Ram ad was bad, but Bell Pottinger story shows worse persuasion ethics

Discussions of the fundamental flaws of a Super Bowl truck ad are soaring higher today than any missed field goal during the game played Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018.

But that’s not the bigger story in persuasion ethics today.

You’ll read much righteous indignation of the ad that peddled Ram trucks using Dr. Martin Luther King’s voice, recorded precisely 50 years to the day, from his Drum Major speech.

The ad superimposed do-gooders using Ram trucks while helping others, with audio of King riffing from Matthew 20, in which Jesus reminded followers that the “first shall be last” and true leaders are actually servants.

Missing from the ad is exactly what King said in that speech about advertising. (For fun, hear his words above the ad’s video):

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. That’s the way the advertisers do it.

Two of King’s children say a third sibling made the deal without their knowledge. The two see the real ethical rub: Using King’s words to do precisely what King railed against.

This dustup, however, seems to pale in comparison to another example of what can be the perversion of persuasion: How a British public relations firm intentionally sowed racial discord for a shady, wealthy client.

The New York Times‘ tick-tock shows how Bell Pottinger, a “P.R. firm for despots and rogues,” deliberately heightened racial tension in South Africa to aid men from India using their political contacts to make money in that nation. The firm collapsed after clients pulled out, appalled by tactics that even included efforts that harmed other clients.

What makes it worse: Unlike traditional advertising that everyone can see and know the original source, public relations efforts often are part of an “unseen power” that hides its true motives, payments, and practices.

For anyone who cares about ethics, the money quote in The Times story comes from Tim Bell, the founder of the firm:

“Morality is a job for priests. Not P.R. men,” he said.

Actually, morality is a job for everyone, but not just because higher-minded clients will rebel.

People who don’t think their morality matters — and that it’s OK as long as the checks clear — ought not be in the media business. It’s as true for persuaders as it is for the news business, as the folks at the late News of the World and Gawker.com can attest.

At the end of the day, good ethics has a relationship with good business.

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Tom Brady, and why it’s best to leave 5-year-old children out of it

By Chris Roberts

Kindergarten teachers 1 will tell you that their real job isn’t to teach math and the alphabet. The real job is teaching 5-year-olds that the world does not revolve around them.

This is an important lesson for all of us, and it’s best if learned early.

The second rule is actually second on the list of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by the late Robert Fulghum: “Play fair.”

Some talking guys at WEEI radio learned the consequences of breaking the second rule this week, after one host called the daughter of the NFL’s premiere quarterback an “annoying little pissant.” The criticism came after watching a clip of the 5-year-old acting like a typical 5-year-old, seeking his dad’s attention in a typically annoying way.

The station cut ties with the 25-year-old speaker, Alex Reimer.

The Boston Globe reports that Brady cut short an interview on Monday, Jan. 29, 2017, with the station, which has close ties to the New England Patriots with its “Patriots Monday” focus. Brady called it “very disappointing” to hear it. “”My daughter, or any child, they certainly don’t deserve that,” he said.

Brady is no angel, and on Jan. 21 his curse toward a camera operator before the start of a conference championship was amplified for the world to hear. Brady understands media, using it and being used by it in a symbiotic way.

But it doesn’t take a media-savvy person to know it’s not good to unnecessarily criticize a 5-year-old. All it takes is being the parent of a 5-year-old — or, a 5-year-old with a good kindergarten teacher.

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Privacy for young adults and the importance of dumb mistakes

For then-Michigan student Jim Reische, the mistake was spraypainting “Corporate Cheeseburgers” on a McDonald’s building. For then-Alabama student Chris Roberts, the mistake(s) showed up regularly in The Crimson White, where I wrote a Friday column – often with no idea when I sat down at the keyboard on a Thursday afternoon. It was a self-enforced exercise in creativity on deadline, but a few thousand people likely read them and winced as hard as I did when I saw them in cold print.

The good news for both Reische and me – and millions before the internet – was that our mistakes were largely hidden.

But the internet makes even immature voices as loud as every other voice, and gives the world a voice to respond and and insult the immature. As Reische wrote in The New York Times: “In this climate, there is little room for students to experiment and screw up. We seem to expect them to arrive at school fully formed. When they let us down by being just what they are — young humans — we shame them.”

In thinking about privacy, it is good to consider a Ferdinand Schoeman, whose definition in the 2001 Encyclopedia of Ethics included  “the measure of the extent to which an individual is afforded the social and legal space to develop the emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and moral powers of an autonomous agent” (2001, p. 1382).

Sometimes, young people deserve a break.

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Dove ad shows some dirty racism

By DE Harry

A Dove Facebook advertisement went viral on social media this past Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017. The GIF displayed three women taking off their skin-colored shirts, revealing the next underneath. The transition from the black woman to the white woman made headlines. The company received backlash from viewers of the advertisement labeling it racist for equating the use of the soap to turning a black woman (dirty) into a white woman (clean).


For some people, this ad reminded them of racist soap advertisement created by companies in the past. These ads portrayed black people as dirty and in need of cleansing.

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After the advertisement was pulled, the company issued an apology on Facebook stating, “Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused.”

Marissa Solan, a spokeswoman for Dove, said on Sunday that the GIF  “was intended to convey that Dove Body Wash is for every woman and be a celebration of diversity, but we got it wrong and, as a result, offended many people.”

While the intent behind the advertisement was to be inclusive, the execution was poor. In this particular incident it is important to view the advertisement in it’s entirety before drawing a conclusion. In a country where racism and prejudice are very real issues we must be very careful not to dilute what it actually means to be racist.

It is also important to note that many people who posted about the ad were using a framing technique by only sharing the clip of the first two woman, failing to show the third woman, (who was also a woman of color) in order to fit their narrative.

Dominique Taylor, an alumni student of the University of Alabama working in PR did not believe the ad was racist but understood how it could be perceived as such.

“As a black woman I did not take offense to the advertisement after seeing it in its entirety, but it is clear that the ad was poorly executed. I see how it could be perceived as racist, being that there have been racist soap advertisements in the past. It may have been better to put the black woman in the middle.”

It’s true that situations like these often times require a simple fix, like changing the sequence of events, but who would know to make that call?

The ad was indeed poorly executed which raises questions about the people behind the advertisement. Who approved it? What can be done to avoid offensive media such as this advertisement?

One answer may be diversification. While it is unclear who specifically was behind the ad, we do know that having a diverse workforce can bring about differing perspectives. Diversity in media, whether that be print, broadcast news, entertainment news or advertising is imperative. Having a person in place to say “hey, this might be perceived in a certain way, maybe we should try a different approach” is always beneficial.

Hiring people with differing ages, ethnicities/races, genders, socioeconomic status’, disabilities and sexual preferences broadens the perspective of companies and newsrooms as a whole. Diversity plays a key role in being objective, inclusive and inoffensive. Not only does it offer various perspectives, it helps diminish stereotypes in the media that is being put out. Diversifying the workplace should always be an objective in media, for more reasons than one.

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Not all opinions should be treated equally

By Maddy Ard

Richard Spencer has some rather unpopular opinions.

The outspoken white supremacist delivered a speech advocating for an ethno-white state on Oct. 17, 2017, at the University of Florida. Though vastly outnumbered by protesters demonstrating against Spencer, it seems Spencer’s supporters made the biggest waves.

About an hour after Spencer’s speech, a non-fatal shooting led to the arrests of three men claiming to be white supremacists and Spencer supporters. Tyler Tenbrink, William Fears and Colt Fears drove from Texas to show their support for Spencer in Gainesville.

“[The protesters] don’t need to be afraid of us,” William Fears said in an interview with CNN prior to the shooting. “It’s always the left that brings the violence.”

How ironic.

Spencer has been attracting violence wherever he goes in the past year. Most notably, Spencer actively led a torch-lit Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August, orchestrating anti-Semitic chants of, “Jews will not replace us.” This rally caused the death of one anti-protester who was run over by a car.

At Auburn University, Spencer’s speech led to violence and ultimately the arrest of three Spencer supporters. And now, three more have been arrested in Florida.

Spencer’s views instill at the very least discomfort among many Americans. He has often made overt references to Adolf Hitler, producing rage and disgust among his opposition while simultaneously seeming to embolden his followers.

In his 2016 address to the National Policy Institute, a white supremacy think tank of which he happens to be the president, Spencer’s rallying cry, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” solicited Nazi salutes from the crowd and harkened to the Nuremburg rallies of the 1930s.

In an address at the American Renaissance conference in 2013, Spencer called for a peaceful ethnic cleansing, citing the 1919 Paris Peace Conference as an ideal example.

“Today, in the public imagination, ‘ethnic cleansing’ has been associated with civil war and mass murder,” Spencer said. “But this need not be the case. 1919 is a real example of successful ethnic redistribution—done by fiat, we should remember, but done peacefully.”

With Spencer and other white supremacists making regular waves across the country, journalists are faced with a dilemma: Is silencing an opinion ever ethical?

German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann introduced the Spiral of Silence theory in 1974. This theory states that individuals have a fear of isolation, and thus individuals who believe their opinions are in the minority will choose to be silent to avoid being isolated by their peers.

Journalists have an ethical obligation to be conscious of this factor and work to incorporate various viewpoints to avoid isolating or silencing a group which holds an opinion perceived to be in the minority. Society benefits from a plethora of viewpoints and opinions which shed different angles of light on a given issue.

But how far does that journalistic obligation extend?

The diligence of Spencer and other outspoken white supremacists, along with American media’s coverage of these individuals, have made Spencer’s alt-right movement seem much more widespread than it is.

WaPo/ABC polled Americans in August of this year and found that 10 percent of the United States identified as alt-right. On the other hand, 50 percent opposed the movement.

Clearly, the opinions of Spencer are in the minority. But by giving the alt-right and Spencer airtime, journalists create the illusion that far more people support this racist, anti-Semitic ideology than data would suggest.

The message Spencer is spreading is causing mental harm to minorities he deems lesser and physical harm to those who choose to protest his speeches. By interviewing Spencer – allowing him to explain his viewpoint and show his smiling, clean-cut face – journalists unintentionally make Spencer and his racist ideology more approachable and understandable.

“The media is so influential in what we think is acceptable,” said Kayte McClintock, a 2017 University of Alabama grad who studied psychology. “Richard Spencer is a terrible man, but he’s dressed well and smiley whenever you see him in interviews, and that approachability can definitely soften his message to would-be supporters.”

In the case of the alt-right, it is perfectly acceptable to make Spencer and his followers feel isolated in their hate-filled opinions. On rare occasions such as this, the Spiral of Silence is a good thing.

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How some news organizations track you online

By Aaron Bonner

In 2017, information is available in a matter of milliseconds, from cake recipes to a politician’s tax forms, but the availability of certain information has created privacy concerns for both journalists and readers.

With more news organizations shifting to an online readership, readers have begun to question the information gathered by each site. Cookies enabled on each site store information and analytics about each reader but sometimes provide location-based information and customer data to third parties.

Elizabeth Elkin, editor-in-chief for The Crimson White, said the student-run organization uses social media as well as Google Analytics to view what stories that readers are spending the most time reading and which redirect brought them to their website. While she and other staff members view this information, The Crimson White does not collect the same information that a publication such as The New York Times does with its readership.

“What I look for is what stories are getting clicked on the most and how people are bouncing from social media and our website,” she said. “I can look at how long someone stays on an article, but I’m not looking at who is going where.”

On The New York Timesonline privacy page, the organization lists the data it pulls from online browsers and from data knowingly given by its users. From subscription and survey data provided by customers to “non-personal information about the computer, mobile device or other device” used to access their website, the organization stores information about each person that views the site.

Elkin said that while The Crimson White does not collect this information, the organization regularly posts tweets and student-created content within the paper in a section of the paper about student activity and opinions.

“We pull from Instagram all the time, but we reach out to people first and we say ‘is it OK if we use your photo,’” Elkin said. “Usually people are excited to see themselves in the paper, because all I’ve ever heard from people is excitement or ‘oh, isn’t that funny that they pulled me,’ but I haven’t ever had anybody complain about the usage.”

While comments on The Crimson White’s website almost never see deletion, she said that privacy of the reporter is a top concern within the organization. After an online commenter targeting one of the paper’s columnists posted personal information and invitations to attack the writer on social media, Elkin stepped in to remove the offending comments.

However, this incident is not an isolated one. With journalists releasing opinions online amidst a culture trying to shift narratives and call out fake news, several writers for publications such as Jezebel and The Pacific Standard became targets in attacks known as doxxing.

“There are some websites that are getting into the market of publishing these details of people’s lives, like where they live and relatives’ names, and then the only way you can get that information removed is by contacting them,” said Scott Parrott, a professor at The University of Alabama’s Department of Journalism and Creative Media. “The way that you contact them is to go on their website, which generates advertising clicks for them, so it’s all a sham and a market, and there’s no real guarantee that the information will be removed.”

In his classes, Parrott goes hands-on with public records released online to show students how simple information gathering can be. For this reason, Parrott said that he has deactivated all social media to prevent some of his personal life from being readily available.

He said that in his time as a professor, he has observed the media habits of other teachers, noting that several avoid posting photos of children or their relationship status. While not a perfect solution, reviewing privacy settings on social media and posting less personal updates can often reduce the information readily available to those looking for it.

“If you use these things, just be thoughtful about how you use them,” he said. “We’re talking about the internet of things nowadays, where it’s not just a computer – it’s your television or even your coffee maker.”

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Photos can put unnecessary tragedy on display

Imagine a family that had barely come to understand the tragic death of their son when local news stations started publishing photos from the car accident. Images spread across the community and are quickly adopted by national outlets as well. Pictures of his death are now spread across the nation and circulated through social media accounts. These photos showed the scrapes from the pavement he fell on, the bruises that covered his once bare face, and his bones are twisted in a terrifying position.

These are the last photos people will see of him.

This is one instance when I do not agree with the publication of photos showing violence or death. These photos are painful and graphic, and the story could have been told without photographic evidence.

Journalists should be respectful to the families and friends still grieving from these horrific events. They deserve the same courtesy that you would want if the roles were reversed.

According to Society of Professional Journalism Code of Ethics, the Society declares four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism. This ethical dilemma brings to light the one principle about minimizing harm.

Three points mentioned in SPJ Code of Ethics that are relevant to this case include: “balance the public’s need for information against potential harm and discomfort; show compassion for those affected by coverage; and consider the long-term implications by publication.”

The long-term implications of these photos can hurt court cases as well.

“There are certain photos that will be thrown out of a case if the judge believes they will be viewed as unfair or biased, but the media will sometimes still post these photos to their audience,” said Rachel Parker, graduate student at the University of Alabama. “This can be damaging if you have a jury trial because these photos could taint their judgment, which is exactly what the judge was trying to avoid.”

So how can people justify publishing photos of violence and death?

It depends on the circumstance. With consideration to the event mentioned earlier, it seems unethical to post those photos. However, I understand when it appears to be necessary in specific situations like when describing the impact of war and treatment of others.

Certain photos can be used as a tool to bring insight on a controversial topic. People are unable to hide from the issue once they have been presented evidence.

Also, I believe having influential photos may encourage people to speak out and help prevent these events from happening again.

This is relevant with animals as well. The release of photos and videos showing the violent treatment of some animals has helped increase awareness. The Dodo Impact is one organization that has a strong presence in media.

According to their website, they publish videos and articles about people who help by providing animals with care and affection. This coverage receives attention through social media, which inspires more people to help other animals in need.

I feel stronger emotions towards an issue once I see proof of it happening compared to reading about the event. It can be difficult to decide which news organization to trust, which is why photographs can be a powerful resource.

For example, the pictures shown of the earthquake in Mexico includes injured people being pulled out of the rubble as buildings fall apart. They bring a new level of understanding to tragedy whether it’s an earthquake or violent crime. These photos are shown to help explain the severity of what is actually happening.

I believe there is an alternative to this ethical dilemma, which would allow media outlets to display these photos with more sensitivity. News organizations can cover graphic photos with an overlay and warning so that the reader has to click on the image to view the content.


Rachel Parker

Website: https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Website: https://www.thedodo.com/search/?q=about%20us

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Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter scandal reveals misguided motivations

Last week saw the aftermath of two destructive hurricanes, controversy over DACA’s legal status, and threats of nuclear war. Somehow, amid these monumental events, the issue which has the internet buzzing has nothing to do with life-altering instances and everything to do with Sen. Ted Cruz’s Twitter account.

In the waning hours of Monday, Sept. 11, the internet was alight as news that Cruz’s official Twitter account “liked” a pornographic site went viral. Within hours, Cruz’s senior communications adviser Catherine Frazier tweeted that the post was deleted and reported to Twitter, but by then Cruz had once again become the object of both jeers.

“It was a staffing issue,” Cruz told reporters the following day. “And it was inadvertent, it was a mistake. It was not a deliberate act.”

That’s where this story should have ended.

Instead of reporting Cruz’s statement and refocusing Americans on more pressing matters facing the nation, news sources from The Washington Post to CNN to Politico continued to dig into this story, using the word “blame” in their headlines to describe Cruz’s statement. These journalists knew articles with scandalous headlines including “senator,” “blame” and “porn” would keep the clicks coming.

Cruz’s Twitter slip-up and the media’s response bring to the forefront an age-old ethical question: how do we as journalists decide whether a story should be pursued?

Whether spoken or internalized, everyone lives by codes which guide their decisions. Along with personal convictions, journalists are fortunate to have a written code of ethics to help them decided what to write and how to write it.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, journalists have an obligation to minimize harm when possible. Given Cruz’s public status and negative legislative stance on sexual self-pleasure, the fact that his Twitter account “liked” and thus spread throughout Twitter this pornographic post was significant. Journalist needed to report this news.

However, once it was made clear that this “like” was not of Cruz’s personal doing and that the matter was being handled internally, media outlets should have reported these new facts and allowed the issue to settle.

Dr. Will Nevin, an entertainment journalist for al.com, explained his motivations when deciding whether to dig deeper into an issue.

“I ask myself if there’s some angle that I think is unexplored,” Nevin said. “Is there some prospective or point of view that is unexplored. Let’s paint a picture of reality and not of some explosive unreality.”

By keeping this story alive with new content delving into Cruz’s past, journalists do more harm to Cruz than good for his constituents. These reporters are not revealing some new, hypocritical aspect of Cruz or exploring a new aspect of the issue. They are exploiting the facts that Cruz has become Jimmy Kimmel’s latest punchline and that sex always sells.

What a journalist writes is what her audience thinks about. Readers are harmed when news outlets choose to steer their attention away from important matters and toward stories that entertain but hold no real substance.

“With everything going on today, I almost feel disrespected by how big this Cruz porn thing got,” University of Alabama senior Mary Muffly said. “It shows that news outlets don’t care as much about telling us what we need to know as they do about how many people are reading their stuff.”

The decision to pursue a story further should be based in ethics and a desire to inform the reader. As evident this week, that decision is too often guided by a desire for clicks instead.

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When you write ‘reform,’ the propagandists win

British politician John Bright pushed bills to change England’s Corn Laws in the 1800s. The word ‘reform’ is fine in a political cartoon but troublesome in neutral reporting.

As the Trump administration this week proposes changes to the nation’s tax system, here’s a reminder to journalists and talking heads: When you use the word “reform” without putting it in quotation marks and attributing the phrase to the person or document using the word, then the propagandists win.

The etymology of the word “reform” obviously means to make changes to something. But the Oxford English Dictionary notes that, since 1606, it also has included the meaning that changes would “remove errors, abuses, or other hindrances to proper performance.”

And that’s the problem. Whether it’s “tax reform” or “tort reform” or any other change, the proponents for change use the word “reform” to imply that the changes will be better. The Associated Press style guide’s entry on the word “reform”  tells writers to be careful when “deciding whether reform is the appropriate word or whether a more neutral term is better.”

When journalists use the word “reform” without attribution, they tacitly accept the propagandists’ argument that the proposed changes are good. Journalists, who above all else understand the power of words, should know better. Whether the opponents make good arguments or not, objective journalists put their thumbs on the scales when they write “tax reform” outside of quotes because it makes opponents seem opposed to what is good.

It’s already happening: A news.google.com search on the term “tax reform” found 560,000 results today, many more than the 378,000 results for “tax plan.”

A quick look at news coverage shows some offenders: CNBC, CNBC, The Washington Post and Politico, for example. Others, such as FoxNews.com, were inconsistent.

Others are doing it right, such as the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times’ main story on the rollout, which includes the neutral phrase “tax plan” and only used “reform” when quoting a proponent. (Still, an headline on an opinion piece was sucked in, although that may be OK for an opinion story.)

Yes, more cumbersome phrases such as “proposed changes to the nation’s tax laws” or “tax plan” may not be be as friendly in a headline — and certainly don’t work as well as “tax reform” in search-engine optimized headlines. News organizations might want to include “tax reform” as a metatag and keywords to help readers find those stories, but keep it out of the article when not in quotation marks and attributed to a speaker.

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