Questioning the rules of corporate PR

Marketplace Staff Apr 19, 2006

Robert Reich’s Commentary
A few weeks ago a public-relations firm working for General Motors phoned to ask if I’d say on the media that the buyback GM was offering to its employees was a good deal for them. GM’s PR firm said they’d offer me money if I did this, as a show of respect. I told them I’d look at the deal and make up my own mind, and I told them to keep their money.

Well, I’ve looked at the deal in detail and I don’t know whether GM’s buy-back offer is a good thing for its employees or not. That depends on whether the alternative is a GM bankruptcy, in which case anyone who bailed out early and got some cash would be lucky. It’s a bit like an over-booked airline offering money to any ticketed passenger willing to give up a seat. It would be a great deal for the passenger who took them up on it if the plane never got off the ground.But I’ve got to tell you, I did not appreciate getting that call from GM’s PR-firm. I don’t want to sound prissy or self-righteous. But it just seems wrong for a company to offer money to someone like me to express a view the company wants expressed in the media. It’s one thing to offer an employee buyout. Quite another to offer an integrity buyout.

Bad enough the White House goes around paying columnists like Armstrong Williams for favorable coverage. If we’ve got to a point in this country where big corporations feel free to offer what are essentially bribes to columnists and commentators, then we’re really in trouble. We no longer have a free press. We no longer have experts you can trust. And the opinions you read or hear every day are worth absolutely zilch.

I don’t know how many experts or pundits get offers like the one I got. I hope mine was the rare exception. And I also hope and expect that anyone who gives their opinions in the media refuses to take any money from anyone with a vested interest in their opinion. But on the basis of this one instance, I don’t think I’m wrong to be concerned.

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