...in The Economist regarding public relations firms and their roles in media. It is useful to be reminded that virtually everything you read, see, and hear from "popular" news media derives its material from someone or something attempting to manipulate opinion to either drive votes or sales.
FOR journalists, public-relations agents are like urban foxes: there seem to be more of them about these days, and they are more brazen than ever. Reporters were shocked, shocked to hear on May 12th that Burson-Marsteller (BM), a big PR agency, had tried to persuade newspaper writers and a blogger to scribble nasty things about Google’s record on privacy, while concealing that its growing rival, Facebook, was paying for this lobbying. To make things worse, BM then erased criticism of its shady spinning that had been posted on the agency’s own Facebook page. It thereby committed three cardinal sins of PR: becoming the story; getting caught; and appearing to attempt a cover-up.
The PR flacks who did Facebook’s dirty work were two ex-journalists who had only recently gone over to the dark side. Their error was to put their indecent proposal in writing, in an e-mail pitch. When the blogger, Christopher Soghoian, sensibly asked who was paying them to do so, they refused—again in writing—to say, whereupon Mr Soghoian published their exchange of messages. This prompted USA Today to reveal that it had been on the receiving end of a similar PR pitch, and the Daily Beast, an online newspaper, to reveal that Facebook was the paymaster.
More seasoned PR flacks might have done it differently. First, lunch the journalists concerned, ostensibly to discuss some other story. Then, over dessert, casually slip into the conversation the poison that their secret client wanted them to spread. With luck the reporters would follow up on the scuttlebutt without mentioning its source, assuring themselves that they had got the story through their “contacts”.