At least that’s the opinion of one Andrew Cohen a lawyer turned communications expert who delivered a scathing editorial on the public relations industry a few weeks ago on CBS Sunday Morning.
Cohen condemned our industry based on a new book written by Scott McClellan, President Bush’s former Press Secretary.
In the book McClellan said he was told to manipulate information to help sell the American people on the war in Iraq. Apparently part of his job was to deceive the public on the weapons of mass destruction issue, providing the foundation for the strategy to send our troops to the Middle East.
Cohen said… “Show me a PR person who is accurate and truthful and I’ll show you a PR person who is unemployed.”
He said the reason companies or government hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful.
I consider myself a PR professional who is employed. So I guess I am a liar.
Let’s see in the past year I have probably lied about my weight, the number of gray hairs on my head, my time in the 10K, my golf handicap and a few other things.
And yes, as PR people we are trained to lie. Let’s see in Journalism school I took a bunch of courses that have helped advance my career.
There was Lying 120: Basic elements and Misinformation.
Lying 300: Creating Half-truths and Innuendo.
And for gifted students, Honors Lying: How to Create Information That is Totally False and Deceitful.
I actually “aced” Lying 300 when my professor caught me cheating on the final exam. He heard me talking to another student and asked why he shouldn’t fail me right then and there.
I told him I was having a panic attack and was merely asking for help for the past 20minutes. I told him the attack had subsided and I was competent I could now complete and pass the exam.
He said, “That’s a perfect response. A great lie if I ever heard one. Mr. Turner you embody everything this course and the Public Relations profession is designed to be.”
Truthfully I have met dozens if not hundreds of PR people over the years. While none were press secretaries to a President or the main spokesperson for a Fortune 500 company, most are hard-working professionals trying to eek out a living.
Nearly all belong to the Public Relations Society of America and do their best to adhere to a code of ethics.
Our job is to communicate the positions of our clients or client-companies to the public through the media. We may take the glass is half-full approach as opposed to half empty but we don’t make-up information or knowingly triple the real quarterly earnings of a business just to get a story.
Sure there are a few bad PR apples in the bunch but then there might be a few bad lawyers as well or bad physicians or bad plumbers, you think?
Cohen’s verbal pillage of an entire industry because one person didn’t have the courage to step away from something he did not believe in, is, in and of itself, creating misinformation.
In fact it’s just deceitful.