Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spin and Truth at Blood & Treasure: Over at Blood & Treasure, an agreeably dyspeptic site (if that’s not an oxymoron) produced by “a renegade team of corporate surveillance experts” comes an interesting comment on the Edelman/Wal-Mart-blogger affair.

The authors quote Richard Edelman (alongside an unflattering portrait) telling CNN: “The point of this is not to say that public relations people should be trusted. It is that the information that they convey must be trustworthy and that we must be very transparent about our motive.”

“In other words,” Blood & Treasure paraphrases: “we're not honest and would never claim to be honest, but what's important is that the information we're handling dishonestly is honest information, and once we're very honest about dishonestly handling honest information, then that's okay.”

I don’t think that’s what Richard was saying. I assume he was saying that he doesn’t expect people to trust PR people implicitly, that trust has to be earned by providing trustworthy (ie accurate) information, and by being honest about their motives.

“The way I see it,” says post author Noel Guinane, “the trouble with hiring a PR firm to make use of blogs is that when people find out you’re using PR, they never know what is truth and what is spin, and therefore won’t trust anything they read.”

I’d challenge a couple of the underlying assumptions. First, I don’t think most PR people are any more prone to blurring the line between spin and truth than most bloggers. Read Glenn Reynolds or Daily Kos. Truth or spin?

That leads me to my second concern, which is that I don’t quite trust people who believe there’s a clear dividing line, with truth on one side and spin on the other. Those people see a grey world in terms of black and white. Truth, it seems to me, can only be applied to factual statements. Spin, by its nature, is not about facts but about interpretation of the facts. They are not opposites. They exist in separate realms.
Nothing Wal-Mart told the bloggers was, to the best of my knowledge, inaccurate or untruthful.: Over at Blood & Treasure, an agreeably dyspeptic site (if that’s not an oxymoron) produced by “a renegade team of corporate surveillance experts” comes an interesting comment on the Edelman/Wal-Mart-blogger affair.

The authors quote Richard Edelman (alongside an unflattering portrait) telling CNN: “The point of this is not to say that public relations people should be trusted. It is that the information that they convey must be trustworthy and that we must be very transparent about our motive.”

“In other words,” Blood & Treasure paraphrases: “we're not honest and would never claim to be honest, but what's important is that the information we're handling dishonestly is honest information, and once we're very honest about dishonestly handling honest information, then that's okay.”

I don’t think that’s what Richard was saying. I assume he was saying that he doesn’t expect people to trust PR people implicitly, that trust has to be earned by providing trustworthy (ie accurate) information, and by being honest about their motives.

“The way I see it,” says post author Noel Guinane, “the trouble with hiring a PR firm to make use of blogs is that when people find out you’re using PR, they never know what is truth and what is spin, and therefore won’t trust anything they read.”

I’d challenge a couple of the underlying assumptions. First, I don’t think most PR people are any more prone to blurring the line between spin and truth than most bloggers. Read Glenn Reynolds or Daily Kos. Truth or spin?

That leads me to my second concern, which is that I don’t quite trust people who believe there’s a clear dividing line, with truth on one side and spin on the other. Those people see a grey world in terms of black and white. Truth, it seems to me, can only be applied to factual statements. Spin, by its nature, is not about facts but about interpretation of the facts. They are not opposites. They exist in separate realms.
Nothing Wal-Mart told the bloggers was, to the best of my knowledge, inaccurate or untruthful.

3 Comments:

  • At 7:04 AM, Anonymous Noel Guinane said…

    I assume [Edelman] was saying that he doesn’t expect people to trust PR people implicitly, that trust has to be earned by providing trustworthy (ie accurate) information, and by being honest about their motives.

    If that's what he meant, that's what he would have said. Your interpretation of his words is your opinion, but this is what he said:

    “The point of this is not to say that public relations people should be trusted. It is that the information that they convey must be trustworthy and that we must be very transparent about our motive.”

    My interpretation is "we're not honest and would never claim to be honest, but what's important is that the information we're handling dishonestly is honest information, and once we're very honest about dishonestly handling honest information, then that's okay."

    Also, I had a conversation with Mr. Edelman about this very subject and was very honest in my views and very clear on his.

    I don’t think most PR people are any more prone to blurring the line between spin and truth than most bloggers.

    It is a PR person's job to blur the line between truth and fiction. That is what they are paid for.

    Saying other people do this so that's okay is not an acceptable response. My friend does drugs, therefore I can too. A buddy of mine rigs horse races so I can too. This does not change the FACT that Edelman is trying to sidestep the MSM and go straight for the brainwashing jugular via blogs in the hopes that the people who read these blogs will be sappy enough to believe that what they are reading is an honest opinion rather than spin.

    I don’t quite trust people who believe there’s a clear dividing line, with truth on one side and spin on the other.

    I don't trust people who think that it's alright to spin yarns for a living, whether it's on behalf of a politician, a celebrity or a business. I do not trust spin doctors.

    Truth, it seems to me, can only be applied to factual statements

    Correct. Hence the expression, fact or fiction and it is a FACT that PR people are paid to produce varnished versions of their client(s) for public consumption.

    Spin, by its nature, is not about facts but about interpretation of the facts.

    Or about misinterpretation of the facts, or the skewing of facts favorably in one direction, the manipulation of facts. Spin is propaganda, not truth and while it may be loosely fact-based, that is not the same thing as being factual. Myths are fact-based. Somewhere in the dim recesses of our ancestry King Arthur and Robin Hood existed. Even the Loch Ness monster is based on fact - all those people saw something, doesn't mean there's a dinosaur living in Scotland. That PR spin is loosely fact-based doesn't make it factual.

    Nothing Wal-Mart told the bloggers was, to the best of my knowledge, inaccurate or untruthful.

    Maybe, but as I said on my blog, when people know that PR is involved, they won't know what information to believe and what not to and as a result won't trust anything they read about Walmart. That is the risk you run in bringing PR into open conversations.

     
  • At 2:32 AM, Blogger Paul A. Holmes said…

    "It is a PR person's job to blur the line between truth and fiction. That is what they are paid for."

    Anyone who pays a PR person to do that is paying for bad PR. Any PR person who does that should be drummed out of the profession. It's not only unethical -- it's stupid. You inevitably get found out and you end up hurting reputation rather than helping it.

    Also, spin is not the same as fiction. Spin is, essentially, interpretation. It's subjective, but it's not fictional.

    "Or about misinterpretation of the facts, or the skewing of facts favorably in one direction, the manipulation of facts."

    You can't have a democracy, or any decision-making process, unless people are able to explain to one another what they believe facts mean.

    Obviously, you're in the spin business yourself. You are putting your own interpretation on these comments by Edelman, and the whole incident, and explaining what you think they mean. You are spinning the story,just as Edelman did, just as I did. Your spin on the story is no more (or less) legitimate than mine. People will make up their minds by considering the different spins, applying their own experiences and biases, and drawing conclusions.

    Nothing wrong with that, surely.

     
  • At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Noel Guinane said…

    Paul, I am giving you my opinion. Opinion isn't spin. It is opinion. Spin is propaganda, the coloring of some of the facts with no requirement to 'believe' in what you are saying.

    A PR agent is paid to create a favorable impression of a business or a celebrity or a politician in the public domain. Therefore, regardless of a PR agent's personal opinion, they will still serve to improve public opinion with regard to their client, notwithstanding the small children their client may have molested or the third world countries their client pollutes or whatever palms their client greases in the underworld, and they will do it by putting forward a version of some of the facts designed to cast their client in a better light.

    Edelman is paid to put forward his spin (or propaganda) on behalf of Walmart. If this information is in the form of say a press release we can expect that the facts will try to portray the company in the best possible light. What is wrong is that he has tried to set it up so that people reading this spin think they are reading the genuine opinions of bloggers. That is why it is dishonest. We are not reading genuine opinions. We are reading Edelman's spin.

     

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