The Flak Over Flacks

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen offers an opinion this morning about a certain new book …

There is nothing funny about this past week's revelations that former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan lied to the American people about certain vital policy decisions within the Bush Administration.

It's a confession which supports the worst suspicions that millions of Americans have about the current leadership in Washington.

But in every tragic drama comes a moment of comedic Zen. And in L'Affair McClellan, that has come from the public relations community, where some now wonder whether the former flack violated the "ethics" of his craft.

Apparently, an industry the very essence of which is to try to convince people that a turkey is really an eagle has a rule that condemns lying.

The Public Relations Society of America states: "We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent..." This clause strikes me as if the Burglars Association of America had as its creed "Thou Shalt Not Steal."

Show me a PR person who is "accurate" and "truthful," and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed.

The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm, and it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican.

So McClellan is a liar. Big deal. Thomas Jefferson was a liar, and so was Franklin Roosevelt. John Kennedy lied and so did Richard Nixon.

During the time it took me to write this essay I'll bet dozens of PR people blatantly lied to their audiences, despite the presence of proclamations declaring that they should not.

You can't try to convince someone that a milk cow is really a racehorse without lying. You can't build a profession based a deceit and spin, then create "ethics" rules that call for honesty, and then criticize McClellan.

He did what his predecessors had done and what his successors are doing and will continue to do until no one listens to them anymore from the podium. It's as American as Apple Pie and indictments - as book deals, and perjury.

And that's the truth.


Click here to read Andrew Cohen's follow-up to the response this essay has received.
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