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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Courage to Ignore the Spin: The summer 2006 issue of Nieman Reports looks at journalistic courage, and while most of the essays are pretty much what you might expect—journalists risking their lives in war zones, or facing jail to protect a source—this offering by the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus should be cause for some reflection—not least among his Post colleagues.

“I believe a new kind of courage is needed in journalism in this age of instant news, instant analysis, and therefore instant opinions,” says Pincus. “It also happens to be a time of government by public relations and news stories based on prepared texts and prepared events or responses. Therefore, this is the time for reporters and editors, whether from the mainstream media or blogosphere, to pause before responding to the latest bulletin, prepared event, or the most recent statement or backgrounder, whether from the White House or the Democratic or Republican leadership on Capitol Hill….

“A new element of courage in journalism would be for editors and reporters to decide not to cover the President’s statements when he—or any public figure—repeats essentially what he or she has said before. The Bush team also has brought forward another totally PR gimmick: The President stands before a background that highlights the key words of his daily message. This tactic serves only to reinforce that what’s going on is public relations—not governing. Journalistic courage should include the refusal to publish in a newspaper or carry on a TV or radio news show any statements made by the President or any other government official that are designed solely as a public relations tool, offering no new or valuable information to the public.”

I’m not holding my breath. But obviously I’d welcome it if reporters accepted Pincus’s suggestion. Maybe then politicians and their advisors would be forced to practice real public relations—you know, dialogue—rather than the spin they get away with today.

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