When dishonesty takes over, credibility disappears

One way to identify an organisation that has lost its ethical compass is to look for signs of intellectual dishonesty in its PR.

If you buy that premise, you have to acknowledge that the AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, but now merely an acronym) is in some trouble.

Last month, the AARP made headlines in the US when it decided to support a Republican proposal for Medicare reform that will expand prescription drug benefits for some older citizens, but which also seems to have been designed to undermine Medicare over the long-term, possibly paving the way for privatisation of the embattled public service.

There are obvious concerns about whether the elderly will benefit from the reforms, but you wouldn’t know that from the AARP. It fielded and then publicised a survey evidently designed to show that most of its members supported its position.

But the survey asked the kind of leading questions that show up in political fundraising mailers, along the lines of: ‘Do you believe America should go to war in Iraq, or should we allow terrorists a free hand to plot the downfall of civilisation as we know it?’

Even veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove would have been embarrassed at the AARP’s attempt to load the questions, however. A prime example was: ‘Even if this plan won’t affect you personally either way, do you think it should be passed so that people with low incomes or people with high drug costs can be helped?’

If those being surveyed were familiar with the bill, that might not be such a bad question, but 62 per cent of those polled said they were either completely unfamiliar or not very familiar with the specifics of the bill.

Given their unfamiliarity, they had to take AARP’s word for it that the bill would, in fact, do what the question said it would. But that’s the very point that’s currently under debate.

So when the organisation put out a statement claiming ‘a resounding 75 per cent of AARP members polled… said the proposed Medicare legislation should be passed because it will help low-income elderly and those with high prescription drug costs’, it was using one of the sleaziest techniques in the business. You don’t do that if you have an intellectually defensible position.

Already 15,000 members have quit the group over its position.

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