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, April 13, 2006

Bad Call: If these charges are true, if AT&T actually allowed the federal government to monitor the communications of all of its customers without any evidence of individual wrongdoing, then the company is guilty of the most egregious betrayal of consumer trust I can recall.
Unjust Kaus?: Mickey Kaus takes issue with Ron Burkle’s Wall Street Journal op-ed, which raised several interesting questions about journalistic standards in the wake of the Page Six scandal.

According to Burkle, “gossip and tabloid-style journalism has been spreading rapidly to other spheres of reporting. Gossip coverage that used to be devoted primarily to movie stars now encompasses politicians and business people…. We've all read how well-known and respected journalists have readily protected top-ranked officials leaking classified information. It makes one wonder: Where does the political reporter end and the political operative begin?”

Kaus retorts: “Protecting leakers! Does Burkle think this is a new, tabloidy trend in conventional, respectable journalism? The FBI protects turncoat witnesses, journalists don't screw good sources.”

Maybe it’s not new, but the fact that journalists have been doing it forever doesn’t mean it’s either ethical or appropriate. Note that Burkle is not talking about whistleblowers, leaking information at personal risk to expose wrongdoing, but about “top-ranked officials leaking classified information”—in other words, representatives of powerful institutions who are ashamed to be associated with vicious personal attacks on their critics, or try to get those attacks in through the back door with the complicity of reporters, who in the process become willing agents of the institutions they are supposed to be covering. (I'm pretty sure Burkle and I are thinking of the same disgraceful episode.)

But I particularly like Kaus’s sign-off question: “Is Burkle a persecuted businessman trying to carve out a zone of privacy against dissembling gossips? Or is he a guy with a lot to hide attempting to intimidate and marginalize potential new, blog-like, unconventional threats?”

Such questions provide a wonderful mechanism through which journalists can make an accusation without any supporting evidence, because hey, they’re not making an accusation, they’re simply asking a question. Want to see how easy it is?

“Is Mickey Kaus asking this question because he really believes Burkle is afraid of the truth, or has he taken a massive bribe from the New York Post to attack the integrity a respected businessman and cover up an extortion scandal?... You, the reader, make the call!”

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In Defense of Extortion: Harry Silverglate of The Phoenix offers a grotesque defense of Page Six extortionist Jared Paul Stern, chastising the New York Times and others for interpreting his demand for cash to stop printing lies about supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and insisting: “The real story here is the collaboration of the businessman, his private henchmen, and their federal prosecutor and FBI allies to try to set up a sleazy but not criminal gossip columnist for a federal bust.”

Silverglade’s defense of Stern runs as follows: “Stern makes reasonably clear that he is not seeking to extort Burkle: ‘It is not a stickup,’ Stern assures the mogul at one point. Stern’s attempt to become a media consultant to Burkle is suggested when he offers to ‘help you when it is needed.’ When Burkle, obviously at the suggestion of the feds monitoring the conversation, tries to get Stern to adopt the description of ‘protection’ for the service Stern is offering, Stern demurs, saying that he is offering ‘help’ and not protection. ‘Protection,’ Stern admonished Burkle, ‘adds overtones.’”

This is either naïve or disingenuous or both. Far from exonerating Stern, that seems to me to make the case that not only was he engaged in extortion, but he new damn well what he was doing and was sophisticated enough about his criminality to couch it in indirect terms. Can’t you just picture the Sopranos character standing in front of the terrified shopkeeper, slapping a baseball bat into his palm and saying: “Don’t think of it as protection, this of it as a service we are providing.”

But Silverglate really goes off the rails when he suggests that when Stern offered “advice” about how Burkle could keep his name out of the paper’s columns, “What we’re seeing is the kind of pitch that PR men and women make every day in the Big Apple and elsewhere.”

Yeah, except PR people are not the ones threatening to print lies. The difference is not one of degree. It’s the difference between hiring a bodyguard and paying off a crook. And if Slverglate doesn’t know the difference, he’s as morally compromised as the dirtbag he’s trying to defend.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Big Auto Attacks Big Oil: Automotive PR veteran Jason Vines, head of communications at Daimler Chrysler, tells reporters that he was speaking personally rather than on behalf of his employer when he wrote at theFirehouse blog (available to registered journalists only) that rising gas prices were a result of "greed by the big oil companies."

I guess it's possible that Vines' position is completely at odds with that of his employer, but I suspect his comments were prompted by an ExxonMobil ad which blamed rising gas prices on the auto industry's insistence on producing more and more gas guzzling monster trucks.

Still, the spat is likely to provide much entertainment. When was the last time you saw a spokesman for one industry go after another industry like this: "Big Oil would rather fill the pockets of its executives and shareholders, rather than spend sufficient amounts to reduce the price of fuel, letting consumers, during tough economic times, pick up the tab....

"Despite a documented history of blowing their exorbitant profits on outlandish executive salaries and stock buybacks, and hoarding their bounty by avoiding technologies, policies and legislation that would protect the population and environment and lower fuel costs, Big Oil insists on transferring all of that responsibility on the auto companies."

More fun to come, surely.
The Third Way for International PR: Todd Defren makes a case for an alternate approach to international PR--not a big multinational or a cherry-picked network of local firms, but this:

"First, we vetted out and created our own independent network, making sure to have several agency options in each major geography to better ensure a good client/agency fit. We offer these agencies' services to clients (simplified agency reviews), and take on the responsibility of managing each agency relationship (simplified communications, simplified & centralized billing).

"While we view our partners as 'preferred,' there is no exclusivity mandate. If one of our partners doesn't work out (or if the client already has preferred vendors overseas), we simply assimilate a new regional partner into the fold."

This bears a striking resemblance to the method I suggested in the introduction to my most recent European Report Card and expanded on in a recent white paper I was commissioned to write for a U.K. PR firm.

Suffice it to say that my experience in Europe has led me to conclude that none of the multinationals is good at everything everywhere, and with cherry-picking creating a huge drain on management time (and problems with coordination) this kind of "bespoke" network is a viable solution for companies that don't want to sacrifice convenience for quality.

It provides the flexibility to hire quality firms in each market, to ensure that they are a fit for the business, and to provide central coordination.
The Hand of Harris?: Leslie has a nice piece on GM's dealers rallying around beleaguered CEO Rick Wagoner. Is this a payoff from the return of Steve Harris to the senior communications position? Regardless, it sends an important message that one of the company's key stakeholder groups has confidence in the current regime.