EDITORIAL: Ethics must be considered when producing VNRs

We wrote in last week's issue that Karen Ryan, the woman whose voice is heard on the controversial VNRs produced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) touting new Medicare benefits, is an actress. Further investigation would have revealed that she is in fact president of Karen Ryan Group Communications, a former journalist turned PR professional.

We wrote in last week's issue that Karen Ryan, the woman whose voice is heard on the controversial VNRs produced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) touting new Medicare benefits, is an actress. Further investigation would have revealed that she is in fact president of Karen Ryan Group Communications, a former journalist turned PR professional.

But our regret over the error is tempered by a belief that Ryan forfeited any claims to victimhood when she uttered the phrase that ends the videos, "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." Such words suggest to the public, which knows nothing of VNRs, that the speaker has a reasonable detachment from her subject. But Ryan was reading a script written by the firm that hired her, which was hired by Ketchum, which was hired by the HHS - a fact never disclosed in the releases. Ryan's sense of victimization was apparent last week. "I feel like political roadkill," she told the Columbia Journalism Review. "To me, an actress would have a SAG card. An actress is someone that's playing someone they're not." She insisted she'd done nothing wrong, according to the article, because it's the responsibility of reporters, not PR pros, to decide what gets aired as news. It's an argument made by many in the past two weeks, including this magazine. But while journalists are ultimately responsible for what they air, it insults honest PR pros everywhere to imply their efforts don't need to meet a high ethical standard. The industry should ask more of itself than simply to produce VNRs that won't get them in legal trouble.

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