Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Quitters Never Spin

In all the buzz about former GW Bush press secretary Scott McLellan's book, there is a local West Michigan angle. Jerry terHorst, who was Ford's press secretary, quit the gig after one month because he disagreed with the pardon of Nixon. The PR trivia has been reported in the Grand Rapids Press as well as national media, including a mention in a Slate podcast.

Yep, GR's claim to PR fame is a guy who quit after one month on the job.

I would have to say this, though. terHorst quit because he disagreed with policy. That's his right. But was there really an ethical issue there? Just as lawyers represent people and policies they don't agree with, PR people advocate points of view for those we represent, whether WE agree or not. The job, particularly in politics, is to convey information so people can make informed judgments. The key is doing so truthfully.

Quitting a PR job is more important when you're being asked by a client or boss to lie. Or when you're kept out of the loop so you have "plausible deniability." Bad form. Icky. Time to go.

I often tell my students that in any career, including PR, you sometimes have to choose between your profession and your job. A prof I know from Brigham Young tells students to have a 'freedom fund,' meaning enough cash to live on for several months in case you need to tell a boss you'd rather quit than spin. Practically speaking, that can be hard, and truth can be murky at times. But PR pros should consider their personal reputations and enhance the reputation of the PR profession.

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