This book up to now has not dealt with what is often the largest specialization within contemporary journalism schools: Public relations. It is an important specialty, the occupation of at least 120,000 men and women in the United States and the major or concentration of perhaps twenty thousand college and university students each year. It is also a vital amateur activity for hundreds of thousands of other men and women, particularly leaders of small groups who have to deal with the press and cannot afford professional counsel.1
Non-Christian presuppositions dominate the upper levels of current public relations practice, much as they do the field of journalism generally. Yet, some public relations techniques may be put to godly use by Christians. This appendix has two parts. Part One discusses the theology of public relations at its highest government and corporate levels, through an examination of the ideas of the key founder of modern American public relations, Edward Bernays. Part One does not condemn all of public relations or suggest that Christians should not work in the field; it does suggest that Christians-should prepare to oppose Bernaysian public relations by developing a Biblical perspective. Part Two pulls out of one subset of public relations, "press relations," some useful advice for leaders of small Christian organizations.
PART ONE: PUBLIC RELATIONS vs. GODLY RELATIONS
Edward Bernays, known as "America's #1 public relations man" from the 1930s through the 1960s, was an intelligent ideologue as well as a crafty campaign director. When I interviewed Bernays at his home near Harvard University in 1984, he was still mentally alert at age ninety-two, and willing to talk about the consistency of his atheistic beliefs throughout a long career.
The basis of Bernaysian thinking was clear: He acknowledged that he did not believe in God. Bernays believed in himself and his ability to "manipulate public opinion," as he put it forthrightly in the title of one of his articles. Without faith in God, Bernays wrote often of how chance ruled the world. He said that public relations was necessary because, without it, society would be controlled by "the fortuitous and whimsical forces of life and chance." He wrote, "There is something appalling to the ordinary business man in the fact that his business lies at the mercy of uncontrollable forces of whim and chance." He said he met a need by showing others how "to control by means of propaganda what otherwise would be controlled disastrously by chance."2
Bernays did not believe in God, but he did believe in the worship of human idols, idols he himself could fashion: "Human beings need to have godhead symbols, and public relations counsels must help to create them." Bernays saw his idol-making as vital to the salvation of society: "We have no being in the air to watch over us. We must watch over ourselves, and that is where public relations counselors can prove their effectiveness, by making the public believe that human gods are watching over us for our own benefit." These human gods, created by astute public relations, would keep order by giving their followers reasons to live and goals to accomplish.3
Bernays also believed in the wisdom of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. Our interview was filled with comments such as "My uncle expressed this very well: People need sacred dances. Public relations counsels should be trained to call the tunes." Developing such power would not be difficult for those who understood human desires, because human beings are not individuals made after God's image, according to Bernays: They are rubber stamps, "the duplicates of millions of others, so that when those millions are exposed to the same stimuli, all receive identical imprints."4
This view of man as responder to stimuli led to Bernays' doctrine of "social responsibility": Powerful individuals with "the public interest" at heart must do whatever is necessary to preserve society from "reactionaries," or those with religious goals. Thoroughly modem social saviors are obliged not to abide by the ordinary demands of ethics that might apply to them as individuals. Instead, they must subordinate individual behavior and conscience to the "progressive" needs of society. Bernays' "elite," he declared, must manipulate "so as to bring order out of chaos."5
For sixty years Bernays was consistent with this message. He argued from the 1920s onward that "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society." Strange: A democratic society is normally considered one in which "the people" in general do rule. An authoritarian society is often considered one in which a small group of people rule. Bernays was trying to square the circle by arguing, in effect, that we must kill democracy to save it. Strange: Yet, without the presence of God's "invisible hand," there was no choice, according to Bernays; wise men such as himself had to "pull the wires which control the public mind."6
Bernays, developing the rationale for a public relations style which prized manipulation, also argued for a new methodology. A sound public relations specialist, Bernays wrote, "takes account not merely of the individual, nor even of the mass mind alone, but also and especially of the anatomy of society, with its interlocking group formations and loyalties." The individual was "a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism."7
The social Pavlovian nature of this procedure was, for Bernays, no exaggeration. Whether or not he and others could manipulate so mechanistically was, and is, open to question, but Bernays claimed that he could "effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can regulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline." The way to that goal was through working on the leaders, and through them their followers, sometimes called "herds" by Bernays: "If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway."8
Bernays argued consistently that "the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity" is a hero. Public relations, for Bernays, no longer needed to be defended as what sinful men do in a sinful society. Public relations, Bernays thought, was the service which saviors of that sinful society would take upon themselves to perform. It was hard work to be continuously "regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers," but someone had to do it.9
Who? Bernays' vision of the future of public relations was most attractive to status-seeking practitioners. Certainly, Bernays wrote, "There are invisible rulers who control the destinies of millions," but those were not the political leaders or big businessmen of common paranoia. No, Bernays insisted that "It is not generally realized to what extent the words and actions of our most influential public men are dictated by shrewd persons operating behind the scenes.''10
The behind-the-scenes operators were necessary to the operation of a society, and there would not be many of them: "The invisible government tents to be concentrated in the hands of the few because of the expense of manipulating the social machinery which controls the opinions and habits of the masses." As to the job description and title of the behind-the-scenes operators, Bernays was precise: "There is an increasing tendency to concentrate the functions of propaganda in the hands of the propaganda specialist. This specialist is more and more assuming a distinct place and function in our national life. [He] has come to be known by the name of public relations counsel.'''11
"Public relations counsels"--leaders of the invisible government, taking upon themselves the responsibility of saving civilization from chaos. "Public relations counsels"-a brave new profession for a brave new world. Most low-level public relations specialists have never heard of Bernays, and many even in the highest reaches have never read his books; but those with experience in major public relations offices and a willingness to be candid admit that Bernays' doctrine has become almost the official theology of elite public relations.
Bernaysian public relations has come in for its share of scorn. Judge Learned Hand called the Bernays-style public relations of his time "a black art," and others have been harsher. But Judge Hand admitted ruefully, "It has come to stay. Every year adds to the potency, to the finality of its judgments." There are some public relations managers, though, who persist in doing honest jobs. Some, with consciously Christian worldviews, stand against Bernaysian ideas.12
The Biblical idea of public opinion, in one sense, is similar to that of Bernays. Biblically, there is little praise for the rationality of either individuals and groups o f individuals, or for our ability to come to good judgments by following our natural tendencies. Rather, all of us are sinners, easily fooled by others or by ourselves, and ready to become a mob. Furthermore, our human tendency is always to proclaim ourselves autonomous, even though we know deep down that we are creatures and not Creator. Since the fantasy of autonomy can only be maintained when others go along with it, our human tendency, whenever we obtain power, is to attempt to manipulate public opinion in order to either make ourselves gods or to create gods of our own choosing.
Even in the first book of the Old Testament, some individuals and groups attempted to publicize themselves as well as certain physical symbols. Genesis 11:1-9 relates the construction of the tower of Babel by people whose goal was to "make a name for ourselves." Since the builders cared more for their names than for God's name, God responded by making understandable naming more difficult through a confusion of the languages of the whole world. The babblers failed in the effort to spread their glory throughout the world; they ended up without even a common name for themselves among themselves. So ended the first public relations campaign recorded in the Bible.
Other public relations campaigns followed, but one ran into stern opposition. In Genesis 14:21-24, Abraham showed understanding of the Sodomite strategy of image-building by refusing to take the spoils of war offered by the King of Sodom, so that the king "will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.'" Abraham realized that such a statement would be factually inaccurate, since it is God who made him rich. Abraham also avoided the possibility that others would perceive him to be in league with the Sodomites, either to the detriment of his own reputation or the building up of Sodom in the eyes of others who might think it innocent by association.
Throughout Biblical history, tension between public relations and godly relations increased. King Saul was so concerned about the crowd chanting, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands," that he began spending his time trying to kill David rather than trying to follow God's commands; eventually, his kingdom was lost (1 Samuel 18). Later, a paid discrediting campaign at first was successful: Following the return from Babylon, opponents of the Jews "hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia" (Ezra 4:5). Eventually the walls and Temple of Jerusalem were rebuilt; once again, public relations concerns won out in the short run, but not in the end.
The climax of the battle between public relations and godly relations came in the New Testament, with manipulated public opinion demanding the crucifixion of Christ. As Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary on Matthew 27, "The chief priests had a great interest in the people, they called them Rabbi, Rabbi, made idols of them, and oracles of all they said."13 At the same time, though, the chief priests and elders knew how to incite a crowd, so that the mob sentiment--"Crucify him! Crucify him!"--was as much a function of the public relations men of that time, having "persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed," as it was of any uncoerced public opinion.
Bernays' ideas, innovative as they appeared to public relations managers in the twentieth century, were merely duplicating the strategies of the Pharisees: Leaders first manipulate the crowd and then cite the crowd's voice as evidence of "the will of the people" before which leaders must bow. The cycle worked with particular viciousness when the only person standing in the way of the leader-mob alliance was Pilate. Pilate knew "it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him," but he nevertheless handed over Christ "to satisfy the crowd" (Mark 15:10, 15). For Pilate, public relations was more important than justice.
For Christ on the cross, however, public relations was so unimportant compared to godly relations that his dying words did not criticize Pilate, the priests and elders, or even the disciples who had abandoned Him at the end. Instead, Jesus focused on the only crucial issue: "My, God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34). By following godly relations despite Pilate's emphasis on public relations, Jesus, through His shed blood, empowered His followers to do the same. They would no longer be rubber stamps. They would be able to take to heart God's words to Abraham after the patriarch rose above the public relations plans of Sodom: "Do not be afraid . . . I am your shield, your very great reward" (Genesis15:1).
The Holy Spirit provides similar power to Christians today. Rationales for manipulation in the public interest are always
available. The decision about whether to practice deception regularly, though, depends on our understanding of how the world works: through "the whimsical forces of life and chance," as Bernays believed, or through God's Providence. If the former, then public relations officers who wish to avoid "social chaos" may fed self-righteous in taking whatever steps they consider necessary. They will often manipulate the public and then cite public opinion or even the public interest as reason for actions they take.
When we believe God's Word, though, we know that it is not man who prevents chaos, but God. There is no need to act out of desperation and prestidigitate for the supposed public good, because God has the whole world in His hands. In practice, a consistent espousal of godly relations rather than public relations requires a deep belief in God's sovereignty, and an adherence to objective, Biblical truth rather than an offering of incense to public opinion.
The starting-point for a public relations person who desires to practice godly relations rather than Bernays-style public relations is a willingness to witness to God's sovereignty and justice by not hesitating to tell the truth about God's creation, come what may.14
PART TWO: PRACTICAL STEPS FOR PRESS RELATIONS
If you are an officer of a small Christian organization you might be shocked if, for some reason, it comes under attack from the press. You should not be. Whether you are involved in a "controversial" issue such as abortion, or are "just" doing traditional evangelism, you may be on the enemies list of a reporter or editor who perceives Christians as closed-minded.
You need to be prepared to deal with unsolicited media attention, and you need to realize that, with God's grace, even a negative story often will end up helping your organization. This part of the Appendix, written in outline form, should help you to follow Mordecai's example and make better use of the gallows that may have been prepared for your organization (Esther 7:10).
A. SOME GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
1. Reporting is a young person's occupation: The reporter writing a story about your organization often will be in his twenties. It is also, generally, an unchurched occupation: One survey showed that 86 percent of the "media elite" seldom or never attend church. It is also an occupation with a training and reward structure that emphasizes investigative journalism.
2. Those general indications mean that the reporter covering a Christian organization's activities may be inexperienced. The reporter may be interested in the Christian organization because of contacts with anti-Christian groups. He may think Christian organizations have something to hide, something he will investigate and disclose.
3. Newspapers and television stations rarely employ fact-checkers. If a story smells right to an editor or producer, he will go with it. Current journalists often develop story ideas based on preconceived notions of potential conflict or reader interest. These notions may be based on what they have read in national magazines or seen on network television news shows, even if situations described in those stories have little in common with the local situation.
4. Sometimes a reporter will have his story almost written before he ever talks to you: He is simply picking up facts and quotations to use as specific detail for the story already constructed, or a short piece of film to insert. Good writing with apparently accurate detail generally will get the story past an editor, even if facts and quotations are wrong and the entire story is misleading.
B. FIRST STEPS
1. Your organization should prepare a basic "press kit." The kit should contain information describing what the organization does, who it serves, how it was started, how it is funded, etc. The press kit should include the name and telephone number of the organization's media representative, with indication of a willingness to be called for further information.
2. Your organization should have a person designated as its media representative (hereafter, "M"). M should make sure that whoever answers the organization's telephone is instructed to tell the reporter to call him. There should also be back-up media representatives in case, in an emergency situation, M cannot be contacted. (For almost all organizations such circumstances are rare; in most cases, reporters can wait, even though they may not want to.)
3. M should prepare a "standby statement" containing questions and answers to frequently asked questions. Critical articles about other Christian groups, or criticism from local anti-Christian organizations, should be analyzed carefully to see what kinds of charges typically are made. Responses to those charges should be prepared.
C. WHEN THE REPORTER IS ON THE PHONE
1. At this point, assume the reporter has been put in contact with M. The reporter typically will say either, "I am doing a story on subject x and would like a comment from you," or "I want to do a story on your organization." If the standby statement is a good one, the organization's position on subject x will be covered; if not, M should be careful not to give off-the-cuff answers. If the subject is one on which the organization wants to comment, the reporter should be asked about his deadline and told he will be called back.
2. At this point, M should think through potential answers and discuss them with others. Then he should be sure to call back before the deadline. If the subject is one the organization does not wish to comment on, M can say so. Reporters often will try to push interviewees into making a statement of some kind, but that pressure should be opposed. Reporters may say, "I just want to know how you feel about this," or "Can you tell me why you won't answer?" M should be steadfast in Biblical truth: "Let your yes be yes and your no be no."
3.1f the reporter plans a story on the organization, M should find out if the story is so hot that the reporter is going to press immediately. That is unlikely. Assuming the organization is not involved in some scandal, M should set up an appointment with the reporter when it is mutually convenient.
4. The reporter may say, "I'd like to do this today," or in some other way push for an immediate response, but if the story centers on M's organization he needs an interview to make the story at least seem "objective." If M declines to be interviewed the reporter will print that in the story, but if the story is not explosive and M agrees to be interviewed within some reasonable period (say, several days), the reporter will have a hard time charging your organization with lack of cooperation.
D. PREPARING FOR THE REPORTER'S VISIT
1. You and other leaders of your organization should choose a person to accompany M to the interview. The testimony of two witnesses is important, and it is easy to go off on a tangent in an interview; a second person can help steer the conversation back on track. Unless the reporter requests additional interviews or there is some pressing reason to the contrary, it is not a good idea to have three representatives of the Christian organization at the interview. That will look like either organizational timidity or a desire to gang up on the reporter.
2. Standby statements should be reviewed and updated. M should make an outline of important points. M and others might think of positive ways to answer negative questions. They might write out the answers to those difficult questions and show them to someone else. If M is unfamiliar with interviewing, he might want to role-play with another Christian, tape the role-playing interview, and listen to himself. He might practice keeping answers informative but concise: "He who holds his tongue is wise."
3. The organization should have a working tape recorder ready for the interview. Not taping leaves no protection against misquotations. Interviews for television news shows generally will be short, but for print media interviews twice as much tape as seems necessary should be readily available, M will not want to miss the crucial closing remarks because tape ran out. The tape recorder should have a microphone that will pick up voices well, since many people during interviews tend to talk softly. A back-up tape recorder should be available.
4. If a hostile television interview is expected, you might think of videotaping the proceedings. (In normal situations, that might be considered overkill.)
E. ETIQUETTE OF THE NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
1. If the reporter is thorough, he will come with a tape recorder and ask permission to tape. M should say yes as he brings out the organization's tape recorder. If the reporter does not bring a tape recorder, it is possible (although unlikely) that he will object to M's taping, perhaps asking, "Is this really necessary?" or "Can't we trust each other?" Assure him that it is really necessary. Never submit to an interview with a potentially adversarial reporter without taping it.
2. If the reporter objects, do not go ahead with the interview; the reporter will be unable to write in his story that your organization refused comment, and he will be reluctant to write that he refused to ask questions with a tape recorder running.
3. If the circumstances of the interview are positive (such as a pattern of fair coverage of your organization in the news outlet requesting an interview), precautions must still be taken; but this may be the occasion for a favorable story that could be immensely helpful. M should be ready to suggest to a sympathetic reporter several possibilities for a positive and truthful feature story on the organization.
4. If the reporter is writing an article based on criticism of your organization, M should find out what that criticism is at the beginning of the interview. For example, if M is representing a Crisis Pregnancy Center, he should ask the reporter, while the tape is running, "How did you hear about the organization? Who made the complaints? How many complaints have there been? Will you investigate abortion businesses as well?" The reporter may say, "I'd like to start with . . ." It is perfectly appropriate to respond, "We will be happy to answer your questions, but we would first like to know . . ."
5. If the story is arising in a hostile environment, M and others should beware of a reporter's requests for extensive personal background concerning organization leaders. The reporter should be told about professional credentials, but giving a testimony may backfire if the reporter wants to distort coverage by playing up in a sarcastic manner anything that sounds strange to him.
6. Following the interview, the tape should be transcribed immediately. The transcript may never be needed, but if it is, the organization will be prepared. The transcript also will be handy for in-house use, since the Holy Spirit may have made M especially articulate during the interview. Questions from the reporter on the transcript can be used to update standby statements. If some questions were answered poorly, M can learn from his mistakes.
E. NOTES ON TELEVISION INTERVIEWS
1. With television cameras, you are forced to make some kind of statement, or else your closed door probably will be filmed, with the reporter saying that your organization refused to talk to the press.
2. Typically, television crews have one camera shooting from behind the interviewer. The reporter will not be on camera during the interview. Following the interview, the crew will film the reporter asking questions. This means that sharp-edged questions during the interview, which might lead you to respond in kind, may be replaced by mellow questions, leaving you looking belligerent for no purpose. Therefore, answer every question in the positive way you want to answer it, regardless of the question's tone.
3. Remember that a press interview might last for several hours, while a television interview might last for ten minutes, of which thirty seconds might be used. You are at the mercy of the person who chooses which film to use; so do not let down toward the end of the interview: An antagonistic editor may show you at your weakest.
4. Occasionally cameras may be at your door, unannounced. For example, if your pro-life organization is picketed by a pro-abortion group, and a television reporter interviews demonstrators, he is likely to engage in "balancing" by coming to your office to interview your spokesman. This should be no problem if you have prepared and if you follow steps in Section E. Simply give concise statements based on your standby statement preparation.
5. Occasionally local stations taking after "60 Minutes" might burst into your office without warning. If your local television station acts in this way, make sure that whoever is in the office is prepared to say, with a determined smile, "You are being extremely rude, and you are trespassing."
G. WHEN THE STORY APPEARS
1. The story may be fair and helpful; if so, take advantage of the publicity. If it is a print medium story, tell others to read all about it, and reprint it in your newsletter. Show a videotape of the television story at your next general meeting. Coverage gives the organization legitimacy and, perhaps, added importance in the eyes of fencesitters.
2. If the story is negative, examine your organization in its light. Is your organization being attacked because you and others are following in Christ's footsteps? Or were real weaknesses in the organization legitimately reported?
3.If the story is dishonest and defamatory, do not despair. It could be the beginning of a major victory. M and others will want to contact the news organization--but first, all evidence needs to be in order. A general discussion of slanting will get you nowhere, either in a news organizations office or (if it comes to this) in court. You have to have specific inaccuracies or misquotations to obtain a retraction, correction, or equal time/space.
H. ANALYZING THE DISHONEST NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE STORY
1. Compare the quoted statements in the article with the statements M and the other organizational representative actually made. If a statement is enclosed in quotation marks, it should be exactly what was said. If any words are missing, the exclusion should be indicated by an ellipsis (three dots). If a statement is a paraphrase, it should accurately reflect the meaning of what was said.
2. Examine any charges or statements against your organization. Are they demonstrably inaccurate? Was M given a chance to respond to the specific charges?
3. An article on a controversial question often will have some paragraphs that can be labeled "pro" one side or the other. Count the paragraphs. Within the common mode of joumalistic "objectivity," your side and your critics' position should have received roughly equal space.
4. Examine the way in which "neutral expert witnesses" or "third party sources" are used. In a controversy story, use of such third parties is designed to help the reader sort out who's right and who's wrong. Are the witnesses actually neutral? Is their viewpoint
shown accurately? If you know the third party sources used, you might call to see if they were quoted correctly.
5. Only after determining that actual inaccuracies exist should you go on to the next steps. If the reporter has quoted M and others fairly, but you do not like the tone, and if he has taken facts out of context but has done so with subtlety, you have little recourse but a letter to the editor that probably will not be printed.
I. ANALYZING THE TELEVISION STORY
1. The same general considerations hold. However, analyze not just the words, but the video segment, with great care, as indicated in Chapter Eight.
2. Observe reporters' and announcers' intonations and facial expressions. Raised eyebrows and a sarcastic tone are worth a thousand words.
J. CALLING THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE
1. A few words about organization: Typically, the publisher is a newspaper's CEO, with two people�a business manager and an editor-in-chief�reporting to him. The business manager handles finance, circulation, advertising, and other business aspects. The editor-in-chief (sometimes called executive editor or simply editor) is in charge of all the nonadvertising rnaterial in the newspaper. Do not go to the publisher, except as a last resort: That is going over the head of the person in charge of editorial content, and is likely to waste time or produce resentment. Also, do not go to someone you know on the business side of the newspaper.
2. Typically, leaders on the editorial side are the editor-inchief, managing editor (who is concerned with day-to-day news and features), news editor (who is responsible for national and international news, but also for writing headlines and copyediting stories), and city editor (who assigns stories and supervises local coverage generally). Titles vary, but you probably will end up talking with one or more of those individuals.
3. Reporters are under the supervision of editors. Do not call the reporter who wrote the offending story. With ego invested in the story, and with less maturity than most editors, he is more likely to be belligerent.
4. Be aware of the role of the "ombudsman" (reader's advocate, public affairs editor, Mr. Go-Between, reader contact editor) if your newspaper has one. Don't let titles fool you: Unless the person filling the job is extraordinary, the ombudsman is not a reader's advocate, but an employee of the organization that has treated you unfairly.
5. A few ombudsmen may be more independent. They may be individuals from outside the organization brought in temporarily, with a contract stipulating fixed terms of employment with no possibility of renewal. However, ombudsmen are selected by the newspaper's management and are likely to share the ideological presuppositions of that management. An ombudsman may be helpful, but he is not your friend.
6. In short, call the highest ranking person on the editorial side of the operation--not the business side. Do so with the expectation that you may end up talking with an editor slightly lower in the pecking order, but above the reporter. Remember to be careful with everyone you deal with in a news organization. Chances are, if the news organization had better fact-checking and higher ethical standards, you would not be there in the first place.
K. CALLING THE TELEVISION STATION
1. Organization charts in television news often are functionally similar to those of newspapers, but staffs are smaller and titles are different. A producer rather than an editor decides which stories to use and how much time to give them. Often there will be different producers for morning, early evening, and late evening news shows. At some stations producers report to a news director, who in turn reports to a "general manager" or "station manager."
2. Many people think the anchorman (or woman) is tremendously influential. That is often not so. Within the studio his clout reaches only as far as his ratings. Organizationally on most local broadcasts, the anchor has little power. Only if he is so tremendously popular that his departure would cause ratings problems, can he throw his weight around effectively.
3. If you have a good complaint, do not call the anchor or the government. Call the news director or producer, if you know specific names and responsibilities. When in doubt, simply call the "general manager" or "station manager."
L. PREPARING FOR CONFRONTATION
1. After a defamatory story appears, an immediate meeting of your board of directors or other leadership group should be called, if possible. Before the meeting, a memo noting the article's factual inaccuracies and misquotations should be prepared. The memo should be free of church jargon, understandable on first reading or hearing, and succinct. The act of composing the memo will help your organization to see whether it has a valid complaint. (At the end of this Appendix are notes on journalism codes of ethics that you may wish to cite.)
2. If your board of directors (or similar group) agrees that there are factual errors or misquotations damaging to the organization, the board should pass a resolution that it will consider libel action if the news organization does not act to correct the record. Libel suits are tricky and hard to win. They are not to be entered into lightly. They must be considered, though, if only because the news organization will take your complaint much more seriously if there may be dollar signs attached to it.
3. Once your board acts, M will call the editor, station manager, or other appropriate person. M should be prepared to say enough over the telephone to provoke the editor's concern. M should note that he has a tape of the interview and a detailed record of misquotations, inaccuracies, etc., and that the organization is considering libel action. He should not say, "We feel the article was unfair." The editor probably does not care what the organization thinks. He cares if his staff messed up and if there is cause for legal action. M should end the telephone call by setting up an appointment.
5. Two representatives of your organization, at least one of whom was at the interview, should go to the appointment. If you have a lawyer on your board, it might be good to send him. Your representatives should be prepared to play the tape for the editor (This is especially effective if his reporter did not tape the interview.)
6.1f the editor cannot listen to the tape that day, it should not be left with him, regardless of how many copies your organization has. Your representative should be present when the tape is played to point out specific problems. They also will want to see the editor's reactions when the quotations on the tape contradict the quotations in print.
M. NEGOTIATING A SETTLEMENT
1. The news outlet probably will not make an offer at your first appointment. The editor will want to discuss the troublesome matter with his colleagues and probably his lawyer.
2. If the news outlet, after some thought, will not offer anything, then you must consult a lawyer knowledgeable about libel. News outlets now are very concerned about possible litigation. The refusal to make an offer might mean that you do not have a case. On the other hand, the news outlet might be bluffing. See a knowledgeable lawyer.
3. The news organization may offer a retraction, a correction, an article to be written by you, or a letter to the editor. A retraction is an admission of error, generally combined with an apology. A correction is a restatement of the facts without explicit admission or apology.
4. Ideally, if you have been falsely defamed, there should be a prominent retraction and apology, in the same spot or time (preferably a better spot or time) as the original article.
5. Since we live in a fallen world, and since editors--like the rest of us--hate to be publicly embarrassed, you may be offered a mild correction, in which the news organization will correct specific errors but do nothing to remove the overall negative impression given by a skillfully biased article. In this situation, a mere correction might be as bad as seeing the story appear a second time, because it will remind readers of the initial charges. When the problems with the article are greater than a factual inaccuracy or two, be careful about accepting correction without retraction.
6. In such a situation, ask for space or time to present your own viewpoint, rather than a correction. You should have as much space and time to present your side of the story as the newspaper used to attack you.
7. If you are offered space on the editorial page, remember that such placement is not equivalent to space on a generally better-read news page. Negotiate on this point, at least asking for a boxed statement (in the same location as original article) pointing readers toward your rebuttal.
8. Do not settle for a letter to the editor. If that is all you are offered, examine the libel route.
N. TO SUE OR NOT TO SUE
1. Jesus spoke of avoiding courts, and on this and other questions His words should be followed. As noted in Chapters Six and Seven, the search for American libel justice in recent years has become grossly expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. Time spent on a libel suit could reduce your organization's effectiveness. Also, to defend themselves, news outlets might try to prove that your organization is as bad as they said it was. Complainants (and there are always some) will be pulled out of the woodwork.
2. On the other hand, if you have a strong case, and the news outlet is stubborn, allowing it to stomp all over you will just encourage it to stomp all over other Christian organizations. Keeping in mind the great suffering that is likely to result, contact your local lawyer or national Christian legal organizations that might be willing to take your case.
3. If you are forced into libel action, keep track of any harm caused your organization by the defamatory news report. If volunteers or contributions decrease immediately after the article appears, this can be powerful evidence for damages.
1. Take advantage of the publicity your organization is getting, even if it is bad. If there is a Christian radio station, TV station, or newspaper in town, you need to bring them into the controversy right away. They will probably be interested in a story about how the paper was biased in a story about a Christian organization. A small organization against a big newspaper or television station makes for a good David vs. Goliath story.
2. Try to get on talk shows or other forums where you can take advantage of the publicity and get your story across. Develop or activate your speakers bureau. Use specific detail from your memo to show bias.
3. Discuss the article in your newsletter, and the steps taken to gain redress. Send out a fund-raising letter explaining how you were unjustly attacked. Remember that you are probably being attacked because you are effective.
NOTE ON JOURNALISTIC CODES OF ETHICS
Journalism ethics codes are at best semi-serious. There is no policing by journalism organizations, and not much in the way of penalties for violations. The codes are generalizations. They say little about practical-application of principles, and offer no means for enforcement. Still, they are statements worth quoting when journalists do not take complaints seriously.
The Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi Code of Ethics was adopted in 1973. It states that "there is no excuse for inaccuracies or lack of thoroughness." It also stipulates, under the "Accuracy and Objectivity" heading, that:
Under a "Fair Play" heading, the Code stipulates that:
5. Sound practice makes clear distinction between news reports and expressions of opinion. News reports should be free of opinion or bias and represent all sides of an issue....
8. Special articles or presentations devoted to advocacy or the writer's own conclusions and interpretations should be labeled as such.
The Code ends with a pledge: "Journalists should actively censure and try to prevent violations of these standards, and they should encourage their observance by all newspeople.''15 That means if the reporter or editor who has defamed you is not a member of Sigma Delta Chi, find someone who is: If he takes oaths seriously and a legitimate offense has occurred, he is bound to try to do something about it.
The other major code is the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) Statement of Principles. The particularly relevant sections of the statement, which was adopted on October 23, 1975, re as follows:
1. The news media should not communicate unofficial charges affecting reputation or moral character without giving the accused a chance to reply....
4. It is the duty of news media to make prompt and complete correction of their errors.
5. Journalists should be accountable to the public for their reports and the public should be encouraged to voice its grievances against the media.
ARTICLE IV: TRUTH AND ACCURACY
Good faith with the reader is the foundation of good journalism. Every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presented fairly. Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports.
Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently.
ARTICLE V: IMPARTIALITY
To be impartial does not require the press to be unquestioning or to refrain from editorial expression. Sound practice, however, demands a clear distinction for the reader between news reports and opinion. Articles that contain opinion or personal interpretation should be clearly identified.
ARTICLE VI: FAIR PLAY
Journalists should respect the rights of people involved in the news, observe the common standards of decency and stand accountable to the public for the fairness and accuracy of their news reports.
Persons publicly accused should be given the earliest opportunity to respond.
Pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honored at all costs, and therefore should not be given lightly. Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidence, sources of information should be identified.16