Recent months have seen ferocious criticisms of Enron, but Columbia Journalism Review contributor Scott Sherman thinks journalists should have asked tough questions much earlier. During the 1990s, he notes, business coverage "crackled with enthusiasm about Enron," with Fortune comparing the now-failed energy company to a "gate-crashing Elvis" in the "staid world of regulated utilities and energy companies ...
The media's use of spokespeople as primary news sources has increased 81% between 1995 and 2000 according to a study by Bob Williams, an ethics fellow at the Poynter Institute. "As a reporter, you look around the newsroom, and the tendency has become to talk to spokespeople rather than to even try to get to the principals," Williams told PR Week. Council of PR Firms president Kathy Cripps suggests reporters and editors sit down with their PR contacts for interviews as a way to improve the relationship between the media and PR practitioners.
A flashy publicity stunt outside a Houston federal courthouse accompanied accounting firm Arthur Andersen's not guilty plea to Justice Department obstruction charges. "As Andersen pleaded not guilty inside the courtroom, outside the firm launched a public relations blitz designed to portray government prosecutors as overzealous and heartless to the plight of its 28,000 U.S. employees," USA Today's Greg Farrell reports.
"The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative has filed a seven-page complaint on March 18 with the State Ethics Commission about the hardball lobbying tactics employed by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and its grassroots firm, Bonner & Assocs.," O'Dwyer's PR Daily reports. "The non-profit group is an advocate of universal healthcare and a backer of a Maryland bill that would lower the cost of prescription drugs for Medicaid patients and the uninsured. PhRMA opposes the bill.
In the wake of the Enron meltdown, Business 2.0 magazine is running several articles offering "free advice for the suddenly non-credible," in which PR gurus offer their recommendations for helping clients who have been caught lying, cheating or committing atrocities. Perhaps the most interesting comments appear in the reader response section, which invites people to comment on the financial status and standards of their own companies. Most of the responses suggest that Enron is not an isolated case.
British professor Roger Scruton, a libertarian pundit and self-proclaimed ethicist, has been fired from his gig as a columnist for the Financial Times after a leaked copy of his e-mail to Japan Tobacco International revealed that the tobacco company was paying him
"Scientists are accepting large sums of money from drug companies to put their names to articles endorsing new medicines that they have not written - a growing practice that some fear is putting scientific integrity in jeopardy," reports Sarah Bosely, health editor of the Guardian.
As Congress debates campaign finance reform, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wonders if we also need "journalistic finance reform -- that is, what are corporations buying when they lard their payrolls with prominent media folks?" Media pundits took fat contracts on the side from Enron -- ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 for Paul Krugman of the New York Times,
For $15,000, Canada's "Business Television" program will produce a puff piece about a company's "philosophy and future vision," "innovative aspects" and "specific products or services, as well as successes and challenges." It will broadcast the show as news, without any information in the credits to inform viewers that money has changed hands.
Professor Roger Scruton, a darling of the moral right in England, asked one of the world's biggest tobacco companies for $5,500 a month to help place pro-smoking articles in some of Britain's most influential newspapers and magazines. "We would aim to place an article every two months in one or other of the WSJ [Wall Street Journal], the Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Independent or the New Statesman," says the note, sent last October under the name of Sophie, his wife and business partner.