[Prosecutor Paul Holmes had said that while the “number of outright, bold-faced lies by PR people is relatively small, I believe we are all guilty of deception and misleading, we are guilty of sins of omission and sins of non-transparency, we are guilty far too often of intellectual dishonesty.” He also noted that many people refer to PR as “spin”].

My experience tells me that the concept of spin is a rather de minimus kind of a characterization of what has been going on, and as a matter of fact, you correctly described what was going on, and I think it is infinitely more monstrous, infinitely more damaging to the public interest than the characterization of spin.

Emmanuel [Tchividjian of Ruder Finn, organizer of the event] went through a nice, long recitation of where I’ve been in my life, and it’s basically been in public service, education and a few years around journalism. I characterize myself right now as being a civics teacher, a learning civics teacher, because we have abandoned the understanding of our civic environment in our school systems, and in our public discourse.

There IS no significant discussion within our media about the concept of the public interest. And if one looks at the characterization of what public relations represents, I have never seen any cogent, understandable reasonable explanation that did not include recourse to the public interest as an essential ingredient of the practice of the profession.

So the insidiousness and broad breadth of what the profession has been engaged in for, my experience for over 40 years in public service, is something diametrically opposed to the concept of the construction ethical content within the processes of public relations.

Let me give you an example, somewhat mundane I suppose, but nevertheless understandable for people beyond the expertise in this room. Public relations is a monolith, it is not simply an individualized operation of good conduct, good practice, individual ethics, the effectuation of Marquis de Queensbury kinds of rules among yourselves regarding the competition for business.

Public relations to me as it impacts on the civil structure of our country is an extraordinarily deceptive practice. It divides Americans from themselves. It is deceptive in ways which are very subtle. Let me give you an example that I think as I said would maybe resonate with people beyond this room. We think of, and it has propagated throughout the media, that Washington is the problem with our society.

The fact of the matter is New York is the problem with our society. New York is a failed state. New York is the center of world commerce and world commerce is not distributed rationally, fairly, among the people of the country or the world. New York is the center of world finance.

We know where world finance took us and has taken us and continues to take us. New York is the center of world diplomacy and it has been the springboard to war in our time. And holding it all together is the fact that New York is the center of world communications.

You are all part of that milieu, you are an integral part of it. The destruction of mainstream journalistic endeavor, I believe, is part of a public relations effort. I believe it has succeeded beyond the wildest imagination of those who established it in the first place.