Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dear Washington Post, Don't confuse PR with Propaganda

Dear Washington Post,

I read with interest your story “Toyota had attack plan against congressional testimony, documents show” on May 15. In it, your lead sentence states: “Toyota officials sought to develop a public relations campaign to attack the credibility of key witnesses who have testified before Congress about acceleration problems…” Setting aside for a moment whether or not the accusations made in your article are true, I must call your attention to your description of such activities as a “public relations campaign.”

By definition public relations involves maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. In addition, PR ethical standards support protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information. So the type of campaign your story claims was considered by Toyota was not, by definition, a public relations campaign, even if PR people were involved.

It's like saying an organization set up a “nutrition project” by feeding children chips and sodas.

Rather, the kind of campaign that you were talking about would have been a “propaganda” campaign or, as Reagan Communications called it, a “smear campaign.”

While it may sound like I’m word-smithing a bit, that is after-all your business as a premier newspaper.

Thank you.