PR and corruption theater

Today was about public relations — but not about the public.

What was exposed in Parliament during the Murdochs’ testimony wasn’t necessarily News Corp. — we shall see what happens to it — but instead the cozy, closed ties between institutional journalism and institutional government. The corruption of their close links was what was most shocking about today: news executives and politicians at lunch and spas and sporting events; news executives hired by politicians and police to give advice and spin their ex-colleagues; news reporters paying police; news executives sneaking through the back door to the seat of power; government officials being protected from hearing too much about the dirty work of news…..

Can this institutional incest survive the Murdoch affair? We’d better not allow it — we, the public.

Today was all about theater and manipulation, of course. The only question was, who wrote the scripts? Was Rupert Murdoch’s dottiness a strategy handed down from Edelman or was that him abandoning his libretto to declare himself suddenly humble (if that’s humility…)? Was James coached to be a parody of a droning MBA? Was it in the crisis-management script for Rupert to decline responsibility for the scandal in his company and to blame those below him and those below them? Was it in his PR script to lash out at his competitors to for causing him to lose BSkyB, and not at himself?

Among the day’s many ironies was Rupert Murdoch extolling transparency. The reason I pulled Public Parts from his publisher, HarperCollins, was because I use his company as the best example I could find of opacity as strategy: the company behind walls. The problem through his entire scandal is one of hiding the truth from the authorities and the public.

Transparency would be true public relations. Transparency would have cured News Corp.’s crimes years ago. But it didn’t.

Jay Rosen was trying to figure out the News Corp. PR strategy — and Edelman’s strategy for taking it on. Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post and a fine tweeter, argued that “good crisis management can lead to good, not just spin.” Richard Sambrook, former BBC News exec now at Edelman, concurred.

I don’t buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades — PR and the law — could not be googlified because they depend on clients. They cannot be transparent. They cannot be honest.

True public relations — like marketing — must represent the public — the customer — and not the company. True government must work for and not rule the public. True journalism will not exploit its community. I was struck today by the class structure still evident in British news: poshish Rebekah Brooks pandering to the Cockney masses. No, true journalism will act as a platform for the public.

  • http://dominoconsultant.org Mike Smith

    Nice Jeff. Posted to reddit.

  • J. Conlin

    Jeff, I agree with you to a certain degree …

    Public relations has a duty to serve mutually beneficial interests and outcomes, i.e. their clients’ publics, their clients as well as their own. “Quality” public relations is based upon characteristics of honest, ethical relationship development (trust, control mutuality, satisfaction and commitment), which benefits org. reputation and even share price.

    And you’re right, transparency is a key part of the equation. But, when your org. relationships are not founded on honesty, but rather deceit, greed and corruption, the relationship bonds that could be made of steel (used to support your organization and avoid the need for litigation) are wafer thin (and fall like a house of cards).

    Beyond untangling this web and coming clean inside and out, this company needs time, meaningful ethics training, and to demonstrate marked change to its publics for catharsis.

  • http://www.prsa.org/ Keith Trivitt

    Well said, Jeff. You are quite right in noting that “transpare­ncy would be true public relations” and that transparen­cy would have improved News Corp’s reputation years ago.

    A commitment to transparen­t and ethical communicat­ions is the cornerston­e of the Public Relations Society of America and what we advocate for PR profession­als around the world to practice via our Code of Ethics (http://bit­.ly/9VZZCQ), and indeed, was discussed by PRSA’s Chair and CEO, Rosanna Fiske, in the Jay Rosen post you cite about News Corp’s PR strategy.

    For News Corp to have any chance of winning back shareholde­rs’, the public’s or the media’s trust, not to mention restoring its reputation­, the company must come forward with a commitment to transparen­t and forthright communicat­ions regarding who knew what and when within the company and just how pervasive the hacking truly was. The excuses that both Murdochs laid out yesterday that many others on Fleet Street have been hacking may have some truth to it (time will surely tell), but it does little to win the public back on its side.

    More of PRSA’s commentary on how News Corp has handled its response to this growing crisis can be found here: http://bit­.ly/pzvN4b

    Keith Trivitt
    Associate Director of Public Relations
    Public Relations Society of America
    http://www­.prsa.org/

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  • none

    I wish americans wouldn’t comment on our issues. You get nonsensical comments such as:

    “was struck today by the class structure still evident in British news: poshish Rebekah Brooks pandering to the Cockney masses.”

    Try telling people in Liverpool they are cockney or the 1 million + “posh” readers of the news of the world. If you don’t understand who reads the paper, don’t comment.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > I wish americans wouldn’t comment on our issues. You get nonsensical comments

    FWIW, I have the same complaint about non-Americans commenting on American issues.

    Some of them defend their practice with “but what American does affects us”. If valid, is Murdoch’s US presence enough to make it apply here? (I don’t think that it’s valid but ….)