The press has been taking somewhat of a pounding for playing the role of stenographer to the administration, and the spotlight on former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has recharged the batteries of that ongoing story. But it muck surrounding the tale has also slopped over onto journalist cousins in the public relations field.
The Public Relations Society of America has taken strong exception to comments made by CBS’s Andrew Cohen concerning McClellan last weekend. The fulcrum of dispute is Cohen’s statement that there is a touch of zen comedy to the McClellan debate, “And in L’Affair McClellan, that has come from the public relations community, where some now wonder whether the former flack violated the ‘ethics’ of his craft. Apparently, an industry the very essence of which is to try to convince people that a turkey is really an eagle has a rule that condemns lying." And he didn’t stop there: Noting the PR industry’s claim that it strives for honesty and accuracy, he said, “This clause strikes me as if the Burglars Association of America had as its creed ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal.’ Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘truthful,’ and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed.”
PRSA’s Jeffrey Julin fired back in a letter to Cohen, "Contrary to baseless assertions, truth and accuracy are the bread and butter of the public relations profession. In a business where success hinges on critical relationships built over many years with clients, journalists and a Web 2.0–empowered public, one’s credibility is the singular badge of viability. All professionals, including attorneys, accountants and physicians, aspire to ethical standards, and public relations professionals are no different, always striving for the ideal.”
RBR/TVBR observation: We’d have to agree that Cohen was out of line. Like any other profession, PR has its fair distribution of good and bad actors. And there is absolutely no percentage in a PR pro trying to play journalists for fools. But as journalists, we couldn’t help noticing we had company, and thought immediately of the words of the immortal Bob Dylan: “I would not feel so all alone – everybody must get stoned.”