The New York Times and When Not To Publish

 The New York Times and When Not To Publish

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times. (Pictured: Times editor Jill Abramson.)

When does The New York Times decide it won’t publish something on the grounds that it might impinge on national security? It’s a question the paper of record has had to address recently. An angry Congress wants clarification, as do some readers. What to say?

The controversy stems from recent articles published in the NY TImes about President Obama’s “kill list,” as well as the U.S. government’s computer virus warfare against Iran.  Obama’s critics claim the information came directly from the White House in order to bolster the President’s tough image on national security. Obama’s PR says this is dead wrong and that the President is intent on cracking down on staff leaking classified information.

The Times‘s defense? It always consults with government officials prior to publication. The paper confirms that government officials had not asked the paper to spike the two stories in question, and it rejects any suggestion that national security was endangered. “No story about details of government secrets has come near to demonstrably hurting the national security in decades and decades,” is the official quote. Case closed for The New York Times (for the moment).

The PR Verdict: C (Distinctly OK) for The New York Times, whose response still keeps the decision to publish or not in the realm of a high level of discretion. Something more objective might help the debate.

PR Takeaway: Freedom of speech and public interest rest on a continuum of interest and competing concerns. The Times has chosen to portray the issues as relatively straightforward – dangerous to release, or not? Why not talk about the issue as a long continuum with transparency at one end and secrecy on the other. List and weigh factors that might have a bearing on publication. Think of it as a point system; it will undoubtedly be imperfect, but it would change the debate from a discretion-based decision to something more independent and apolitical.

To read more, click here.

Is The New York Times releasing information that could compromise national security, or exercising the freedom of press? Give us your PR Verdict, below.

The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

operanews  The Ruffled Feathers of Opera News

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.

What a puzzling (and entertaining) fuss at Opera News, the venerable classical music magazine, published by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the fund raising affiliate of NY Metropolitan Opera.  Feathers have been ruffled by the magazine’s decision to no longer review the productions of its parent, New York Metropolitan Opera.

Peter Gelb, the controversial head of Met Opera gave an interview to the NYTimes confirming the decision was made in collaboration with the Met’s Guild.  The Editor of Opera News then gave perfunctory confirmation that the magazine is no longer reviewing Met Opera productions.  He also added that no other opera company has been banished from its review pages.

Whispers suggest that the policy is prompted by the Met, annoyed with recent negative reviews of its own productions.  Conspiracy theorists are claiming censorship.   Whatever the case, negative reviews of costly Met Opera productions, published in an affiliate magazine, hardly enhance fund raising.

The PR Verdict: “D” for the Metropolitan Opera and Opera News.  The diva in this case should have let the understudy do the talking.

PR Takeaway.  Who explains an issue to the media is as important as what is said.  To minimise the suggestion that there was undue influence from the Met, the ONLY person who should have spoken to the media was the editor of Opera News . The key message might have been that reviews would no longer be published to minimise conflicts of interest with current fundraising drives.  This was one case where Peter Gelb, General Manager for Met Opera, would have been better advised to be unavailable for comment and let the editor of Opera News do all the talking.

UPDATE : Since publication of the NYTimes article,  Metropolitan Opera has reversed its decision. The Met issued a statement late yesterday that it has changed its decision “because of the passionate response of the fans.”

Why Doesn’t Rebekah Brooks Have Any Supporters?

rebekahbrooks2 Why Doesnt Rebekah Brooks Have Any Supporters?

PR Verdict: “F” for Brooks and her PR strategy.

There was a surprising moment at the press conference held by Rebekah Brooks and her husband yesterday.  Rupert Murdoch’s favorite power editor had assembled the media to respond to news that criminal charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice had been levied against her, her husband and assorted colleagues. Complaining the charges against others were unwarranted, Brooks emphatically stated  “I was the Editor of the News of the World.  I was the Editor of The Sun and I was Chief Executive.”   What a surprise! Was Brooks acknowledging she had been in charge after all?

The odd thing about the situation Brooks now finds herself in, is that despite many powerful friends, she has no visible supporters, apart from her Murdoch cronies.  Issues keep escalating, new discoveries are made and there is no brake on the relentless pursuit of those involved.  With charges being announced yesterday, the moment to sway public opinion and temper the investigating zeal of others may have just passed.

Put simply, Brooks’s problem is that no one believes a word she says.  Maintaining her line that she was unaware of phone hacking (bar one rogue reporter) has tested the limits of her own credibility. Coupled with her now infamous testimony where she acknowledged the routine payment of police officers, she has become the target of rage for all matters Murdoch.

PR Verdict: “F” for Brooks and her PR strategy.  Disliked and disbelieved, the  future of Rebekah Brooks looks bleak.  Her salvation may lie partly in mustering some public supporters but where are they?

PR Takeaway: Sometimes it’s better to concede something rather than deny everything.  Brooks and her cronies have faced an uphill battle, hemmed in by a legal strategy that obsessively denies any responsibility let alone culpability. A radical rethink might be needed.  To restore some credibility to Murdoch’s fallen angel, comments to the media should acknowledge some  personal failure and fault.  What else might encourage supporters to come forward publicly and guide this issue into another direction? That’s the question her legal and PR team might want to ponder.

To see the press conference and read more click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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