Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott McLellan and PR Ethics

I'm a wee bit surprised that the voluminous media coverage of Scott McClellan, such as this New York Times editorial, hasn't raised an obvious point: how McClellan violated the fundamental principles of public relations ethics.

Yes, it's not widely known there is a formal code of ethics for PR practitioners, promulgated by the Public Relations Society of America. It bears some studying, in light of the McClellan contretemps.

Most PR people, in my experience, actually do a reasonably good job of adhering to ethical standards. I've even seen PR people turn into whistleblowers against their employers.

In this blog I've mostly focused on the dregs of the PR business, mostly in the employ of's "campaign of menace" against analysts and the media -- such as house stalker Judd Bagley, whose nauseating activities in the realm of pretexting and astroturfing are so much off the charts that CEO Patrick Byrne has taken him off the corporate payroll and now pays his salary directly. Byrne's latest PR operative is the loony former CJR Online editor Mark Mitchell. These are more street thugs than PR people, however, so I'm not sure it's even fair (to the PR industry) to call them PR people.

Which brings me back to McClellan, who had a fairly good reputation in the business, and was popular with the media. He was also a bald-faced liar. The Times observes:

Mr. McClellan also knew that the White House’s handling of Hurricane Katrina was a disaster. No doubt he misspoke when he sneeringly accused those who questioned the administration’s serial failures of playing a partisan “blame game.”

The president’s retired mouthpiece now admits that it wasn’t true when he said that Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby Jr. were not involved in leaking the identity of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson. But he blames Mr. Rove, Mr. Libby and “possibly” Vice President Dick Cheney for deceiving him. He says they also lied to the president.

The PR code of ethics includes the following:


We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

I realize that violating the PR ethics code is spitting on the sidewalk compared to the felonies of lying to the American people about Iraq and Katrina. But it seems to me that the PR profession, if it wants to take this code of ethics seriously, needs to take a stand in a high-visibility case like this.

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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