Liar, Liar … Prof on Fire

It’s a good thing that Dave Berkman is a “former” University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism professor. It would be a serious shame if he were still spewing garbage on the campus of my alma mater.

In an article in Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express examining local television news and what the paper calls local stations’ “shortcomings,” Berkman throws out a truly bizarre comment that makes him the leading contender for this year’s “WTF Did He Say?” award. Apparently speaking from his own little corner of the Twilight Zone, the prof says: “It’s a moral contradiction in terms when you couple journalism with PR, where students are taught to lie.”

What????

I had to wait for my anger to subside and my hands to stop shaking before I wrote this commentary in response to Berkman’s sanctimonious, out-of-touch, pointless, and completely untrue assessment of public relations. I earned a journalism degree at that same school, before Berkman came on the scene with his poisonous rhetoric, and the faculty I knew were members of the working press. They knew about the real world of journalism and not one of them ever suggested that PR people should lie as part of their job or their nature.

I’ve been blessed to make a career for myself in the practice of public relations for 37 years. I love what I do. I take it very seriously. I’ve never told a lie to the media or the public in my job. The only time I was told by an employer to do so, I quit my job rather than damage my credibility and that of my profession. It was the highest paying job I’ve ever held, and I just walked away. Poorer, but far better off.

Honesty and accuracy are the most important tools available to the PR practitioner. I’ve always believed that lying is the one sure way to damage yourself, your career, and your employer irreparably. Lie to the media or public? That’s called “professional suicide.”

So, with all honesty and accuracy, I say to Dave Berkman: “You don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about … so it might be a good idea to stop talking!”


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The comments expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Johnson Direct, LLC.

2 Comments

  1. OK, so if it’s “professional suicide” to lie to the public, then I guess Hill & Knowlton, who have lied on behalf of the tobacco companies and presented false testimony to Congress which led to the Gulf War, should be out of business? Nope, one of the biggest PR firms in the world. And these are just a couple of countless examples. Corporations do a lot of harm throughout the world, and they never have a problem finding “PR professionals” to cover for them.

  2. Ben: I appreciate your thoughts. I speak only as one who has spent 37 years of his life in the honorable practice of public relations. Frankly, I don’t think anybody who lies to Congress has a right to call themselves PR people. And I clearly don’t think that “spinners” should be looked upon as representing the rest of us. I’m afraid it comes down to the same sort of issue: does one bad apple spoil the rest? Because somebody in my profession chose to dishonor themselves, does that mean that the rest of us do? Frankly, the former Dean of a mass communications program for the school I love is off base when he says PR schools teach their students to lie. Lying is an acquired habit, just like smoking.

    And yes, in my opinion, anybody who presents false testimony should be out of business. Plain, pure, and simple.

    Again, though, Ben, thanks for having read my posting and for your comment.

    Steve

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