Today was about public relations -- but not about the public.
What was exposed in Parliament during the Murdochs' testimony wasn't necessarily News Corp. -- we shall see what happens to it -- but instead the cozy, closed ties between institutional journalism and institutional government. The corruption of their close links was what was most shocking about today: news executives and politicians at lunch and spas and sporting events; news executives hired by politicians and police to give advice and spin their ex-colleagues; news reporters paying police; news executives sneaking through the back door to the seat of power; government officials being protected from hearing too much about the dirty work of news...
Can this institutional incest survive the Murdoch affair? We'd better not allow it -- we, the public.
Today was all about theater and manipulation, of course. The only question was, who wrote the scripts? Was Rupert Murdoch's dottiness a strategy handed down from Edelman or was that him abandoning his libretto to declare himself suddenly humble (if that's humility...)? Was James coached to be a parody of a droning MBA? Was it in the crisis-management script for Rupert to decline responsibility for the scandal in his company and to blame those below him and those below them? Was it in his PR script to lash out at his competitors to for causing him to lose BSkyB, and not at himself?
Among the day's many ironies was Rupert Murdoch extolling transparency. The reason I pulled Public Parts from his publisher, HarperCollins, was because I use his company as the best example I could find of opacity as strategy: the company behind walls. The problem through his entire scandal is one of hiding the truth from the authorities and the public.
Transparency would be true public relations. Transparency would have cured News Corp.'s crimes years ago. But it didn't.
Jay Rosen was trying to figure out the News Corp. PR strategy -- and Edelman's strategy for taking it on. Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post and a fine tweeter, argued that "good crisis management can lead to good, not just spin." Richard Sambrook, former BBC News exec now at Edelman, concurred.
I don't buy the strategy, not anymore. David Weinberger, a friend of Edelman, says the secret is aligned interests. I argued in What Would Google Do? that two trades -- PR and the law -- could not be googlified because they depend on clients. They cannot be transparent. They cannot be honest.
True public relations -- like marketing -- must represent the public -- the customer -- and not the company. True government must work for and not rule the public. True journalism will not exploit its community. I was struck today by the class structure still evident in British news: poshish Rebekah Brooks pandering to the Cockney masses. No, true journalism will act as a platform for the public.
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