Although former White House press secretary Scott McClellan gained instant attention for his recent book - What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception - discussions soon turned to criticism of the PR industry as a whole.
Among the most poorly constructed condemnations was that of CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen, titled "The Flak over Flacks," which flailed at the entire PR industry, saying, "Show me a PR person who is 'accurate' and 'truthful,' and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed." Cohen's on-camera essay offered little analysis, nor facts to back up his point. Instead, he chose to take the easy route and play off a popular assumption about the PR industry and politics. A follow-up, non-apology attempted to clarify his comments but only dug him in deeper.
PRSA was quick to respond to Cohen with a statement from its CEO and chairman, Jeff Julin, who noted the organization's Code of Ethics, where "truth and accuracy are the bread and butter of the public relations profession." Unfortunately, simple platitudes won't alter the hearts and minds of a skeptical public captivated by the current, McClellan: I-was-part-of-the-propaganda-machine loop, set to repeat on the major news outlets.
Cohen's "essay" serves as a teaching point. His misguided comments are indicative of the way the public still feels about the PR profession. From Enron to the Iraq war, the public has been deceived, and, for whatever insensible reason, blame the conduits rather than the decision makers.
The PRSA and others should take greater pains to talk to the public about their role in the business community. PR pros should do more than roll their eyes when someone besmirches their profession. There are thousands more Cohens out there, waiting for the next opportunity to speak.