I’m on a slightly different rant today than usual thanks to a Vanity Fair article on former CIA Director David Petraeus and his “PR comeback.” While I’m not surprised that he’s trying to salvage his torpedoed reputation both as a former Army general and as director of an organization that I used to hold in high regard, I have to say I’m disappointed.
Why, you ask?
Because, once again, a public figure…someone who should represent high standards of professional and personal ethics…has proven indisputably that he is (a) a fallible human and (b) no better than the common herd.
I want so badly to look up to and admire public figures. But, in today’s world, where every move made by these individuals is seen and commented/reported on by both professional media and “citizen journalists,” it’s becoming more and more difficult.
I constantly remind my young undergraduate charges at Curry College, where I head the Communication Department‘s Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, that our challenge as representatives of organizations or individuals is to somehow help our client or employer understand that acting honorably and ethically is crucial to earning and keeping the public’s trust and respect.
Are we listening, Tiger??
The temptations are great, though. The adoration of the masses. The worshipful attention of the media. The unquestioning loyalty of staff members/assistants who, themselves, are basking blissfully in the glow of their boss.
I’m not suggesting that I expect and demand perfection…if that were the case, I probably would have burst into flames years ago. What I am suggesting is that the public deserves better than what we’ve been witnessing lately. Sandusky…Weiner…Woods…Armstrong…Petraeus…the list rambles on and on. (Note: I have linked to Wikipedia entries on each of these…there’s a boatload of additional information online.)
Although we shouldn’t have to rely on someone else’s guidance to tell us what might be considered right or wrong, ethical or unethical, I am grateful to the Public Relations Society of America for having had the foresight decades ago to provide a Code of Ethics to guide those of us who engage in the public relations profession in our day-to-day activities.
Under the Code’s “Provisions of Conduct” is this section about “Enhancing the Profession,” and I provide the wording verbatim from our website:
ENHANCING THE PROFESSION-Intent:
> To build respect and credibility with the public for the profession of public relations
> To improve, adapt and expand professional practices.
Not all PR practitioners adhere to the Code of Ethics. As with any profession, there are those who believe the guidelines don’t apply to them or their business activities, and there are those who, for whatever delusional reasoning, think they won’t get caught anyway.
Got breaking news for you, folks…check with one of the five folks above. Then think again.
Whatever the case, just remember. It’s a lot easier on your conscience to say a sincere “I’m sorry” for a genuinely honest mistake than it is to mumble a perceived “I’m sorry I got caught” with the cameras shining in your sweaty face.
“An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.” – William James, “Principles of Psychology” , ch. 9