McClellan, PRSA, Cohen and CBS, You Tube, Harold Burson, Jack O’Dwyer, Myself and…boy what a blunder!

As professionals, we know only too well how often we are called on to discover or even create reasonable opportunities for published visibility, as well as to rouse and galvanize internal/external stakeholder groups when a client or employer’s reputation is in a critical condition (or, more recently, even in business as usual circumstances).
So what else is new?…..

In my view, one hell of a lot… and there could be no better and more adequate case than the recent US based incident, which involved (only to name a few):
°Scott McClellan and his new book (“What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs);
°the PRSA leadership and some of its members;
°Andrew Cohen, a legal affairs commentator of CBS
°and other respected members of our professional community.

Before even attempting to narrate the story, so that everyone is in a condition to participate to a conversation which I believe vital for our profession, please consider a few caveats in this narration:

a- the case history approach risks to omit facts, motivations and references which are not accessible (or I have failed in tracing);

b- attentive readers are authorised to believe that I selected this case (and might even be tempted to misrepresent it) due to my longstanding and special relationship with Jack Odwyer, who is certainly not a friend of the PRSA’s leadership and clearly did not, even this time, miss to rant on this case.
I am well aware of this bias, but I nevertheless choose to proceed because the case is truly compelling and highly instructive…

c- it is clearly much easier to observe, analyse and criticise rather than to operate….and I have no idea of what I would have done had I found myself in the same circumstances (most probably nothing at all..).

Ok, sorry for this long intro, and lets go:

a new book by George Bush’s former press secretary, in which the author candidly(?) discloses episodes in which, while representing the White House, he blatantly lied to published opinion in order to mould American and foreign public opinions in support of the President’s objectives, raised the usual and expectable media cloud;

this episode convinces PRSA leadership to issue a loud and proud public statement in which the incident is condemned on professional ethical grounds. This without ever mentioning the (minor?) fact that McClellan had never been a member of PRSA and therefore had never signed a commitment to respect its code of conduct;

this public statement draws an irate and aggressive column by CBS’s Andrew Cohen who takes this opportunity to vomit his grotesque bile against public relations per se;

this, in turn, inspires PRSA leadership to send a blast email to all members which explicitly invites them to relay comments to CBS and which literally says:
> PRSA today submitted a letter in response to a commentary on CBS
> Sunday Morning by legal analyst Andrew Cohen in which he challenged
> the integrity of the public relations profession.
> If you wish to post your own response on the CBS Website, you may do
> so by clicking here
> Thank you,

> Unquote,
thus once more inducing mr. Cohen, on the one hand to apologise for having generalised but, on the other, to give him the opportunity to take an easy shot against PRSA accused of having consciously provoked a hate campaign;

not satisfied, PRSA also enters the stage of the twenty-first century by posting and distributing a lengthy and visual statement on You Tube;

finally, as one would have easily expected, strong egos with personal agendas intervene: Jack Odwyer accuses jack PRSA of longstanding unethical practices; Harold Burson turns a burning professional issue into a witty, memorable but highly personal reaction and….I must add (don’t really know whether I should…but the so called disclosure paradigm of social media obliges me), my own self with this post, grinding my well known axe of disconcerted and melachonic criticism of how professional associations fail in their attempts to improve the profession’s (or even only the single association) license to operate in today’s society.

Let me know your comments..what would you have done? How would you have handled the case?

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One Reply to “McClellan, PRSA, Cohen and CBS, You Tube, Harold Burson, Jack O’Dwyer, Myself and…boy what a blunder!”

  1. A dramatic case, indeed! As far as I’m concerned, Toni, this is an issue of politics more than it is PR. That being said, there is certainly something to be said about the way PRSA dealt with the situation.
    The email blast in itself was not an unethical action– it really does not differ from an email blast used by organizations to draw attention to a recent white paper, podcast, etc. with the intention of snagging some coverage, sales, whatever. My issue is with the language of the email; could it not have been more cleverly crafted? We are wordsmiths– to put such a simple message out really does undermine our ability and, in effect, prove Cohen right.
    I admire PRSA’s use of social media. You tube is one great way to get your message out quickly with conviction.

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