PRSA deletes members' web comments, threatens legal action

It's the latest salvo in a back and forth of more than a year between PRSA leaders and two members.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

NEW YORK: The Public Relations Society of America has deleted comments made by two members on an internal organization website this month and threatened legal action if they re-post their remarks to the site or anywhere else.

PRSA leadership said that posts by members Mary Beth West and Susan Hart were defamatory in nature and attacked two past chairs, as well as their employer, Wells Fargo, and have been removed from the MyPRSA Open Forum website.

PRSA 2018 national chair Anthony D’Angelo signed the statement along with PRSA CEO Joseph Truncale. It was also sent to West and Hart this month.

PRSA also deleted several proposed bylaws posted by Hart and West, but then re-published them separately.

West ran her own firm in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area until this January. Hart owned and managed Hart Public Relations in Nashville before retiring in 2016.

The legal threats and deletions were the latest salvos in a year-and-a-half-long dispute between the two women and PRSA’s leadership, which has included charges of ethical breaches and claims of personal attacks on both sides.

It began in January 2017, after PRSA issued a statement condemning White House counsel Kellyanne Conway’s "alternative facts" defense of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s claims about the crowd size at President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

West sent a memo to PRSA’s national board expressing unhappiness with what she called partisanship by the group and with several personal anti-Trump tweets by 2017 PRSA chair Jane Dvorak. West said the tweets violated PRSA’s social media policy.

West also complained to PRSA last year about a USC Annenberg survey about the Trump administration’s communications, which PRSA promoted on Twitter, that she said was overtly partisan and poorly conducted. In both cases, she said, PRSA told her there was no evidence of partisanship and no need for action.

Hart and West also issued a cascading series of ethics accusations against PRSA’s leadership and proposed bylaw changes, claiming PRSA attacked them personally and brushed aside their concerns. The group also used unethical committee moves to support its anti-Trump advocacy and failed to disclose its financial relationship with USC Annenberg before tweeting the survey, they claimed. PRSA leadership has disputed those charges.

"Numerous issues occurred last year and instead of trying to fix our concerns, leadership continued to disregard us and deny any actions that we were clearly documenting and observing," West said.

The threat of legal action and deletion of comments came after the pair’s most recent set of charges involving two former PRSA leaders, an RFP for investment services, and Wells Fargo.

In June 2018, after dozens of emails, phone calls, and internal postings about the bylaws and ethics charges, several former PRSA chairs, including Del Galloway and Rosanna Fiske, posted a statement on the internal PRSA website supporting PRSA’s leadership.

Separately, and about a month before that letter was posted, PRSA put its investment services contract with Wells Fargo up for review.

West and Hart pointed out that both Galloway and Fiske were Wells Fargo employees. Even though the letter had nothing to do with the investment RFP or PRSA finances, Galloway and Fiske should have disclosed that they worked for the bank when they wrote it, they said.

West and Hart said that the access Galloway and Fiske have to PRSA leadership created an uneven playing field in favor of the bank, and both should disclose they work for Wells Fargo each time they publicly talk about PRSA, regardless of the topic.

West and Hart posted their charges on the MyPRSA Open Forum, questioning the ethics of Fiske and Galloway, tying them both to Wells Fargo’s larger crisis, and critiquing PRSA’s investment performance under the bank’s management.

Both Galloway and Fiske declined to comment and instead referred questions about the charges to PRSA leadership. However, for D’Angelo, the Wells Fargo ethics charge was the tipping point.

West and Hart’s comments, he said, belong in two buckets. The bylaw proposals were fine and could eventually become official PRSA guideline. However, he described the second group of comments containing the Wells Fargo charges as distortions, half-truths, and wildly inappropriate personal attacks.

"I’m going to be making very clear that’s not what MyPRSA is for or about, and we will be taking down messages like that from all PRSA media," he said. "If those persist and those keep going on and on and on, PRSA will take legal action."

D’Angelo said the PRSA board is planning to make a decision on the Wells Fargo investment contract Tuesday afternoon.

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