Tuesday March 9, 2021
 

Academic Suicide?

In academia, taking an unpopular position is dangerous, especially if one does it without evidence to support his argument.  This is the case for a Harvard professor who alleges in an article that Korean teenagers and young women used for sex by Japanese soldiers during World War II were prostitutes.  J. Mark Ramseyer has created an international incident with his piece and put himself on a downslope of reputation.  Fellow academics charge that he did not look at extensive evidence that would contradict his position nor did he cite facts that would uphold his point of view.  Why would a professor do that?  It is unclear but his beliefs must be deeply held to put himself in such a position of PR poison.  An open question is what Harvard will do about him, if anything.  Censure might be too lenient.  But, at the present time, he is an embarrassment for the university.

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Ad Hominem Propaganda

China is taking a tip from former President Trump.  It is personally attacking Uighur women who allege human rights abuses.  The government is revealing personal medical data for the women and calling them derogatory names.  While this might fly in China proper, it isn’t working in the rest of the world.  The government might not care as long as it remains in control.  Ad hominem argument is ugly but effective.  It raises suspicions in the minds of listeners who don’t know the individuals personally and puts targeted persons in a defensive position of having to prove the charges are not true.  China is skilled in the use of propaganda, and it is using it to effect in this instance.  The only hope the Uighur women have is for more facts to come out that support their side.  This will be difficult with the government’s total control of internal media.  

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Easter Eggs

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built the most recent Mars rover, Perseverance, loaded the machine, the parachute and other parts of the assembly with Easter Eggs for space fans to decipher.  Call it engineers having fun, but also call it great PR.  It is a reminder to the world that NASA and JPL have figured out the difficult logistics of landing on Mars and lead all other space agencies in exploring the planet.  The delivery method was insanely complex but necessary to ensure a soft drop of the SUV-sized robot on the surface.  For the first time, engineers and the world received video of the whole landing beginning with the heat shield and parachute that slowed the capsule from 12,000 miles per hour.  It is captivating to watch and in doing so, one is enveloped in the ethos of NASA and JPL.  It is enough to make tens of thousands of youngsters dream of growing up and working for them.

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Best Laid Plans

The best laid plans often go awry, or so the clichĂ© states.  That is what is happening to Pfizer in its efforts to supply the European Union with COVID vaccination shots.  It is an estimated 30 percent below goals.  This is a PR black eye for the drug company and a crisis.  There is no good way to make up for the shortfall and the EU will suffer by going without.  One could ask how Pfizer so badly estimated its manufacturing capacity, a question the company must address sooner or later.  It won’t look good whatever the answers the drug producer presents.  Pfizer is being tight-lipped and refusing to comment on delivery schedules.  That won’t get it far if the EU investigates or sues the company.  It would be better if Pfizer made a clean breast of its production and shipping, shortfalls and all.  But, that doesn’t seem to be something the company is willing to do — yet.



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Make Nice

How do you make nice after an international row with a government over payments to the media?  Why, you invest a billion in the local press and call the situation a misunderstanding.  That is what Facebook has done after blacking out news reports in Australia for a week.  The company is trying to play down the PR debacle over the fallout with the government.  The net result, however, is that Facebook is looked upon as a technological bully throwing its multi-billion dollar weight around and dictating to the rest of the world how it is going to act.  Backing off down under has given impetus to the EU and the rest of the world to demand payment for news that Facebook carries on its site.  Google has already negotiated but is still not out of the woods with regulators.  It seems both companies will be reined in sooner or later:  It is a question of time.  They need defensive PR/GR plans that alleviate the pain they will suffer.  

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Why Transparency Matters

 Gov. Cuomo of New York is under fire for falsifying the number of COVID deaths in the state’s nursing homes.  This comes after months of daily public briefings during which he seemed to command facts and events of the disease.  He provided an illusion of transparency while covering up real data.  The result is a PR crisis for the politician that is deserved.  Of all people, he should have known better.  He was using his public exposure as a way to leverage his power and now it has turned to ashes.  All because he fudged a critical number.  When will leaders understand that in the internet age, lying is nearly impossible without being caught out?  Former President Trump lived for the big lie during his term in office and had millions believing him but the majority of the country did not and he was voted out.  That was because each one of his fibs was documented in the media, and any neutral observer could understand the discrepancy.  Cuomo got away with his lie for months but not forever.  Now he pays the price. 

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Power Corrupts

In a quest for power, decency, ethics and morality often take second place.  Whether a CEO or politician, the desire to be in control can bend one’s thinking and action.  Consider Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  He went from a Trump enemy to a fawning disciple who stands by the former president because Trump controls millions of Republican votes.  There were no pricks of conscience to hold him back from trumpeting the former President’s lies and misinformation.  Power is everything and all and pragmatism the order of the day.  Perhaps it is too much to ask of leaders to remain humble when retainers bow and scrape.  If the one in charge forgets what the citizen is thinking and feeling, there is a rupture in relations as we see in Myanmar where crowds have taken to the streets to protest generals who staged a coup.  One role of PR is to keep senior leadership in touch with the public.  PR is corrupted when it becomes nothing more than a megaphone for the top rather than a mediator for the inside and outside of an organization.  

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Imminent Danger

The Supreme Court has allowed the release of former President Trump’s tax returns.  This is an imminent danger to Trump’s already maligned reputation.  Every shading of facts to allow deductions and tax avoidance will now become public, and if there are outright fabrications, criminal charges will follow.  Trump’s hold on millions of voters might well weaken if his tax returns show him to be a liar and a cheat.  A conviction of any kind for false reporting will only turn the public more deeply against him.  He might have many Republicans on his side but they are a minority and are unlikely to elect him again to high office.  If Trump, as is his usual, tries to bully and sue his way through any legal action, he will come against a determined prosecutor and a likely nonpartisan jury.  There is little he can do to protect himself.

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Dividing Line

 President Biden has crossed the dividing line between gun supporters and gun control activists by calling for restrictions on semiautomatic weapons, high capacity magazines and immunity for gun manufacturers.  He has touched off a war between the NRA and those who want to see guns put under more control.  It will be a public and government relations battle, and there is little chance of success with the current Congress.  But, he can try.  His first priority, however, is COVID relief and he doesn’t want anything to get in the way of that.  Odds now are that he will pass a budget reconciliation bill without help from Republicans.  Odds are the same for a gun control bill.  Biden would need to put the communications strength of the White House behind a weapons law and a full court press.  It is unlikely he has the time or bandwidth now to do that.  Chances are we will be talking about gun control a year from now without progress in the interim.

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Smart PR Move

 Retailers are giving employees paid time off in order to get vaccinated for COVID-19.  It is a smart PR move.  No one wins if a store worker comes down with the virus and spreads it to both colleagues and customers.  The cost of the time and transportation is but a fraction of the loss of business from the COVID infection.  One can claim that it is a self-interested move, and it is, but it is a situation in which everyone wins — employees, customers and the corporations.  There should be more actions like this among businesses.  Everyone benefits, and the business executives can rightly claim they are being responsible.

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