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January 20, 2005

Ketchum and Bloggers: Who Said What? What Remains? Lisa Stone Reports.

I expected more response. First, because this was the second time Ketchum was implicated in the possible misuse of taxpayer dollars for propaganda. Second, because USA Today tossed the blogosphere a bone by posting a PDF file of Ketchum's contract. Third, because pushing the PR industry is necessary work.

(Background is Jay Rosen’s, Bloggers Are Missing in Action as Ketchum Tests the Conscience of PR.)

by Lisa Stone

When the blogosphere exploded in response to Greg Toppo’s report that the U.S. Dept. of Education hired commentator Armstrong Williams to promote Bush administration policy, some readers may have gotten the impression that the DOE had signed a contract with Williams.


The DOE did sign a contract, but it wasn’t with Williams. According to documents Toppo obtained through the Freedom of Information Act—and posted on—the DOE signed a $1 million contract with the Washington D.C. office of Ketchum. Ketchum is a firm owned by $8.6 billion media services conglomerate Omnicon.

Ketchum then hired Williams, helped him produce ad spots, oversaw his commentary and TV performance, reported regularly back to the DOE, and wrote Williams his checks for a total of $240,000.

When Toppo’s story broke Jan. 7, I expected PR bloggers to howl in outrage at this abuse of their professional ethos. After all, it didn’t take black journalists long to call Williams on the carpet—the leadership of the National Association of Black Journalists called for an across-the-board media boycott of his work in a scathing public announcement:

“I thought we in the media were supposed to be watchdogs, not lapdogs,” said NABJ Vice President-Print Bryan Monroe, assistant vice president-news at Knight Ridder. “I thought we had an administration headed by a president who took an oath to uphold the First Amendment, not try to rent it.”

Update: Please see After Matter: Notes, reactions and links at the bottom of this post for comments posted beginning 1.20.05 and later by bloggers Elizabeth Albrycht, Steve Rubel, Trevor Cook, Kevin Dugan, Mike Manuel and others.

Here is a sampling of commentary from PR bloggers who did post about Ketchum’s culpability:

Richard Edelman. (Edelman runs the nation’s largest independent PR firm.) Blog name: Speak Up

January 15: “We have a responsibility to tell the truth, to foster dialogue and to reveal funding sources. We cannot tolerate any arrangement that envisages payment for placement. To do otherwise completely undermines the essence of our position as honest advocate and eliminates the separation of church and state for the media. Why bother reading the editorial copy if it is purchased in the same way as the advertising?” More here. Additional posts: here.

Jeremy Pepper (Independent PR firm owner in Scottsdale, AZ.) Blog name: POP! Public Relations.

January 12: “PRSA and Council for PR Firms take no stance. With the opportunity to take a stand, and put out a strong statment on the Armstrong Williams issue, and PR’s future, both PRSA and Council for PR Firms decided that all the blame lay at the feet of … Armstrong Williams….Neither said anything about Ketchum, but excused Ketchum. This isn’t the type of stance either association should take, but rather forward looking viewpoints and solutions.” More here. Additional posts: here, here and here.

Ben Silverman. (Independent journalist/columnist/publisher in PR.) Blog name: PR Fuel.

January 12: “With the media’s credibility nearing an all-time low, the credibility of the PR industry is not far behind. Those of us on the inside understand the delicate balance of the PR-media relationship, but the vast majority of the population sees PR and media operating in tandem, not independently. Firms like Ketchum, and quasi-journalists like Armstrong Williams, do nothing but help support the latter view. Sooner or later, the other shoe will drop, and both the media and the PR industry will have to answer for their sins. The digital printing press will see to that, even if someone in the mainstream media is unwilling to do so.” More here. Additional posts: here, here and here.

Colin McKay. (Based in Ottawa, Canada.) Blog: Canuckflack

January 12: “Shouldn’t the PR firm be held somewhat accountable for chasing a contract that blatantly violates journalistic norms and the PRSA code of ethics? If you get caught laying a little Astroturf, you should probably take some of the grief as well, don’t you think?” More here. Additional post here.

Tom Murphy. (Based in Ireland. ) Blog name: PR Opinions.

January 12: “Ketchum would want to re-evaluate their VNR business. Is the revenue worth all the grief they are getting? The fact they’ve been using Karen Ryan in the past is worrying to say the least, given the uproar that followed previous VNRs. As a result the response to the Armstrong Williams appearance can’t have been a surprise.Tell me they can’t have been surprised.” More here. Additional post here (don’t miss the comments).

Alice Marshall. Blog name: Technoflak:

January 9: “This is not the first time Ketchum has been caught manufacturing news. What is so stunning is the blatant venality. Usually these things are done with enough subtlety to preserve the fiction of journalistic integrity.” More here. Additional post here.

Shel Holtz. (Writer, principal of Holtz Communication & Technology.) Blog name: a shel of my former self.

January 14: “It seems that ethics policies only apply when the fallout of invoking them is of little consequence. The fact that Ketchum brokered this deal is a clear violation. To pass the buck solely to Williams is the same as letting Charles Manson off scott-free because, after all, it was the rest of the gang who committed the murders; Manson only put them up to it.”

Steve Crescenzo (Consultant, writer, heads Crescenzo Communications) Blog name: Corporate Hallucinations.

January 12: What’s odd about this entire thing is that the silence out of the Ketchum camp has been deafening. As far as I can tell, they have put their organizational head firmly in the sand, and are running from the situation. As you’ll see if you read the full story, Ketchum is referring all calls to the Department of Education. Yes, that’s right. The media relations specialists are referring all calls to the client.

There are some hard-hitting posts in there. But I expected a bigger response for several reasons. First, because this was the second time Ketchum was implicated in the possible misuse of taxpayer dollars to promote propaganda. (Remember “reporter” Karen Ryan? See the original GAO report here.)

Second, because the team took the time to link a PDF file of Ketchum’s contract and toss the PR blogosphere a bone. And, third, because pushing the PR industry is necessary work. Take this tepid statement by Harris Diamond, the 2005 Chairman, Council of Public Relations Firms (Jan. 18):

“While the Council is not in a position to review the Department of Education contract, nor should we be, Ketchum has informed us that they are reviewing all of the issues relating to this matter. We all have high regard for the Ketchum management team, and I am confident they will take whatever action is appropriate. We want to make sure that the Council’s position is clear: Payments to journalists for specific coverage (“pay for play”) is unacceptable.”

Here are a number of questions that occurred to me —someone with only an outsider’s perspective and no industry expertise—as I researched this story. What am I missing? I invite you to add to this list:

Unanswered questions and further thoughts for investigation

1.) Has or hasn’t Ketchum been fined or censured for using taxpayer money for its role in both the Medicare VNR and DOE/Williams media campaigns criticized by the GAO? Why/why not?

2.) As part of the Diversified Agency Services (DAS), a division of the Omnicom Group, are Ketchum officers held to the same corporate code of conduct?

3.) Does the non-disclosure of Armstrong Williams’ arrangement with Ketchum uphold the Omnicom code, both explicitly and in spirit? (See “Political Activities” and “Conclusion” sections)

4.) What are consequences for violating this code of conduct? Within Ketchum? Within Omnicom, the corporation responsible for Ketchum?

5.) The U.S. Dept. of Education signed an agreement with Ketchum designate “Elizabeth McLean”.

  • Is this person the same Liz McLean who directs Ketchum’s Washington D.C. office? Did she uphold the Omnicom code of conduct? How about PRSA’s?
  • In this contract, Williams’ compensation for a “Minority Outreach Program” represents less than 15 percent of the nearly $1 million the DOE agreed to pay Ketchum. Is Armstrong Williams the only commentator hired by Liz McLean to advocate for the government?
  • Who oversaw the creation of the prior Medicare VNR that generated the first GAO complaint?

6.) Are other Omnicom marketing, advertising and PR firms practicing business like Ketchum does? E.G., Ketchum announced a “professional writer’s group” in November of 2004 that includes many name-brand, award-winning former journalists.

  • What are the disclosure practices and ethical guidelines of working in this group?
  • Is it possible for one of these journalists to both freelance for Ketchum and a media publication that covers the Ketchum client’s industry? What public disclosures has Ketchum made? How about the writers? Are these disclosures in line with the Omnicom code of ethics? How about PRSAs? How about the SPJs?
  • Are there any other journalists, commentators, writers, celebrities and/or other public figures on Ketchum’s payroll?
  • Should agencies stop using journalists to write bylined articles? (Hat-tip: Edelman reader Ged Carroll’s questions here)
  • Is it ethical to pay journalists to do media training with clients?

7.) Similarly, what are the disclosure practices and ethical guidelines for activities by former elected officials such as former Congresswoman Susan Molinari, who now runs a Ketchum subsidiary?

8.) Should Ketchum return its fee to DOE?

9.) How did Ketchum determine Armstrong Williams’ compensation ($240,000)? Is this fee standard for a commentator/celebrity endorsement? Who set the price? What is a typical budget for ads during the second half of an election on these shows?

After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…

Here’s a list of PR bloggers who have weighed in on Ketchum’s behavior, Jay’s post and this post. I’ve provided a sampling of their comments, but, as always, I urge you to visit their sites to read their full comments in context:

Elizabeth Albrycht. Blog name: CorporatePR.
Here’s a sample of her multifaceted opinion on (a) Ketchum and (b) How she views her writing on the blog:

January 20: “…Ketchum was wrong and their behavior is a stain on the reputation of PR and makes me absolutely livid. I would guess (hope!) that the vast majority of people who work at Ketchum would agree, and I hope we hear more from them. But I am stunned at the buck-passing response of Ketchum leadership.”
…”While I am a blogger, I don’t consider myself a “pit bull of reporting” as Ariana Huffington would say. And Jay’s description of bloggers doesn’t really apply perfectly to me and how I see my blog….In my mind, my blog doesn’t exist for me to report news, but rather to explore theories and issues with a rather academic bent. That being said, I have noticed that I am increasingly being approached as a reporter of sorts, and I am beginning to want to do more independent reporting on the industry. I just haven’t put that into play yet, given I am up to my ears in Forum preparation….” More here.

Steve Rubel. Blog name: Micropersuasion.

>January 19:”I am square on his MIA list. In my case, I feel like I am free and clear because I blog about the intersection between blogs and PR. Blogs had nothing to do with this episode. I am only blogging it now because Rosen, a journalism professor, is criticizing the PR bloggers. Call me provincial, but I really have nothing to add to this dialogue. I feel fine leaving this to folks who blog on the broader PR industry issues. Does Scoble or Doc Searls comment every time the tech industry is attacked? No. Nor does it mean I need to be the PR industry’s Captain America.” More here.

Trevor Cook. Blog name: Corporate Engagement.

January 20:”Let me say at the outset that I think Rosen’s criticisms of the (general lack) of interest PR bloggers have shown in the Ketchum story are valid and important….the problem is that unethical practices affect the PR industry overall and something should be done. Government regulation is not desirable - though it may become inevitable if there are too many scandals. Effective self-regulation by industry bodies seems a forlorn hope. So, maybe we should turn to blogging to focus attention on the practices that give our industry a bad reputation. But, I’m not quite sure how that would work. Would PR people attacking each other look just like an attempt to snare some shred of additional competitive advantage? Still, Rosen’s article is a wake-up call, I think, and I hope it prompts more vigilance on the part of PR bloggers everywhere.” More here.

Mike Manuel. Blog name: Media Guerilla.

January 20: “I feel obligated to chime in with my two cents on Jay Rosen’s post. Honestly, I’m torn over the thing. Part of me is thinking what the f_ _ k, when did I sign up to become a PR industry watchdog? I didn’t get that memo. And quite frankly, I don’t have the time to police the industry. I’m having a hard enough time making time to walk my dog. But the other part of me recognizes there’s a bigger issue here for our industry, and to ignore it or pretend I can’t do my part to shine a light (really, a pocket flashlight) on the issue is silly. The opportunity has come and gone and I’m sorry I missed it, but the lesson has been learned and life goes on.” More here.

I’m eager to grow my initial list of bloggers by adding your name, comment and contributions—or please, add them yourselves below. I’ll keep posting these as I hear of them:

Marc Snyder. Blog name: (emm-ess) consultants

January 20: Here’s my take on it Rosen should have called out our associations, not the bloggers. [Provides list of bloggers who posted about it.] What’s the takeaway for PR bloggers? Some of us should have reacted to this issue. Myself included. Our associations have been silent/obtuse on this issue.” More here.

Also, see Jay Rosen’s growing list of comments at the bottom of this post.

More After Matter: More notes, reactions and links…

I just read Blogger ChrisRaphael’s comment here on Jay Rosen’s original piece: “Perhaps my site is too small and too new to register in the blogosphere, but I did have three posts on Ketchum between January 15 - 18, starting with a look at previous government efforts on propaganda and moving to a criticism of Kotcher’s PR Week article.”

No blog is too small. It’s the quality of the writing that counts. I need to issue a correction: Mediopolis should have been on the list of notable PR blogger contributors with Edelman, Pepper, Canuckflack, Technoflak et al. I take responsibility for any and all posts made before 11:59 p.m. PST on Jan. 19 that I missed in reporting this round-up. I welcome the corrections—please keep them coming!

Mediopolis, founded in January 2005 by bloggers ChrisRaphael, MonikaZ, PauNino and UnsoberGrandpa, performs some of the best blogging I’ve read on Ketchumgate—particularly its scrutiny of media coverage of this story and its historical context for government abuse of propaganda laws:

January 15: “To appreciate how low a modern public relations agency will sink to shape public opinion, it’s worth taking a hard look at Ketchum Public Relations….None of the government agencies were ever held accountable for their propaganda and, of course, it’s unlikely that any government agency will have to make amends for using taxpayer funds to spread propaganda. The Chicago Tribune, in a recent editorial, suggested that the Bush administration was destroying its credibility through phony news reports and journalistic bribery. It made a redundant and useless call for the administration to “tell the truth.” A more successful route might be for news organizations to increase their scrutiny of the propaganda marriage between the U.S. government and public relations firms.” More here. Additional posts here, here, here, here, and here.


Jeneane Sessum. Blog name: Allied.

January 7: “I worked for Ketchum once upon a time. I have never been secret about my likes and dislikes. I have a few fond memories. I also think the business model of BigPR is broken for good.” More here.

Eric Schwartzman. Blog name: Internet PR News Blog

January 17: “Interestingly enough, Rich never mentions Ketchum by name in his column, referring only to a “private p.r. agency” through which the payola flowed. But perhaps more importantly for readers of this blog is that on the heels of Fleischmann-Hillard’s recent indictment for the rampant over billing of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), another big p.r. firm has lost credibility in the eyes of both the media and the public.”

Posted by Lisa Stone at January 20, 2005 11:34 AM   Print


If you read my comments to Professor Rosen's work, posted on my blog, you'll find that a number of other PR bloggers wrote about this.

Professor Rosen's saying that "PR bloggers are missing in action" is/was false. Your repeating it isn't much better.



Posted by: Marc Snyder at January 20, 2005 1:01 PM | Permalink


Thanks for your comments. I commend your list of PR bloggers who made excellent initial comments about Ketchum's role and about the response of PR industry associations. Many of the bloggers you recommend are on my list--although my Spanish is shaky enough that I stuck to English.

Do our lists demonstrate, however, that few bloggers have continued to press the larger issues called into question by Ketchum's agreement with the DOE beyond their initial posts? (Other than Richard Edelman and Jeremy Pepper, that is.) Does this mean the lobby's tepid responses are acceptable? I agree with you that they are not. I am eager to see whether and how PR bloggers will continue to provide industry leadership, which seems essential given Ketchum/Omnicom's size and influence. These are questions that The New York Times' Stuart Elliot and various Washington Post reporters are pursuing in a measured, valuable way.

This discussion may also call into question a number of the points that Rebecca MacKinnon makes in this post about the conference she has helped organize at Harvard this weekend. I'm particularly interested in her questions about our roles and responsibilities as bloggers. For example, can we (as news bloggers and/or as PR bloggers) provide leadership to media commentators and colleagues by disclosing all of our business and personal relationships? What's appropriate? What's necessary?

Here's an excerpt from MacKinnon's FAQ:

Q: Are you trying to set ethical standards for all bloggers?

A: No, we definitely are not. However, we are very interested in the ethical questions surrounding the process of blogging. For instance: How much about yourself do you need to disclose (personally, financially, and politically) as an independent blogger - or as a journalist who blogs for a news organization - if you are going to be deemed credible by the public over the long run? Other questions: Is linking different than quoting? If a news organization links to an independent blogger who was blogging the tsunami but who then suddenly posts libellous photoshopped pictures of local politicians in the midst of scandalous acts, is that news organization liable? There are questions about whether a community might deem certain online (or offline) information to be "credible" even when it is not, actually true. (Large parts of the world still believe Israel's Mossad was behind the 9/11 attacks, for example.) What influences the public's decisions over what they think is or isn't credible - from mainstream media or from blogs? How much does that have to do with fact? Then there's the question of how you make money while credibly and responsibly informing the public over the long run?"

I look forward to your thoughts

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 20, 2005 1:36 PM | Permalink

Yes, I had "other priorities" -- important ones at that -- but why be so dismissive? And why not link to my post about the issues, where I explained those priorities (and why I thought I SHOULD have posted earlier anyways) vs. just to my blog itself?

I gave Jay the benefit of the doubt re: agenda pushing earlier today. Now I begin to wonder.

To those who care to actually review the "facts" of my silence, feel free to read my post here.

As for the "larger issues", I think you find most of us pushing for ethical practices of PR a great deal in our day-to-day posts. Not to mention that most of us have full time jobs beyond being PR's watchdogs/reporters...if that is a role we want/choose to play.

I'll reiterate what many others have said: Where is the PRSA and IABC on this one?

Posted by: Elizabeth Albrycht at January 20, 2005 3:11 PM | Permalink

Elizabeth: I linked to everyone's posts in my After section here, including yours. We'll make sure that this one reflects the same facts.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 20, 2005 3:59 PM | Permalink


Thank you for your comments. I just returned from my own full-time job to updated this post with your extensive remarks and those of the other PR bloggers I used as a starter list of the Top 12. (And while I can excerpt, even extensively, I encourage readers to read your complete comments as you present them on your blog.)

I'm eager to hear how you would improve the list of questions above -- perhaps for the PRSA and IABC?

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 20, 2005 6:58 PM | Permalink

1.) Has or hasn't Ketchum been fined or censured for using taxpayer money for its role in both the Medicare VNR and DOE/Williams media campaigns criticized by the GAO? Why/why not?

As far as I know they have not been fined or censured. There is a reason for this, it is known as due process of law. Tried in the media remains a figure of speech. The federal government does not fine people or institutions on the basis of negative press.

You ask some other very good questions. I hope you will follow up and report back to the rest of us. Press Think is not our assignment desk, as I wrote on my blog with some force.

I suspect future stories will come neither from traditional media or blogosphere but from the office of Rep. Louis Slaughter.

Posted by: Alice Marshall at January 20, 2005 8:46 PM | Permalink

excuse me for interjecting here, but as your basic average american, I think you need to know something.

When we hear the words "Public Relations", what we perceive is "Liar".

Okay, maybe "Liar" is too strong...but the average person knows two thing when they talk to a public relations person,

The first thing is that nothing a PR person says can be trusted.

The second thing is that the PR person is there to keep the company decision-makers from having to deal with the public.

The average american would probably think that what Ketchum did was not scandalous for a PR firm to do. They expect this kind of thing from PR firms.

I mean, I'm reading all of this stuff and thinking "Don't these people realize that 'PR' has an image problem?" The irony is so thick I get dizzy considering all of its various permutations.

Posted by: paul_lukasiak at January 20, 2005 9:26 PM | Permalink

I suggest you put the UPDATE "above the fold" on your index page (move your continue reading link to after the update).

Also, I'd like to link my comment to the previous post here as well.

I find it interesting that Jay is "calling out" PR bloggers after defending "bloggers rights" to write (or not write) about what they wanted.

Posted by: Sisyphus at January 20, 2005 10:58 PM | Permalink

Alas. You didn't find as interesting my explanation for it, where I admit that my claim on the writing agenda of any individual blogger is weak.

"What is a PR blogger, and what are they supposed to be doing? I can't say we know the answers to that. It's hard to tell any individual blogger what to write about, where to link. And I am not offering my criticisms at that level. The answer may simply be: "There are a small number of bloggers covering PR, they all have other lives, other interests. They're not full time bloggers. Give them a break."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 20, 2005 11:46 PM | Permalink

Jay: "Alas. You didn't find as interesting my explanation for it, where I admit that my claim on the writing agenda of any individual blogger is weak."

Quite the contrary, I found that just as interesting. Was that your attempt at rowback? Go in strong and accusatory and at the end pull an Emily Litella, "Never mind"?

I find it very interesting to compare your, and Jeff Jarvis', response to people who called you out in the initial days of the CBS News/60 Minutes Wednesday fiasco and what you wrote about the PR bloggers.

It's not that your claim was weak. You were adamant before that any claim was a violation of a blogger's right to control the content of her blog.

Posted by: Sisyphus at January 21, 2005 1:27 AM | Permalink

I also find it interesting to contrast that ideal, a blogger's right to control the content of her blog, with Gillmor's, "My Readers Know More Than I Do."

Posted by: Sisyphus at January 21, 2005 1:33 AM | Permalink

Alice Marshall:

Touche--I mean to imply that GAO reports are documents that often trigger official processes (such as hearings in Congress, disciplinary proceedings within government agencies, etcetera) that reach beyond media coverage.

Thanks, I'm glad you think some of these questions are very good. Hat-tip to Trevor Cook, who suggests improving the list here.

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 21, 2005 1:43 AM | Permalink

Indeed, I am still adamant. Bloggers have an absolute right to control what they say at their blog. PR bloggers, Jarvis-style bloggers, me, you-- everyone.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 21, 2005 2:33 AM | Permalink

Thank you Lisa for adding my thoughts to After Matter. You too Jay.

Paul - believe me, I am well aware that PR has an image problem. I have been working in it and fighting it for 15 years.

For the record:

1) I've never knowingly lied for a company (I've been lied to more than once).
2) My business has been more about trying very hard to get press to talk to the companies I represent, not the other way around (I specialize in start-ups).

Given that I own a small agency, and I work with small companies, the kinds of budgets these types of activities require (buying off journos) is not remotely an option for me (and I wouldn't do it if it was).

The questions Lisa raises are important ones, particularly as the lines between inside/corporate and outside/commentator (journo, blogger, etc.) continue to blur. The ethical situation here is getting murkier and deserves hard thought.

I intend to focus some of my efforts in 2005 to trying to understand the growing complicatedness of persuasion and influence. I hope you'll join me.

Posted by: Elizabeth Albrycht at January 21, 2005 5:46 AM | Permalink

I know alot of the bloggers that were called out by Jay in his original post, and that you list here (and who have commented). We all blog for different reasons, and blog in different styles. And, for the most part, we do what we do because we want to change certain practices or highlight new tools.

The call for IABC, PRSA et al to take a stand is important, but if they fail us by playing it safe to their constituents, hopefully the grass roots take over.

That was my (hopefully) last post on Ketchum for awhile...

And, I'll join you Elizabeth.

Posted by: Jeremy at January 21, 2005 10:48 AM | Permalink

Elizabeth, you can count me in too. You describe exactly the reason I looked into this story--and nothing concerns me more:

"as the lines between inside/corporate and outside/commentator (journo, blogger, etc.) continue to blur. The ethical situation here is getting murkier and deserves hard thought."

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 21, 2005 11:17 AM | Permalink

"Here are a number of questions that occurred to me --someone with only an outsider's perspective and no industry expertise--as I researched this story."

What's the best way to go about getting answers to these questions?

And to generalize - as an outsider with no industry expertise, how do you find out what an industry's standard practices are?

(BTW, with respect to the PR industry, one insider's perspective is blogged here)

Posted by: Anna at January 21, 2005 4:07 PM | Permalink

Strategic Public Relations: Why Isn't Ketchum Blogging? Good question: Meanwhile, Trevor Cook put this in the comments: "An excellent piece - very enjoyable. And I do appreciate your longer more reflective pieces. Plus I think your thinking reflects deep engagement with the world as it is lived while some of the analysis of Rosen and others tends to have the outsider's rush to judgment."

Which "rush" to which judgment would that be?

Trevor: I think you are spinning.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at January 22, 2005 9:55 AM | Permalink


You asked: "What's the best way to go about getting answers to these questions? And to generalize - as an outsider with no industry expertise, how do you find out what an industry's standard practices are?"

I just ask. I ask everyone I think has some expertise in the field. And I always conclude by asking, what's missing from my questions? What/who/how I should be asking that I'm not? So I'll be consistent: How would you improve this approach, Anna?

Here's an example of someone who's asking excellent questions akin to some I raised above: Journalist Michael Meckler blogged today on about a letter he sent Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball. In the letter, Meckler takes Matthews to task for Ketchum executive Susan Molinari's appearance on his show Thursday night. Ms. Molinari, as I mention above, is also a former GOP Congresswoman--her financial benefit from lauding the Bush Administration as an inaugural commentator (in the form of more Ketchum contracts) was not disclosed to viewers. Here's an excerpt from Meckler's email to Matthews--and I urge you read the whole thing:

"I cannot believe that you are not aware that Susan Molinari heads up the Washington office of the public relations firm Ketchum, which is at the center of controversy over whether the Bush administration has been using propaganda tactics to promote controversial government programs. Ketchum is the firm that paid conservative black pundit Armstrong Williams $240,000 to plug the benefits of No Child Left Behind from a reported $1 million contract with the Education Department. Ketchum also devised video press releases on Medicare for Health and Human Services, videos designed to look like news stories and which the GAO last year called "covert propaganda." "

"You may well reckon that getting political commentary from someone whose public relations firm is currently receiving business from the Bush administration is no different from getting commentary from campaign staffers or political officeholders, and that Molinari's background as a former GOP congresswoman was sufficient to indicate her political viewpoint. But the fact that she has a strong financial incentive in promoting the Bush administration through her employment with Ketchum is an item that needed to be mentioned. Representatives of PR firms appearing on your sister channel CNBC would have to make such a disclosure."

More here.

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 24, 2005 11:43 PM | Permalink

A follow-up on my comment above:

Here we appear to have a scenario in which one journalist--Michael Meckler, a regular opinion columnist for a regional daily newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch--is holding another journalist--Chris Matthews, the host of a nationally televised cable television news show, Hardball, and anchor of MSNBC's election coverage through 2006--accountable for the way he does his job.

I haven't watched Hardball's Jan. 20 inaugural coverage (transcript apparently unavailable here). According to this Google search on Ms. Molinari, Mr. Matthews and Hardball, it appears that the former Congresswoman has been asked to comment on Hardball since 1999, the first year of the show. Ms. Molinari became President and CEO of Ketchum's lobbying firm, The Washington Group in October, 2001. She was also named President of the company's public affairs unit, Ketchum Public Affairs, in 2004.

To Mr. Meckler's point, I don't know whether Ms. Molinari was ever identified as an executive with a company that is a major vendor for the current presidential administration--either on MSNBC or when she appeared as a special commentator on CNBC's Capital Report during the 2004 primaries.

I think I'll begin work on some more questions.

Posted by: Lisa Stone at January 25, 2005 12:43 AM | Permalink

From the Intro