This week’s lipstick incident demonstrates The GOP has brought back the smear in earnest, a tactic reminiscent of the Bush campaigns from 2000 and 2004 (image by Mae Li). Personally, this kind of abusive use of communication powers — while effective — should be condemned.
This kind of manipulation should not be a surprise given these recent events:
Using our powers for good remains one of the consistent things we talk about at LComm. In reality, great communication prowess can be used for good or evil. Society has demonstrated that it is susceptible to misinformation. That’s why it was great to see the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) stand up against the manipulative communications tactics used recently.
In a letter to Robert Gibbs (Obama for America) and a letter to Jill Hazelbaker (John McCain 2008), PRSA Chair & CEO Jeffrey Julin, on behalf of the PRSA Board of Directors, asks the campaigns to sign a formal pledge obligating them to abide by the PRSA Code of Ethics in all communications, stating that:
The use of innuendo, incomplete information, surrogate messaging and character attacks, whether in political discourse or other forms of commercial free speech, raises serious concerns for our organization and its 32,000 members, each of whom signs a pledge to the PRSA Code of Ethics. In fact, ethical practice is the most important obligation of PRSA membership, and we maintain that our obligations extend not only to those we represent, but also to the publics they serve.
Many will question the effectiveness of PRSA’s message. Five generations of Livingstons ago, in 1913 my Great, Great, Great Uncle Sigmund Livingston took a similar step, starting the Anti-Defamation League. The League’s purpose is stop the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to end unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens. Says the ADL:
Founded on one man’s iron will to achieve social justice and to eradicate hatred, ADL has invested nearly a century in influencing, educating and effecting reform.
A generation later Nazi Germany arose, and from a communications perspective, smeer tactics and hatred were deployed by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels is often credited with creating Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht program. The end result: A country drunk enough to allow the genocidal extermination of six million Jews. This country helped liberate those left standing, and in an outcry against anti-semitism, became a champion of Israel, in large part because people like Uncle Ziggy (as he is known amongst the older relatives) beat the drum.
I’m not saying McCain is Goebbels, but the GOP’s use of smeer inspires fear in my heart about what could be. We must stand-up against abusive use of communication powers.
If anything, the past eight years has demonstrated that this country will vote with religious zeal rather than informed decision. Education, and the resulting intelligent decisions that it often inspires, has fallen to the wayside. Our population has become susceptible to manipulation.
As a result, communicators — particularly those in political campaigns — have a moral obligation to use their powers for good. And we as communicators with a voice need to start standing up and saying, “No, this is not right!” I tip my hat to the PRSA for a good action.