Almost 2 years ago, blogsite Strumpette the “naked journal of p.r.” demanded Edelman Public Relations heads, Richard Edelman and Steve Rubel quit their jobs based on three offenses committed by their massive P.R. corporation—
“• Engaged in secretive dialogues with carefully selected bloggers with the intention of slipping uncredited, Wal-Mart-approved spin into their seemingly spontaneous utterings;
• Offered unspecified emoluments to a consumers’ right website in return for their agreement to “stop writing about our companies,” including Wal-Mart;• Surreptitiously sponsored a blog by two seemingly ordinary Americans of their vacation tour of Wal-Mart’s parking lots, neither of whom disclosed their ties to Edelman.”
No question, these are shady tactics and props to Stumpette for giving a damn and making such a bold call-to-action. However, isn’t asking a P.R. firm to be truthful like asking Nike’s CEO to step down because Nike made ugly tennis shoes in 2008? Since the underlying mission of all P.R. firms is to dream up inventive ways to change perception, these three so-called offenses are really examples of Edelman just doing their job, albeit poorly. The Edelman scandals were widely publicized confirmation of the blogosphere’s vulnerability—like the conventional news media—to manipulation by corporate and government powers. Bloggers were equally responsible for this fiasco because they took the bribes and participated.
At the end of the day, bloggers are no more than people with pens. People are flawed, and that’s why the news, in case you didn’t know, is not and has never been a source of the truth. Behind every news story, print, or broadcast, is some sort of agenda, good or bad. Government officials and corporations have long used the media to manipulate their own public image and alter perception. P.R. firms like Edelman have raked in billions over the years crafting the strategies. What makes the blogosphere exempt from manipulation? Perhaps there are bloggers out there fantasizing about being part of a new media, one with total integrity, impervious to humanity’s evil forces, poised to save the world. This optimistic view is hardly realistic. As long as blogging involves people and keyboards, integrity will be a pipe dream.
More recently, Strumpette echoed Edelman’s announcement of their irony-laden plan to move forward with a policy of “authentic communications.” In other words, no more fake people writing fake blogs about “Wal-Marting Across America.” Is this a victory for the bloggers who ranted about Edelman’s devious tactics? Has peace, harmony and tranquility been restored? Edelman, no doubt will keep trying to shift perception in this world, using shady tactics now and then, but they’ll be slicker about it so they can avoid another of their own public relations disasters. The Edelman scandals were as much P.R. disaster for the blogosphere as they were for public relations firms. The blogging backlash was, essentially, the blogosphere doing it’s own P.R. work, and doing it pretty well. Who do you blame for the scandals—the little guy or the evil, international forces of greed and injustice? It’s always easy to root for the underdog, but both parties were equally responsible in this case. What’s all the fuss anyway? Do we actually expect anonymous people behind computers to have indefatigable integrity anyway? Please.
In defense of the “man” Edelman P.R., consider this—they do public relations for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is considered by many to be an evil corporation because they pay their workers low wages and don’t provide benefits, among many other mortal sins. Is working at Wal-Mart the only menial job that doesn’t pay well? No question, Wal-Mart should pay their workers a little more and provide better benefits, but what about Edelman Public Relations? They’re a multi-national corporation employing thousands of people worldwide. They pay their skilled employees a heck of a lot more than Wal-Mart does. The blogosphere managed to trash the reputation a company that provides gainful employment. So much for saving the working man and woman. If Edelman turned down work from companies like Wal-Mart on the basis of being noble, guess what happens? Profits go down and employees are laid off, meanwhile chances to do P.R. for better causes pro-bono are lost. Edelman been involved with some very noble causes in its history, despite what you may think, like, for example, helping Starkist Tuna figure out how to make all they’re fish products “Dolphin Safe” (term coined by Edelman P.R.). They may not be a completely “good” corporation (is there such a thing?), but they’re no Haliburton. The got caught with their hands in the cookie jar and, thankfully, were exposed blog entities like Strumpette, but there’s always another side to the story.