The CBC radio program which I mentioned in a recent post dedicated to spin, journalism and public relations -in its second session last Friday- carried an interesting conversation between journalist Ira Basen, creator of the program, and Jim Lukaszevzki, a prominent and reputed New York based professional, consultant and teacher. …
Read it (or listen to it) for yourself here….
Its main interest, from my perspective, is the discussion over if, how and why public relators tell the truth. This is a question, you all will have experienced it, that comes up very often, and Jim tries hard to shed some light. Amongst other arguments, he claims that the truth is, in a small percentage facts, and a large percentage, perception. To support this he says that if you interview different and disinterested witnesses of a car accident, you will receive as many different versions.
Now, how really strong is this argument and what does it prove?
By saying that truth is perception, beyond the basic facts of an undeniable and true event, you imply that truth is subjective. If you say that truth is subjective, you are in turn implying that there are many different truths. Right? Right! Now where does this leave us with the original question which was ‘do public relators tell the truth?’.
Unfortunately, Jim, it leaves us nowhere.
The stereotype we face and that we must argue, without beating around the bush, is that we spin, or hide, or shade the truth to the best interest of our employer. And how true is this claim?
To pick up from your argument: how much of this claim is true and how much is it perception? One could say that this sophistic argument only helps in reinforcing that stereotype. No?
Of course we are not payed to and expected to say the truth! Blasphemy?
In the Italian language we have three terms:
°la verità– the truth (i.e. there has been a car accident)
°un argomento veritiero– contains a truth (the car was a Volvo, but I do not say how many people were in it, nor how the accident came to be)
°un argomento verosimile– a seemingly true argument (i.e. presumably the two cars collided because one jumped into the opposite lane).
If you accept this distinction, a public relator (beyond the more obvious facts whose truth noone denies) never tells the truth. His arguments, whenever possible, contain elements of truth, and more rarely they are seemingly true. Let me explain. Unless you take an ideological view of the term, the truth betond the basic facts does not exist. A professional who claims to always tell the truth and nothing but the truth is probably more harmful to our reputation than one who always lies.
We struggle to tell as many truths as possible (otherwise where does our credibility go? And this might even to some seem an oxymoronic question, but you will at least admit that some of us have more credibility than others….no? at least in relative terms…come on…).
When, instead, we are obliged to tell seemingly truths, then we must be
a) very very cautious, because this is very tricky…
b) always explicit that they are seemingly true to our interlocutor …
and as these discussions go on be fully aware that more and more we will find ourselves also under scrutiny by the judiciary.
We must be cautious because by saying seemingly truths we raise expectations and influence behaviours without certainty of what we have said. Thus, before doing so, the serious professional must make a very quick but detailed cost/benefit analysis from the perspective of the interlocutors’ best interest (as it is honestly perceived by the professional…of course) to see if his benefits from those seemingly truths, should they be true are more advantageous than the eventual negative consequence of those seemingly truths for him/her, if they eventually turn out to be not true.