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Edelman and Murdoch

Jay Rosen has an amazing Storify thread in which he engages in a public enquiry about Edelman PR’s taking NewsCorp on as a client. Jay is breaking ground in how journalism works.

DISCLOSURE: I count Richard Edelman as a friend. I like and respect him. I have also been paid during a couple of stretches as a consultant to Edelman on PR in the networked age. The last time was maybe a year ago. I have not spoken with Richard or Edelman employees since then.

In my last engagement, I tried in my small way to get Edelman (the company) to adopt a view that recognizes that the Web is quite literally built out alignments of interests: People put in links and affiliate with one another because they share interests. Marketing traditionally has been premised all too often on a misalignment of interests: The business wants one thing and the market wants another. PR should, imo, recognize and respect the Net’s aligned nature. PR should genuinely enhance the interests expressed in the market, and otherwise shut up. Something like that.

I have also advised Edelman that when a business’s interests and the market’s interests are not aligned over matters of fact or philosophy, the business should consider adopting a tactic of “advocacy marketing” in which the business states its case frankly, truthfully, transparently, honestly, and respectfully. So, if the company think it’s getting a bad rap, it should (for example) put up a site that acknowledges what’s being said about it, make its case, address the contrary claims, engage with those who disagree, and always link to its sources.

If I were Edelman PR, I would probably agree to take on NewsCorp, but only if I were satisfied to a reasonable degree (yes, them’s fudge words) that NewsCorp was ready to tell the truth. (Clients do lie to their PR companies. The first time Edelman catches NewsCorp lying to them, Edelman should quite publicly drop them.)

If I were Edelman, I would not suggest advocacy marketing. NewsCorp does not have a side of the story worth telling. The only way forward for NewsCorp is to go many extra miles in transparency. Come clean not only about the phone tapping and the bribery, but about the culture of soft influence, the partisan reporting that fruitlessly claims it’s non-partisan, the degradation of once worthy newspapers.

Edelman should not, in my opinion, be helping Murdoch tell his side of the story. Edelman should be helping Murdoch to confront the truth, to follow the truth all the way through, and to tell the truth over and over and over again.

Taking on NewsCorp will test the ability of PR itself to continue to exist as a representative only of the client that pays the bill. I do not believe PR can survive if it does not see itself and its client first and foremost within the web of shared interests.

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15 Responses to “Edelman and Murdoch”

  1. While I agree with you in principal, in practicality, just what exactly is the Truthiness Test you would have Edelman (or any of us) administer?

    The truth is usually much more subtle that we care to admit. I’m not condoning News Corp., nor denying that transparency and the greater good are important, but the reality is that truth might be a pretty tall order.

  2. I don’t have a truthy test. I would instead maybe suggest a truthy process. In addition to having Rupey ungrudgingly go before ever panel that calls him, I might suggest that he empanel a group of independent, recognized inquirers to look into every aspect of his corrupt empire. Two conditions: They have to do this in public as far as possible, and they have to do it asking the questions the public wants asked, not the ones NewsCorp is comfortable answering. I’d put Jay Rosen in charge :)

  3. News International have stepped over the line, and deserve to be punished for it.

    In fairness to Edelman they seem to be offering NI some good advice that could save a lot of people a lot of pain by encouraging execs to step up to the plate and talk about what’s been happening, where their initial response to Parliamentary calls seemed to be ‘can’t make me’.

    It’s a challenging brief, a fantastically compelling story – I would rather see Edelman than some other cowboy PRs dealing with this.(And as PR people we’ve all been happy enough to place stories with News International.media, so we’re all guilty by association.)

    I hope Edelman is told the truth and I’m sure they’ll be smart enough to look after themselves.

    Not sure I’d have been employing them for their digital smarts, as suggested, as much as for their sound strategic advice. There are shrewder digital operators out there, but Edelman’s kept a relatively clean nose, I believ, and I freelanced there for a time – they seemed to have a nice operating manner and good deal of integrity. Sure, they’re not perfect, but who is?

  4. and if this corruption spreads to the usa? if wsj is in bed with wall street in suddenly obvious (and suddenly “obviously” illegal) ways?

    edelman can only be (further, imo) polluted by this gig, simply because the politcal/media/corporate nexus is unbelievably intertwined and huge.

    but, hey, it goes on accounts receivable, so why not? and when the quiet message comes from the fbi or cia he can bow out with grace. then maybe go to work for monsanto.

  5. Only one comment on a well-thought piece, and if it pertained to almost any other organization than Murdoch’s News International, I wouldn’t be making this comment:

    Hahahahahahahahahaha…. stop it… you’re hahahah killing me hahahaha…… hohohohohoho…. Murdoch tell…. hahahah… the truth… hohohohohohohohoho…. great one, David….. quick… call Jon Stewart’s booker…. hahahahaha….

  6. (This is an example of something I avoid posting, because of its partisan-characterizability. Robert Parry’s lines of analysis are clearly allied with the Democratic Party. However, his allegations are particularly relevant in the present context of the news related to Rupert Murdoch.)

    Robert Parry, June 2008: Iran-Contra’s ‘Lost Chapter’:
    http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/062908.html

    Snippet:

    The American people thus were spared the chapter’s troubling finding: that the Reagan administration had built a domestic covert propaganda apparatus managed by a CIA propaganda and disinformation specialist working out of the National Security Council.

    “One of the CIA’s most senior covert action operators was sent to the NSC in 1983 by CIA Director [William] Casey where he participated in the creation of an inter-agency public diplomacy mechanism that included the use of seasoned intelligence specialists,” the chapter’s conclusion stated.

    “This public/private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt – to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.”

    However, with the chapter’s key findings deleted, the right-wing domestic propaganda operation not only survived the Iran-Contra fallout but thrived.

    So did some of the administration’s collaborators, such as South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon and Australian press mogul Rupert Murdoch, two far-right media barons who poured billions of dollars into pro-Republican news outlets that continue to influence Washington’s political debates to this day.

  7. And see:

    The PR People in the Lost Chapter on Iran / Contra:
    http://www.prwatch.org/spin/2008/07/7517/pr-people-lost-chapter-iran-contra

    “The chapter details how a “public / private network set out to accomplish what a covert CIA operation in a foreign country might attempt — to sway the media, the Congress, and American public opinion in the direction of the Reagan administration’s policies.” The chapter describes a 1983 meeting between CIA director William Casey and PR professionals, including Philip Morris’ Bill Greener. The topic was how “to sell a ‘new product’ — Central America — by generating interest across-the-spectrum.” Edelman is also mentioned as being paid $92,000 to organize “press conferences and speaking tours by persons supporting the Contras.” Another PR firm, International Business Communications, was “awarded a secret contract for $276,186,” from the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean.”

  8. A few years ago Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan reported:

    From a direct quote within an Edelman (the nation’s largest independent PR firm) session, training our entire senior management team:

    “Sometimes, you just have to stand up there and lie. Make the audience or the reporter believe that everything is ok. How many times have you heard a CEO stand up and say “No, I’m not leaving the company” and then – days later – he’s gone. Reporters understand that you “had” to do it and they won’t hold it against you in your next job when you deal with them again.”

    And of course Edelman was the outfit that gave Walmart such great advice on sock puppet blogging. The SourceWatch listing for Daniel Edelman
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Daniel_J._Edelman,_Inc.
    tells you more than you want to know about the compromised ethics of the firm. Jay Rosen’s questions about whether or not Edelman PR will blacken it’s already tarry reputation by working with the media oligarch are redundant at best. Is Jay really that naive or is it in his interest to portray himself as that naive or what?

    Whatever happens, I hope Murdoch is somehow stripped of his US news properties and that they are also revealed to be the propaganda engines we know them to be.

  9. [...] buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades — PR and the law — could [...]

  10. [...] buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades — PR and the law — could [...]

  11. [...] the public what is going on has hired a top PR firm to help it spin what is going on. At least one observer opines that the traditional PR/marketing approach of re-aligning public interests will not work in a Net [...]

  12. [...] “Edelman should not, in my opinion, be helping Murdoch tell his side of the story. Edelman sho… [...]

  13. [...] Weinberger makes another interesting point on his blog post “Edelman and Murdoch.” If I were Edelman PR, I would probably agree to take on NewsCorp, but only if I were [...]

  14. [...] buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades — PR and the law — could [...]

  15. [...] risking its reputation by counseling News Corp. and telling its side of the story. David Weinberger writes that Edelman should agree to work with News Corp. only if it is “satisfied to a reasonable degree [...]

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