Is Ethical PR an Oxymoron? Does 'Deadly Spin' Distort the PR Field?

Richard Edelman, president/CEO of global PR firm Edelman, recently reviewed former CIGNA PR head Wendell Potter's book, Deadly Spin, on his own blog and on PR news site O'Dwyer's, saying it "distorts [the] PR field."

I disagree. It exposes the PR field, or at least the dark side of it — some of which Edelman has practiced in the past (for Big Tobacco and Wal-Mart, for example, and perhaps others).

Wendell responded to Richard in a blog post simultaneously posted on Huffington Post, Center for Media and Democracy, and his own site.

As Wendell says, "The reason I wrote my new book, Deadly Spin, was to explain not only how the insurance industry used the dark arts of PR to shape health care reform legislation, but also how many other special interests use them to influence how we think and act every day."

Wendell, of course, doesn't think PR is inherently evil or manipulative. He writes in the book:

PR has been — and is being — used to good ends. Even the noblest of causes can benefit from the services of a communications expert to clarify facts, disseminate information, and counter unfair arguments. And there are plenty of ethical PR people out there to do this....

But with PR so intricately woven into every major industry and movement in today’s mass media reality, the stakes of spin have become incredibly high. And ethics do slip. PR often crosses the line into misleading, withholding, or simply lying. And when it does, society suffers — sometimes tragically so.

This is a conversation worth having, and I encourage all of you to engage in the comments of Wendell's blog.

Disclosure: I am proud to be a friend and colleague of Wendell's, and we're exploring ways that we together can use PR to the "good ends" that he notes in the book — one of which is to spread the messages in Deadly Spin. I left corporate PR years ago with that in mind.