Yes Man, I’m Troubled

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I’m so incredulous about Monday’s faux press conference to announce the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “reversal” on climate change that I’m not sure where to begin.

As a student cramming for the APR readiness review and exam, I’m dumbfounded.  How can a multiple choice exam assess my ability to apply PRSA’s code of ethics when privately funded morons like the Yes Men group have been pulling stunts like this for years?  I hope the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Press Club sue them for defamation.

Since many of my APR study group colleagues hadn’t heard of the fiasco, in summary:
Liberal activists staged a fake press conference, distributed a fraudulent press release, and created a sham Web site announcing that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was now supporting the assault on free trade and more business taxes. (OK. While I am a big proponent of alternative energies and grew up on the sustainability bandwagon in farm country—long before it was trendy—I think global warming is influenced at least as much by nature as by human interference. We should all relax before we legislate our way into an unsustainable utopia. Have another hit at the Oxygen bar. Remember those at the tech trade shows in the go-go days of the 1990s?)

On Monday morning, broadcast media reported the “ breaking news” as it was happening. Since I didn’t fault CNN for reporting on the Coast Guard drill on 9/11, I guess I should support the media in this case too? No. CNBC and others didn’t double source the story before running with it.  The media (and PR practitioners) have a responsibility to verify first and then report. It wasn’t until Fox Business News called the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did anyone realize it was a hoax (according to The Washington Post accounting).

If I were spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I’d be beyond livid. As someone who has prepared many crisis plans and spoken at conferences on the topic of crisis communications and reputation management, I’m flabbergasted. Even Greenpeace and PETA don’t sink so low as to impersonate their enemies. This recent stagecraft reinforces why hi-jinx scenarios should be in the crisis plan of every corporation/association/government/university.

Finally, I can’t bite my tongue any longer.  Why is the PRSay blog silent on this topic and so many others?  The last entry is from Oct. 15 – on measurement – another promotion for PRSA research.  Mike. Bill. PRSA leaders. Please stop obsessing about every blog post and BE the voice of the industry. Take a chance on “instant analysis” once in awhile and have a timely opinion. Get someone who can write daily and say something that stimulates dialogue. The blog is so corporate and instructional that it’s boring.

But I digress. What’s most troubling about this farce, balloon boy, Tom DeLay on Dancing with the Stars and so many other dilemmas in a YouTube world? We often forget to pause, question, and then judge. Every day, regardless of profession, we should take care to think twice – erring on the side of accuracy, not immediacy. It’s worth the trouble.

2 Responses to “Yes Man, I’m Troubled”

  • b j Altschul Says:

    Interesting that during WAMU’s pledge drive today, one of the on-air campaigners pointed to NPR’s efforts at accuracy. Better to be right and second, third or even fourth with the story; otherwise, once the wrong info goes viral, you’re sunk.

    I can only hope both so-called and wannabe journalists take heed. When the media have to back-pedal because they didn’t take time to check the facts first, it wastes not only *their* time making the correction, but *our* time as listeners — who would much prefer to be well-informed.

  • Robin Kendall Says:

    Thanks for writing this and telling the PRSA leaders to practice what they preach. We need more public relations professionals like you to speak out on what is important and how to prevent these hoaxes from taking the audience’s attention away from the real problems we need to solve.

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