Chapter 4 – Controlling Chaos

The power of big business in the early 1900’s brought upon a new job opportunity in America: the corporate public relations agent. Ivy Lee, a newspaper reporter, became one of the first ever – and quite important – corporate public relations agents. Both the factor of private wealth and the danger of the crowd motivated him towards the field. 220px-ivy_leeLee understood that how the public was in charge of what businesses succeeded. He decided he would become a liaison for corporations and the public. He would first mend the relationship between the two, and then use this to influence the latter of the groups in the future.

Lee’s work with major New York newspapers helped him understand the process progressivism took, and how he could do the same with a positive outlook on big businesses. Lee opened up his first practice with a partner, George Parker. Together they promised,

“Accuracy, Authenticity, and Interest.”

The two promised their work was open and not secret. However, this did not help their case just yet. Public Relations was still not seen as a part of the management structure, therefore they were only called upon in times of immediate corporate crisis. One of Lee’s most well-known projects was a great example of that: the Rockefeller family. In 1914, Lee began work for the infamous family. Previous stories on John Rockefeller and Standard Oil had poisoned the name, but the family did not take matters of public image seriously until the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. As rumors, and eventually evidence began to surface of the fourteen-person massacre in a Colorado mine, Rockefeller Jr. hired Lee to “secure publicity for their views.”

Lee instrumented a series of circulars called, “Facts Concerning the Strike in Colorado for Industrial Freedom.” These circulars were sent out every few days over the course of four months. They exaggerated facts on union organizer salaries to create awareness and sway views amongst the middle-class. They were to project blame onto union organizers and away from the actual culprits. Lee thrived on the idea that fact was the easiest way to sway opinion, even if it was shaped up. Lee, in this sense, was both a genius and a hypocrite.

Unfortunately for Lee, because the massacre involved a trial, he had to testify in court. It was discovered that the facts were not all true, or at least from an accurate source. Lee believed that if facts could be assembled and then delivered to the public in a suitable manner, they become the truth.

“…the truth is something that can be merchandised to the public.” (Ewen 80)

ethics

Today, this is without a doubt an unethical in the public relations practice. 10 years ago, a reporter known for his humor at The New Republic,  Stephen Glass, was caught for fabricating a plethora of his stories over a three-year period at the paper. Not only did Glass fabricate quotations or fake sources, but he even created entire events that never actually occurred for his news stories. As his stories went out, it began as private skepticism, and angered sources, but as feelings rose, Glass’s credibility was questioned by his previously loyal colleagues. It was eventually proven that he had not been truthful in many of his stories. Glass’s attempt to be entertaining was unethical in this day and age. Not only was Glass’s career over, and reputation ruined, but his actions shed a negative light on all of journalism. Although one individual did this, the public questions their trust in the media after an event like this. Others that committed similar journalism crimes can be found here. 

A list of the Society of Professional Journalism’s Ethics.

Helpful to anyone interested in PR ^

Stephen Glass Interview 

“Shattered Glass” the movie on Stephen Glass 

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