In the early 1970s, in mid-town Manhattan, I worked for a service firm to the public relations industry. My clients were both senior and junior public relations professionals. We printed their press releases and mailed them to the media. My work involved interaction with the pros, mostly by telephone, but also in person, and I read a lot of their press releases.

One thought I had at the time was that the personal identity of many public relations professionals is that of “intellectual in residence at corporations.” My thought continued, “Given the present intellectual atmosphere [the Progressive’s denigration of big business], that’s not good for the future of capitalism.”

My clients were highly competent and honest, but the profession—then and today, as well as in its beginning in the early nineteenth century—was, and still is, imbued with the unexamined and unacknowledged Marxist premises that “we, the ethically astute intellectuals in the company, must communicate to the public our apologies for selfishly making a profit.”

Appeasement of the critics, not moral indignation toward them and condemnation of their ideas, was, and is, the accepted norm. A slightly exaggerated press release headline, for example: “We gave $xx millions of dollars to charity last year, so please don’t attack us.”

Considered something of a PR coup, to give a real life example, The Texas Company—Texaco—for 63 years sponsored the Saturday radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. Texaco’s public relations message: “See? We’re not greedy, materialistic money grubbers. We support high art.”*

The problem is that business executives are not intellectual. They are ignorant of a proper defense of business and capitalism and are decidedly timid, lacking courage to defend themselves with moral defiance against the attackers. So, they let their spokespersons speak for them.

Now let’s switch to the press and the journalistic profession. This is an easy switch, because journalists and PR pros are trained in the same schools of journalism (now called schools of communication). Job hopping is frequent between the two professions. In my day, PR was the more lucrative and preferred hop.

Journalists, today and in the past, unfortunately, often are the ones who self-righteously lead the attacks on big (and small) business, although they are supposed to be uncovering facts and presenting the truth of any story. The result is charges from critics of the press of yellow journalism (in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) and of bias and fake news today.

The job of the journalist, however, as stated by the American Press Institute, is to use objective methods in the search for and presentation of facts and truth. The difference between the two concepts? The facts are that the bus hit the car. The statement of the facts—the bus driver was drunk and wanted to kill people—may or may not be true. How good, that is, how objective was the reporter’s method? How did the reporter acquire and verify his or her statement of the bus driver’s motivation?

If methods are less than objective, bias, those unexamined and unacknowledged premises, enter to influence the reporter’s statement of the facts.

In previous posts (1, 2), I have touched on bias and objectivity. I stated that bias per se is not bad because it just means leaning in one direction. (This blog for the past twelve years has unmistakably leaned in one direction.) Unexamined and, especially, unacknowledged underlying premises, as I stated in the earlier posts, create what I called “negative bias.”

A negative bias disparages opponents by ignoring or denying the existence of valid alternative viewpoints and by expressing moral outrage at anyone who challenges the writer’s or speaker’s fairness. Dissenters and critics are often punished.

Such negative biases dominate university classrooms and today’s media. Publicly financed universities, as well as most private ones, and most mainstream media, are explicitly committed to freedom of expression for all viewpoints.

They also are supposedly committed to reason, facts, and truth, but they fail miserably on all counts.

Some private universities and media state an explicit viewpoint as their driving philosophy and therefore lean in one direction, but they are aware of and acknowledge that viewpoint.

Many universities and media, unfortunately, practice explicit suppression of alternative viewpoints, often because they are oblivious to what guides them—or are willful in the suppression.

Indeed, those journalism schools, where PR pros and journalists are trained, have for many years been teaching that objectivity is impossible. This derives from the post-modern destruction of Aristotelian logic and has become prescription for the spectacle we are witnessing today: whoever shouts the loudest and longest wins the argument, though I am being generous to call what goes on today an “intellectual argument.”

Objectivity—in journalism or anywhere else—is the accurate perception and communication of our objects of perception. Our method of awareness is guided by Aristotelian logic to correctly, that is, non-contradictorily, identify the facts we are examining.

This means being aware of and acknowledging predispositions (underlying premises) we may hold guiding our investigations and presentations.

To youth who are looking for an academic career in an applied field that desperately needs rehabilitation, I recommend a job in one of those schools of communication, to teach future public relations professionals and journalists the valid concept of objectivity and the role of bias in our perceptions.

 

* I hasten to add that these two examples are one specialty—sometimes called “image” or “social responsibility” PR—in the larger field of public relations. Journeyman professionals may spend their efforts on product publicity, personnel announcements, writing and editing the internal employee magazine, or entertaining certain reporters to convince them to write a feature story about the company.