I must admit, choosing to write this post is a stretch for me. As a person who does enjoy politics, I don’t usually choose to discuss topics of this nature through this type of medium.
But sometimes exceptions must be made.
On January 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States of America, the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, addressed the news room in his first official press briefing of the new term.
It created quite the stir because while he was giving out statistics and stating things that he and the administration claimed to be true, reporters and viewers were stripping down his words, verifying his statistics, and fact checking his facts. What they found was a completely different story than what Sean Spicer was claiming. Soon after, Kellyanne Conway, former campaign director for Trump, labeled these statements simply as “alternative facts.”
I want to be clear on a few things before I move forward: This is not a political blog; this is a public relations blog. I want to be clear that all thoughts and opinions that follow the remainder of this post are not founded in political beliefs, but rather the trained eye of a PR student.
In a time of non-stop political disagreements, I want to bring up an alternative way to look at controversy that just so happens to fall within the political realm. We can disagree without pointing fingers at each other and incessant “You’re Wrong!”, “No, YOU’RE wrong!”
The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) responded in a way that did just that.
“Truth is the foundation of all effective communications. By being truthful, we build and maintain trust with the media and our customers, clients and employees. As professional communicators, we take very seriously our responsibility to communicate with honesty and accuracy.”
PRSA represents the largest group of Public Relations and Communications professionals, with numbers exceeding 22,000. They could have very easily ripped Sean Spicer and the administration apart, but instead they took a classier way and the educated way: they pointed out the real facts and backed it with ethics, because yes, PRSA has a code of ethics, and members or not, majority of PR professionals live and die by this code.
Why is it a big deal that Spicer, along with Conway, to simply be OK with knowingly spreading half truths and alternative facts? Because it goes against everything that we as communicators believe in.
Sean Spicer is currently the most important communicator in the world. He is the liaison between what happens inside the White House and what the American people are told everyday through his press conferences with the media. When he acknowledges things such as this in a way that is only a half truth, he damages the credibility of not just himself, but the President, the White House brand, and ultimately the American Government. If there was ever a time to follow a code of ethics that helps drive PR and communications forward in a positive way, this is it!
There are two quotes that come to mind when thinking about this situation:
- “Perception is reality.” – Elizabeth Kerns (Professor/Adviser/Mentor)
- “Never lie to a journalist. It destroys your credibility.” – Scandal (TV, ABC)
As a future PR professional, and one that already works with real clients, I try to do my job in the most honest and true way possible. I never lie, I never cover up, I DO NOT SPIN, and I certainly don’t destroy my credibility by willingly admitting to the spreading of false realities.
My hope is that people who are pursuing careers, like me, can go in to the real world and help change it from the inside out. We need people with strong ethical backgrounds to stick true to their beliefs and change the system.
As I stated before, political opinion aside, I must look at the true facts and I must acknowledge that what Spicer did was not an effective way to gain credibility in his first week as White House Press Secretary. Regaining the trust of the media and developing a strong ethos within his position will be an uphill battle, but I truly hope that he doesn’t waste the opportunity he has been given. I hope he rises to the occasion and can become a real example of what an ethically strong communicator can look like.
By Kate Cox, Account Executive, Kankakee County Center Against Sexual Assault (KC-CASA)