EDITORIAL: Passing of Ziegler elicits discussion about the conflicting role of Presidential press secretary

The death of Ron Ziegler, former Richard Nixon press secretary (see story here) has put the role of White House spokesperson in the spotlight. It has also revived speculation over the identity of Deep Throat, the unnamed insider who supposedly steered Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to breaking the Watergate story.

The death of Ron Ziegler, former Richard Nixon press secretary (see story here) has put the role of White House spokesperson in the spotlight. It has also revived speculation over the identity of Deep Throat, the unnamed insider who supposedly steered Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to breaking the Watergate story.

The question for PR professionals, particularly those working in public affairs or as press secretaries, is to whom does one in such a position owe loyalty? Ziegler steadfastly defended his boss, derided the Washington Post duo, and famously called the Watergate break-in a "third-rate burglary." Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Clinton, met Ziegler a number of times when they spoke on panels together. He said Ziegler's view of his situation was that he was caught between the media and the President at a moment when the relationship between them was very different than it is now. "The country was coming off an era in which government tended to get the benefit of the doubt," McCurry explained. "That began to erode with Vietnam." The lesson learned by post-Nixon press secretaries was that loyalty to the President could only go so far. Once an issue enters treacherous legal territory, today's press representatives may not want to follow. Of his own experience with the Presidential media glare, McCurry said, "I never wanted to go too far in talking about things I wasn't absolutely sure were true." Neither situation is necessarily a happy place to be, especially representing an elected official who is sustained through the public trust. Ziegler may not have been Deep Throat, but it would be wrong to assume he was always perfectly comfortable in the role of defending his boss, in spite of his enduring loyalty to him. Angst evident in early survey responses The launch of our annual salary survey last week has already yielded interesting anecdotal data, not statistically significant, but telling nonetheless. Remuneration is clearly a touchy topic right now, and our industry probing has provoked responses ranging from frustration to outright anger. An e-mail from "Ben," who, if the resume he attached was true, has worked in marketing and PR for 11 years, told a familiar story. His former employer relocated to the South last year. He didn't go with the company. Working as a consultant for several months, he said he has sent out some 1,500 resumes to no avail. What really sticks in his craw, he said in his message, is that the few interviews he has scored have not led to a job due to his "asking price." Another PR practitioner, who felt equally compelled to send me a detailed explanation of his situation, said that he relocated to Oregon and is working as a consultant for about one-third of what he was previously getting. This is the message these and other frustrated communicators are trying to tell me: Companies and firms won't pay us what we deserve when they can get away with paying less. No doubt, many companies will reply that salary expectations were inflated in the boom, and have returned to a realistic level now. The truth is probably somewhere in between the two. What is clear is that difficult economic times play havoc with trust. Recognition of value is not solely reflected in what one earns. To take the survey, log on to www.cyberpulse.com/salary. All answers are confidential.

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