On June 1, CBS Sunday Morning aired a commentary by their legal analyst, Andrew Cohen, in which he accused all PR folk of essentially lying for a living. “Show me a PR person who is ‘accurate’ and ‘"truthful,’ and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed,” he said.
The impetus for his statements was the release of Scott McClellan’s tell-all book. But Cohen took an unjournalistic leap by extending his criticism to our entire profession and directly citing (sarcastically) the PRSA code of ethics.
Later the same day – a Sunday I might add – PRSA Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Julin released an open letter in response. A little bit later, he issued a video response on YouTube.
Individual PR professionals came to the defense of each other as well. To read one of several impressions, visit the blog of Kami Watson-Huyse, APR. On June 2, Andrew Cohen responded in a blog post saying: “I am now the target of a public-relations effort to ridicule my effort, my points, my character and integrity. I expected nothing less.”
Personally, I think it’s clear nothing we say will change Cohen’s mind. So, at this point, it’s fruitless to try. First, he’s mistaken to even consider McClellan’s role as equal to that of other PR positions. That’s politics. It’s an entirely different world, which is not to say honesty is absent or excused. But it’s different.
Second, he refuses to see the true purpose of public relations. PR cannot succeed when it is based on deceit. In fact, we are in the truth-telling business. Sometimes that means telling our bosses what they don’t want to hear. And it’s about relationship building, not treating audiences like pawns to be manipulated.
I’ve been active in San Antonio’s PRSA chapter for 14 years. I don’t personally know any PR person who spends his or her days trying to “convince people that a turkey is really an eagle,” as Cohen describes.
I am not claiming we’re perfect or that we don’t need to continually hold ourselves and each other accountable. That’s why we join professional associations like PRSA.
And while Cohen is free to speak his mind, given his position and influence he bears as much responsibility to be honest and as accurate as possible. There is no evidence to support his claims about the bulk of our profession. Instead he’s given in to his emotion and personal preconceptions. And in doing so, he has damaged the reputation of the profession and of CBS Sunday Morning. He should be required to issue a correction during the next Sunday Morning program.
I'd love to hear your thoughts.