I read an interesting article on aboutpublicrelations.com by Dr. Steven R. Van Hook titled
"Ethical Public Relations: Not an Oxymoron."
Van Hook summarized the importance of a public relations employee in his opening paragraph, explaining that “the public relations department is frequently the ethical heart of an organization.”
“Internal and external PR communications control of the flow of good and bad news to the staff and community. The PR team copes with company crises. PR pros sit at the elbows of top officers drafting a company's mission statements, its strategies, its vision,” Van Hook continued.
PR people are often put on the spot, criticized for “covering up” for the company. With that said, that is why nearly every code of conduct—especially ones targeted towards public relations officials—emphasizes the great importance of honesty. Arguments may become heated and stories may spin out of control, but honesty is something that should be held highly regarded through it all.
Van Hook mentioned a quote from business writer John Ellis: "The truth matters. Loyalty matters. Lies matter. Values matter. You know a Dilbert company the minute you walk into it. Dilbert-company employees know the exact calibration of corporate dishonesty (Van Hook)."
Public relations officials should strive to be conveyors of the truth and only the truth. With that said, don't lie. As Van Hook mentioned, “the uncovered cover-up frequently incurs more wrath than the original offense.”
For example, recall the Pat Tillman crisis. Tillman was the Arizona Cardinals defensive back who famously volunteered for the Army in the spring after 9/11, giving up a $3.6 million N.F.L. contract extension. Sadly, Tillman was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
Initial reports after his death said Tillman, 27, was shot and killed by Taliban forces during an ambush on April 22, 2004. An investigation later found that fellow soldiers shot Tillman, thinking he was part of an enemy force firing at them (CNN).
As New York Times reporter Frank Rich wrote in the November 6, 2005, edition, "It would be a compelling story, if only it were true. Five weeks after Tillman's death, the Army acknowledged abruptly, without providing details, that he had 'probably' died from friendly fire (Rich)."
Tillman's family demanded to know why his uniform and body armor were burned a day after he was killed and why they were not immediately told he might have been killed by fellow soldiers (CNN).
On March 4th, 2006, the Pentagon's Inspector General announced that after review, further investigation of Pat Tillman's death would be necessary to decide whether members in Tillman's unit should be charged with negligent homicide.
A 2005 report from Brig. Gen. Gary Jones contained sworn statements from soldiers involved in the incident who said they burned the items because they had taken pictures of the scene and knew how Tillman had been killed (CNN).
Initially, Tillman's blood-covered uniform and armor were said to have been destroyed because they were considered a biohazard (CNN).
These lies caused much pain for the nation and, most importantly, for Tillman’s family. And to think that the truth would have avoided it all is simply unbelievable.
"AP: Pentagon to cite 9 officers in ex-NFL star's death,", CNN, March 23, 2007. Accessed 14 May 2008. View the entire article here
Frank Rich, "The Mysterious Death of Pat Tillman." “New York Times (information Clearing House).” 6 Nov 2005. Accessed 14 May 2008. View the entire article here
Van Hook, Steven R., PhD. “Ethical Public Relations: Not an Oxymoron.” Accessed 14 May 2008. View the entire article here