© 2004 Jonathan Bernstein
Estimated Readership: 14,000+
JUST A THOUGHT
Flying below the radar is no guarantee that a missile isn't about to hit you in the ass.
CRISIS MANAGER UNIVERSITY
Editor's Note: As someone who regularly preaches that "in the absence of communication, rumor and innuendo fill the gap," I was delighted to read this superb article. I -- and probably you -- have seen parallel situations in many industries.
JUNK SCIENCE AND FISH TALES
By Jeff Chatterton
You have to give credit where it is due... and lately, that means crediting activist groups who, with sheer perseverance, are making up for what they lack in scientific credibility.
Case in point - a resurrection of the "Farmed Salmon are Polluting the Environment with PCBs" story. This storyline claims farmed salmon have PCBs in them and are polluting our health and environment.
Sadly, despite ample scientific evidence that clearly says otherwise, this story continues to resurrect itself with a perseverance that would put an Olympic marathon runner to shame.
The latest version to hit consumers says, "The same toxic pollutant found in farmed salmon from B.C. has also turned up in blubber samples from endangered killer whales on the West Coast."
Let's count the junk science indicators here:
1) Lack of Numbers
At no point does the reporter offer any quantifiable numbers. In fact, the closest he (or she) gets is discovering the endangered whales "have detectable levels of a new generation of flame retardants -- PBDEs -- similar to PCBs..."
Unfortunately, due to the miracles of modern technology, you can detect just about anything, anywhere. But without hard numbers, there is no way for a concerned reader to know whether guidelines were exceeded, or by how much, if at all.
2) Lack of Neutrality
The story has no comment from a health or fisheries official. There is a comment from a Health Canada scientist, but he was the one who actually created the study. There's no way of determining whether a neutral third party has reason to be concerned.
3) Lack of Industry Response
Whether this is intentional or an oversight, the fact that the 'farmed salmon' industry is being slighted (again) without opportunity for response is either shoddy journalism or shoddy responsiveness by the industry. Which is further exacerbated by:
4) Comments from Activists
The "People for Puget Sound" managed to get comment space in the article. Which means they're either really good at responding to media inquiries, or, more likely, they initiated the actual story in question.
5) Vagaries re clean up plans
The activists are claiming "clean up plans are in place" in "other" jurisdictions and that the Federal Government is considering action. But without specifics, again, we don't know the seriousness or legitimacy of any of these claims.
So - are farmed salmon going out and needlessly poisoning Orca Whales? I don't know. But I'm certainly led to believe so. Is it shoddy journalism? Absolutely... but ultimately, the responsibility to ensure a proper message is the onus of the communicator. In other words - blaming the media may be fun but it doesn't get you anywhere.
Industry can claim unfair treatment, demand retractions or issue follow up comments all they want - but the fact is, damage is done. And damage is largely done because the farmed salmon industry was asleep at the switch.
This is an industry used to being attacked - in fact this very newsletter highlighted a similar attack on the aquaculture industry in February. Yet, despite being stung once already, industry wasn't here to answer the bell for round two. Lies left unanswered become the truth, and perceptions are reality. Too many stories like this one, and there may not be a farmed salmon industry to respond to round three.
Jeff Chatterton is president of Checkmate Public Affairs, www.checkmatepublicaffairs.com, and editor of the Good Science newsletter, from whence this article was reprinted with his permission.
Politics As Show Biz, Or If You're Charismatic You Can Lie A Lot
Is anyone else as disgusted as I am that The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can get away with blatant lies regarding what he saw during his youth in Austria (Russian tanks, etc.) and essentially emerge undamaged? Yes, there was some critical press coverage featuring interviews with aghast Austrian historians, but the issue went away very quickly and it's now back to business as usual in Sacramento.
Governor Schwarzenegger, like Bill Clinton, is a charismatic leader whose charm and high intelligence make him SO likeable to the average American that they forgive him for his transgressions and "write it off" mentally as "show biz." So far that's two incidents -- his groping history, and now internationally broadcast, prime-time lying in order to "wow" potential voters. How many times will we, the public, let him get away with behavior of this nature? If he will lie to our faces, what is he doing behind our backs?
Readers of this ezine have, occasionally, accused me of political favoritism in my writing, but hopefully most of you realize that I lambaste examples of unethical or otherwise poor communication without regard to anyone's political party (or any other affiliation, for that matter). The rare reader has also complained that I'm abusing this ezine as a platform to express my personal views. Well, HELLO, this is MY ezine! I am not a reporter for an allegedly balanced publication, I am -- in essence -- a columnist. If you want truly balanced coverage...well...I'm actually not sure WHAT you could read!
Tracking Activist/Attorney Web Sites To See If They've Changed
If you have been targeted by activists or attorneys who launch a website, you'll want to FREQUENTLY check that site for new information. I was pleased to find a freeware program that automatically checks sites for updates and notifies you when they're found. It's called WEBMON and I downloaded my copy from www.webattack.com (aka Snap Files Pro). You don't have to subscribe to this site, but there are some benefits to membership that I thought worth the subscription fee.
Strategic Communication Management Fall Summit 2004
This summit will feature the best minds in internal and corporate communication as they explore the innovative and successful strategies used to achieve dramatic business results, to include a high level of focus on crisis communications. Melcrum Publishing presents a two-day conference on October 27-28, 2004, and pre-conference workshops on October 26, 2004, at the InterContinental New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana. Speakers are from NATO, General Mills, Pfizer, FedEx, AOL, and many more. For more information, visit http://www.melcrum.com/link/scmfall04 or call (877) 226-2764.
CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
Jonathan Bernstein Id'd As A Top "Crunch-time Counselor"
Your editor was pleased and honored to be profiled in a PR Week (9-6-04) feature entitled "The Crunch-Time Counselors". He was one of 22 crisis management pros identified as "people who should be on the speed dial in a crisis." He felt that this important information should be written in the third person because he hasn't yet started taking himself too seriously.
Attention PR Agencies, Media Trainers, And Professors!
Agencies and trainers: If you do not have your own media training manual, you might like the fact that you can add your own name to the cover of "Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual" AND you can add material (e.g., company background info) inside. This customization is subject to ordering at least 20 copies of the manual (at a quantity discount).
Professors: The manual is now being used as a textbook in PR and related courses. Arrangements can be made to provide it at a discount price to your classes or for the publication to be sold through your campus bookstore.
Everyone else -- you can, of course, purchase the manual and other educational/training materials at www.thecrisismanager.com.
Second Opinion And Spot Consulting
While I love to have clients with a wide range of needs, I'm quite willing and happy to provide spot consulting on an hourly basis. It's not uncommon for organizations to want just a second opinion about a breaking issue, or a quick review of their existing crisis preparedness plans. I keep such consulting very simple from a business perspective -- hourly fees for engagements under 10 hours are paid by credit card. Call (626) 825-3838 or write to email@example.com.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with a number of the services we mention periodically in this newsletter. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of its clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE EDITOR & PUBLISHER
Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com, a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 1013 Orange Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.
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