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.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Calling Kaloogian's Bluff: Had Howard Kaloogian never heard of the blogosphere? That’s alright, because the blogosphere had never heard of Howard Kaloogian until a couple of days ago, when the GOP candidate to replace disgraced and imprisoned San Diego congressman Randy Cunningham posted this photo to his website. Kaloogian claimed it was a photo taken on a recent visit to Baghdad, and that it showed (a) how normal life is for many ordinary Iraqis and (b) how the image of the Iraqi capital portrayed by the media is a negative distortion.

Only problem is, the photograph was taken in a suburb of Istanbul. It took progressive bloggers precisely 48 hours to find conclusive photographic evidence of Kaloogian’s duplicity. That’s the power of the blogosphere. That’s also why the notion that posting information directly to the blogosphere is a way of avoiding scrutiny is so ridiculous. Going to the blogosphere invites scrutiny, and that scrutiny is more intense and less forgiving than anything the mainstream media can muster.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beaupre is Buzzing: This is a long overdue plug for the Beaupre Buzz, one of a handful of PR agency-written newsletters that arrive in my e-mail periodically. Agency president Andy Beaupre produces a good quick read on a handful of topics, including this issue pieces about nightmare CEOs, self-flagellating PR people, and the explosion of corporate podcasting.
Young Accused on Sell Out: Who knew Andrew Young had any credibility left for corporations to co-opt? It was Young’s firm—GoodWorks International—that issued a 75-page report exonerating Nike of charges relating to the use of sweatshop labor in its overseas plants shortly before an independent Ernst & Young report found evidence of widespread abuse (a good summary of the problems with Young’s whitewash can be found here).

But now Young is under fire in African-American publications for taking on a new client, Wal-Mart. According to a cover story in Black Commentator, Young will chair Working Families for Wal-Mart, “a media sock-puppet for the ruthless multinational firm. The cynical misuse of his stature as an icon of the Freedom Movement, preacher, former elected official, and honored elder in black America to mask and obscure the crimes of his corporate client marks Mr. Young as nothing more nor less than a corporate whore.”

The hiring of Young has the potential to backfire big time if his history as a corporate shill becomes the story.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Failing Grade?: Donald Rumsfeld says he would give the U.S. public affairs effort a “D” or a “D+” and says the country is not doing well in the “battle of ideas.” Which raises the question of how we’re doing in the battle of guns and bombs and beheadings. What kind of grade would Rumsfeld give the U.S. in that realm? And how much of the failing grade can be attributed to his own advocacy of techniques that undermine any claim that the U.S. is there to build democratic institutions? Needless to say, no one asked those questions.
Did German PR Expert Advocate Lying?: I hope that either something got lost in translation, or that SpinWatch is simply twisting his words, but if there’s any truth to this report of a speech by Klaus Kocks—former “chief spin doctor” for the German nuclear industry—then I’d hope to see a swift and uncompromising rebuttal of his remarks by a representative of the Germany PR industry.

According to SpinWatch, Kocks described himself as “strongly opposed to discriminating against lying” and suggested that adherence to the truth is “a neurotic obsession of Calvinistic witch hunters.”

The counterproductive aspect of a less than truthful approach to PR is captured in the story’s last line: “No doubt those worried about the safety of nuclear energy will be relieved to hear that those who say it is safe, cheap and environmentally friendly are simply engaged in a messaging strategy.”
Lawyers and PR People: Surely the Jeff Skilling defense team includes someone who understands the media, so how come it was a lawyer and not a public relations professional who wrote a recent letter to Fortune (published in the March 20 edition; I couldn’t find it online) lambasting the magazine for assigning Peter Elkind and Bethany McLean to cover the Enron trial?

The letter—a strange combination of bluster and naïveté—from Daniel Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers starts with the suggestion that Elkind and McLean, authors of the Enron potboiler The Smartest Guys in the Room, should not have been assigned the case because “these two have an obvious financial interest in having the trial—or at least the perception of the trial—turn out consistent with the one-sided and ultimately cartoonish depiction of Enron and my client in their book.”

It may be obvious to Petrocelli, but it isn’t obvious to me. Does he believe the book will sell more copies if Skilling is found guilty? That seems improbable. I suspect everyone who’s interested has already read it. Is he implying that the two authors will be sued if Skilling is cleared? He must be more knowledgeable about First Amendment law than that.

Then he goes on to site a couple of instances of what he deems biased reporting from Elkind and McLean. In one, the authors say that Skilling and Ken Lay “never much cared for one another” (wow, that’s a real zinger!) in another they discussed “Enron’s betrayal of its investors, employees and customers.”

“These statements are false,” says the lawyer. “But at a minimum a responsible journalist—and one without a conflict of interest—would have properly qualified such statements as, say, being ‘alleged.’”

To which the only appropriate response would appear to be: “Grow up.” Is this the first time one of Petrocelli’s clients has ever been the subject of media scrutiny? Does he really not understand that reporters are governed by standards dramatically different from those applied in the courtroom?

There may be a perfectly good case to be made that Elkind and McLean’s coverage of the trial has been flawed. But all this letter does is make it clear that when it comes to the court of public opinion, at least, this attorney is way out of his depth.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Truth, Not Journalism: Mark Borkowski, who writes about public relations for The Guardian, is the latest to weigh in on Richard Edelman’s comments about blogging as a way to circumvent the media. And Borkowski puts his own spin on Richard’s comments about providing information directly to stakeholders: “What he meant, of course, was that PRs can spin their clients' interests on a blog without any interfering journalists messing up their message by checking the validity of their claims.”

That suggests an idealized view of journalists that I suspect Richard doesn’t share. I know I don’t. I think journalists are far less likely to “check the validity” of a PR person’s claims than they are to simply ignore parts of the story that don’t fit with their journalistic agenda. If you think journalists are interested in checking the validity of claims, go back over a few years of coverage of American politics. Reporters don’t check claims. They repeat them, regardless of their veracity, and then provide “balance” by repeating the claims of the other side.

But more to the point, Borkowski seems to completely misunderstand the blogosphere, which actually does the fact checking job the mainstream media has abandoned. It’s far more difficult to get spin or deception into the blogosphere than it is to get it into the mainstream media. That’s the attraction for someone like Edelman: a medium where everyone gets to ask his or her own questions and make up his or her own mind, rather than being fed a story that a journalist has decided is the absolute truth.

It sounds to me as though Borkowski doesn’t believe people are smart enough to make up their own minds without a journalist to tell them what to think.
The Post's Continuing Adventures in the Blogosphere: The Washington Post, already under fire from progressives after acting as a de facto public relations firm for the Bush administration for five of the past six years, drew even more criticism last week after it decided to hire a right-wing blogger to further strengthen its conservative credentials.

Liberal bloggers first focused on the blatant contradiction between the comments of Washingtonpost.com opinion editor Hal Straus and executive editor Jim Brady. In response to questions about whether the site would provide balance by hiring a liberal blogger, Straus told readers that the site “hires writers for their ability to add something substantive to the national conversation… we look for that ability regardless of political labels.” Unfortunately, Brady was taking exactly the opposite position, explaining that blogger Ben Domenech was hired because “we were completely unrepresented by a social conservative voice.”

But the story took an interesting turn after it was revealed that Domenech—previously best know for his vicious personal attack on Coretta Scott King following her death earlier this year—was also a serial plagiarist. And so by the middle of the week, Domenech had resigned and the Post was presumably looking for another social conservative blogger, regardless of his or her politics.

Yet another example of the mainstream media’s difficulties wrestling with a new medium.