Monthly Archives: May 2008

Rachael Ray: Terrorist?

This is a great country. In the span of about 24 hours I’ve had the opportunity to write about the nadir of ethics (Scott McClellan) and the pinnacle of political correctness (Dunkin’ Donuts). And I don’t believe Rachael Ray is a terrorist. There. I’ve said it. Scott McClellan: If you know something I don’t about this Rachael Ray debacle — speak up now.

Anyway, here’s the story. Rachael Ray has been doing a series of ads for Dunkin’ Donuts. In the latest one, she was wearing a black-and-white scarf. The problem? Conservative Fox News talking head Michelle Malkin, and others, opined that the scarf looked like a keffiyeh, described in a Boston.com article, “Dunkin’ Donuts yanks Rachael Ray ad,” as a traditional headdress worn by Arab men.

Here’s from the article:

Some observers, including ultra-conservative Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, were so incensed by the ad that there was even talk of a Dunkin’ Donuts boycott.

‘‘The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad,’’ Malkin yowls in her syndicated column.

‘‘Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons.’’

The company at first pooh-poohed the complaints, claiming the black-and-white wrap was not a keffiyeh. But the right-wing drumbeat on the blogosphere continued and by yesterday, Dunkin’ Donuts decided it’d be easier just to yank the ad.

Oh, mama. I wonder what Starbucks would have done?

Adrants puts this fiasco into historical context. Yet it troubles me that Dunkin’ Donuts would cave on this — especially at a time when it appears that we can’t get any honest answers from our own government about the “war on terrorism.” And when companies are lined up to sponsor the Summer Olympics in a country that should raise some concerns beyond who is wearing a black-and-white scarf.

Well, I guess what I am saying is that I would stand next to Rachael Ray on this one even if she were wearing nothing. Ah, that didn’t come out exactly right. But you get the point.

And then there is Scott McClellan. Plenty of articles to read today if you are interested in him and his book. But here’s the lead from a story that was on the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal this morning:

From Beacon Journal wire services
WASHINGTON: In a White House full of Bush loyalists, none was more loyal than Scott McClellan, the bland press secretary who spread the company line for all the government to follow each day. His word, it turns out, was worthless, his confessional memoir a glimpse into Washington’s world of spin and even outright deception.

Gee, wonder what Michele Malkin and her counterparts believe is the bigger threat to our country and democracy. A White House press secretary who can’t tell the truth — or a celebrity who is wearing a scarf in a Dunkin’ Donuts ad?

WTF

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Scott McClellan, ethics and public relations

It appears that former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan wants to tell the truth. Finally. Here’s my reaction: What took you so long? I guess that another thought that comes to mind is douche bag. But I digress.

McClellan has written a book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.” Michael D. Shear, writing in The Washington Post this morning (“Ex-Press Aide Writes That Bush Misled U.S. on Iraq“):

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in a new memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated “political propaganda campaign” led by President Bush and aimed at “manipulating sources of public opinion” and “downplaying the major reason for going to war.”

McClellan includes the charges in a 341-page book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” that delivers a harsh look at the White House and the man he served for close to a decade. He describes Bush as demonstrating a “lack of inquisitiveness,” says the White House operated in “permanent campaign” mode, and admits to having been deceived by some in the president’s inner circle about the leak of a CIA operative’s name.

OK. Ho-hum. Is there a thinking person anywhere in the world that doesn’t believe this to be true — and who hasn’t come to the same conclusion months maybe years before now? (And if you are interested in more detail about McClellan and his book, which apparently goes on sale next week, here’s an article by Mike Allen on Politico.com, “Exclusive: McClellan whacks Bush, White House.”

The question is where was McClellan when all this was taking place? When he was getting paid as the public voice/face of the administration? I expect that being White House press secretary is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Every comment counts. Small mistakes matter. You are expected to be knowledgeable on a host of very complex domestic and international issues. And in theory at least you are dealing daily with some of the best and most experienced reporters in the world. I wouldn’t want the job. And I doubt that I could do it.

Yet McClellan wanted it. Doesn’t that job come with some obligation to tell the truth? To serve the American people as well as the administration? And if so, why didn’t he say or do something when events were unfolding — not years later after the damage has been done? I don’t know. He’s not alone in this. And it’s unfair to focus on Scott McClellan given the administration’s record for openness and honestly in total.

Yet we talk about truth, ethics and professionalism a lot in public relations. Wouldn’t it be great for the public to see some examples of these principles in action in a venue where they really should matter?

Instead, here is the view that many see — and I believe it helps shape an overall negative opinion of public relations and public relations professions. It’s a clip from the Imus in the Morning program.

Anyway, I expect that McClellan will be a guest now on all the talk shows promoting the book. Since I know the talking head hosts are busy these days, here two questions I would ask the former press secretary.

If you knew all this at the time, why didn’t you say something publicly? Or resign?

Gee, then we might have had some open and honest discussions at a time when they actually mattered.

Education, issues and working families

For some reason yesterday seemed more like Labor Day than Memorial Day. Maybe it’s the weather here in Northeast Ohio. Is the sun on vacation? Maybe it’s the presidential campaign that never ends. Maybe it’s because I’ve pretty much made the transition from teaching to working for Corporate Voices for Working Families. So it’s back to work — even on a less than full-time basis.

I really believe there are some big issues facing this country in general and all of us as individuals. And I’m excited at this point in my life and career to have a national forum to talk about some of them. And who knows. Maybe I’ll have some success in creating some understanding and consensus issues involving working families in a way that might contribute in some small way to solutions. Or at least, and most likely more realistically, sparking some honest discussions among people who are very passionate and much more  knowledgeable than I am about these issues and problems.

I’m planning to continue to write here about public relations. I have a strong belief that communication matters and that when practiced honestly and ethically contributes to the success of organizations and to the future of our country.

And I believe in journalism and that journalists make a difference in our communities and in our nation and beyond. I’m not ready yet to accept the idea that the decline of the so-called old media — with its emphasis on ethics and professionalism — it that big a step in the right direction. So I’ll keep at it here.

But truthfully, folks, whether CEOs blog or not, as an example, isn’t likely to top the list of my concerns these days. There really are bigger fish to fry.

Saying that — I know that those and a host of other topics are important to people working in public relations in an agency or other setting. And I’ll continue to opine when I can add something to the discussion. Or share something that I believe is particularly interesting — such as the post this morning by Brian Solis on his PR 2.0 blog, “PR Tips for Startups — The Director’s Cut.”

Yet one of the issues I’m looking at these days is education — and how we prepare young people for success in careers and life. And it ain’t easy. Consider this: every 26 seconds on average a teenager drops out of high school somewhere in this country. That’s more than 1 million a year — every year. It’s a major league disgrace and problem for our economy and future as a democracy.

If you’re interested in this and other issues that affect working families — and I hope you are — here’s a link to the corporate voices blog I started a few months ago. I’ll continue to post regularly there as well as here.

The challenge in all of this of course is not to spend all your time focusing on the problems — but to join in the research and discussion that can contribute to solutions. Please take the time to join me in this discussion. I’ll do my best to convince you that it really is important.

News media: buyouts and reporting

Got back from my morning run a few hours ago. And figured that with nothing more productive to do I might as well catch up on some reading. Glad I did as I found two articles that are particularly revealing about the state of the news media today — and tomorrow.

First is the Media Notes column by Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post this morning, “Post Buyouts Come with an Emotional Cost.

The Washington Post like many (most?) newspapers are cutting staff these days — and shifting resources from print to online editions. Without question, tough for the people involved, although at The Washington Post softened by voluntary buyouts. Probably not as good for thousands of journalists and related staff at other newspapers.

But here’s the point. We’re seeing a major shift in the newspaper industry. The question is whether in the long run it is going to be positive from the standpoint of those who believe, like me, that a strong, vigorous press still matters in this country. Kurtz writes:

“I know, I know. The future is digital. The Web is a cornucopia of fast-moving video and blogs and bulletins and gossip, while newspapers are old, slow and less than hip. That’s why The Post (and every other paper on the planet) is beefing up its online presence and why I write a daily blog for the Web site.

“But — and stop me if you’ve heard this one — newspapers matter. There isn’t a Web site around that can produce the probing work, such as the exposé of shoddy conditions at the Army’s Walter Reed Medical Center, that won The Post six Pulitzer Prizes this year. The economics of the Web, for now, won’t support a staff that can hold public officials accountable across the region and still cover every Nationals game. So I cling to an old-fashioned, almost mystical belief in the power of ink on paper.”

As I mentioned in this blog many times, young people no longer read newspapers. From my experience with them in the classroom, they are informed and interested in events. But they get their news from other sources. In the column, Kurtz writes:

“In one sense, the Web is a blessing. Daily circulation for the newsprint Post, now 673,000, may be down from 813,000 in 2000, but we are drawing an eye-opening 9.4 million unique visitors online each month, 85 percent of them from outside the D.C. circulation area. Those readers don’t bring in the cash that print subscribers do — given the gotta-be-free mentality of the Web — but they do expand our reach.”

But with the Web comes a different style of reporting — and the ability for even obscure stories to gain major significance and readers. That’s the point in the second article — in Politico, “Media Hype: How small stories become big news,” by John F. Harris. Wish I would have had the opportunity to use this one in my ethics class.

Anyway, it focuses on the current flap involving Hillary Clinton and the remark in an interview that she made about Robert F. Kennedy. Harris writes:

“This weekend’s uproar over Hillary Rodham Clinton invoking the assassination of Robert Kennedy as rationale for continuing her presidential campaign is an especially vivid example of modern journalism as hyperkinetic child — overstimulated by speed and hunger for a head-turning angle that will draw an audience.

“The truth about what Clinton said — and any fair-minded appraisal of what she meant — was entirely beside the point.

“Her comment was news by any standard. But it was only big news when wrested from context and set aflame by a news media more concerned with being interesting and provocative than with being relevant or serious. Thus, the story made the front page of The New York Times, was the lead story of The Washington Post and got prominent treatment on the evening news on ABC, CBS and NBC.”

Ouch. But accurate. And I’m not making an excuse for Clinton or her remarks. The same thing happened to Obama a few weeks ago when a blogger posted his comments about the “bitter” middle class. Were/are either — or both? — campaign-defining statements at this point?

Yet from Harris, here’s the point:

“Once, the elite papers and network news set the agenda, and others followed suit, following up on what these establishment pillars deemed important.

“Now it’s just the opposite. The conservative old voices increasingly take their cues from the newer, more daring ones.”

Maybe in the long run that will be better. More voices. More openness. But something tells me that Kurtz has a point. You don’t lose a 100 staffers at a newspaper like The Washington Post without it making a difference.

Oh by the way. This shift in news coverage has some major implications for those of us in public relations. Think about it. The era of the “one-day” story is over. And today even a so-called minor story about your organization can lead to major coverage and discussion. Are we ready to deal with a Clinton/Obama-type story? Oh, my.

PRKent wins Do It Now competition

Well, here’s one of those really good stories. PRKent bested all of the competing colleges and universities in Ohio to win the Do It Now challenge. Not surprising given the enthusiasm and the talents of the Kent public relations students involved. (Hey, I’m not teaching anymore, but I can still be proud of their accomplishments. Can’t I?) And a tremendous amount of credit goes to Michele Ewing who managed the team as an independent study project — but who really has a great talent for getting students to succeed in the classroom and in these kind of real-world projects.

Since it’s the holiday weekend, I’m going to take the easy road here and just copy the news release distributed by the Kent State’s department of University Communications and Marketing.

Kent State Students Win Statewide Do It Now Organ Donation Promotion Competition (5/22/08)

Kent State public relations students won the statewide “Do It Now” College Competition, which was aimed at increasing the number of organ and tissue donors in the Ohio Organ Donor Registry.

Funded by the Second Chance Trust Fund, Donate Life Ohio, its affiliated organ procurement organizations and tissue and eye recovery agencies, partnered with the colleges throughout the state to significantly increase the number of registered organ and tissue donors.

For the past eight months, teams from 13 Ohio colleges and universities involved in the “Do It Now” College Competition have rallied to increase the number of organ donors, all in hope of decreasing the wait list for organ donation. As part of the statewide initiative, each group had a specific target for the number of new registrants they were expected to sign up in their communities based on population and opportunity within their respective regions.

The Kent State team is projected to have added more than 12,500 new organ and tissue donors to the Ohio Donor Registry. The overall competition added approximately 125,000 individuals to the Ohio Organ Donor Registry. Kent State’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter will be awarded $5,000 for winning the competition.

The Kent State team implemented a recruitment plan comprised of a range of strategies including word-of-mouth communications, social media and donor registration event drives. The students also organized a flash mob, featuring more than 60 people freezing in place on campus for five minutes, to draw attention to the organ and tissue donation cause.

Other schools who participated in the “Do It Now” College Campaign include Bowling Green State University, Capital University, Ohio University, Miami University, Sinclair Community College, The Ohio State University, the University of Akron, the University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, the University of Toledo, Xavier University and Youngstown State University.

Individuals wanting to register to be an organ or tissue donor can continue to do so online at http://www.donatelifeohio.org , by filling out a donor registration form, or by visiting their local Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Truthfully, not having the opportunity to be associated with such a talented group of young professionals is something I’ll miss come fall. But right now I better heat up the grill.

Public relations and the holiday weekend

Heading into the holiday weekend, here’s a few random thoughts I had while running this morning. Linda Douglass, a retired news staffer with ABC and CBS, is joining Barack Obama’s campaign as a senior advisor and spokesperson. And I guess those of us looking for an honest, open discussion of issues should be encouraged.

Here’s from a story on TVNewser by Gail Shister about the appointment:

“Like  a broken Maytag washer, retired ABC correspondent Linda Douglass will skip the spin cycle.

“As new senior advisor for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, ‘”My intention is that I won’t spin,'” she says. ‘”I absolutely vow that I will tell the truth.'”

Well, here’s hoping. I guess there is a first time for everything. And wouldn’t it be, hmm, the right thing to do? We’ll see.

And then there is a story about character and principle to share from the campaign trail. Mark McKinnon, the senior advertising strategist for the McCain campaign, followed through on a vow he made previously to leave the campaign rather than working against the election of Barack Obama. That’s not a critique of either McCain or Obama on my part. It’s just that when someone in a senior position anywhere actually does what he says he is going to do it is cause for celebration. Maybe this presidential campaign will be about issues, discussed openly and candidly.

Then there is PR Strategist, the flagship of PRSA’s communication fleet. In March we held at Kent State a professional development conference around social media and Packaging the Presidency — Online. Exciting, innovative conference. The story in PR Strategist: ho-hum.

With all the new approaches to communicating out there, isn’t there a way for a professional organization to do something beyond the typical question-and-answer format?

Mr X: Blah, blah, blah.

Mr Y: Blah, blah, blah.

Oh, well. In a world of change, PRSA remains a constant.

I thought about this when I saw a presentation posted on SlideShare by Sacha Chua.

Sacha describes herself as a social intranet consultant and geek. And as best I can tell, her day job is with IBM. That in itself is encouraging.

Yet something tells me that Sacha and others like her won’t be spending much time with publications like PR Strategist in the years ahead. That, in my view, is a good thing.

And they are sure going to change the workplace and political campaigns. Good.

Gas prices, honesty and tough decisions

I’ve mentioned previously that I enjoy reading Jim Horton’s blog, Online Public Relations Thoughts. For one thing he generally posts before 5 a.m. That’s good. Why wait until mid-morning at say 7 or 8 a.m.? For another, he provides some excellent insights briefly and very much to the point.

Here’s an example. Jim wrote today about oil executives testifying in Congress about high fuel prices. He calls it “Can’t-Win Theater.” He is right — and here’s the paragraph that really caught my attention:

“If Congressman were trying to be responsible, they would have asked the oil executives to explain the pricing mechanisms that go into the cost of gasoline and macro-economic demand for oil that is driving commodity speculation. But no, that would have been too difficult for “Joe Six-Pack” to understand and besides, “Joe Six-Pack” just wants cheap gas. Don’t bother him with the details. That, of course, is pandering to constituents and assuming they are too stupid to understand.”

I agree — and I wrote about this from a slightly different perspective last week in my post PR, truth and consequences.

At a minimum, we’ve had about 30 years to figure out what we needed to do in this country to reduce our consumption of gasoline and our dependence on foreign oil. We haven’t done it. And part of the reason is that our elected officials and industry executives refuse to tell the truth — and avoid any tough decisions.

As Jim says — pandering to constituents and assuming they are too stupid to understand. Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at on this and a host of other critical issues. It’s too bad. Americans make for the most part responsible decisions when they have the necessary information. And “Joe Six-Pack” and everyone else has a large measure of common sense. So tell us the truth and let’s have some real discussions about the tough decisions that we need to make. Those of us in public relations should be in the forefront of demanding this open and honest discussion. Gee, we kind of believe in that. Don’t we?

Oh, by the way. I just came back from getting gas: $3.93 a gallon.