Posted by: slee3324 | May 14, 2012

Killing the messenger

In February 2012, Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) launched an investigation into the Obama administration’s public relations and advertising spending siting acts of wasteful federal spending on PR contracts to support the administration’s unfavorable policies. Republicans see this move as a political attack on the administration in an election year. McCaskill, who is in a difficult reelection race and has attempted to distance herself from the Democratic Party, views this move as part of a commitment to good government and responsibility to ensure that funds are being used effectively.

In a special op-ed to Roll Call, the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Chairman and CEO Gerry Corbett expressed the investigation as “missing the proverbial boat” and urged Congress to reconsider “using the PR industry as a punching bag for America’s dysfunctional political system” (Corbett, 2012). Corbett argues that PR has a central value to government: “its ability to engender a more informed society through ethical, transparent and honest communications between the Government and its citizens, and its role as an economic contributor to the American economy”.

Killing the messenger won’t improve public trust in government. In my opinion, it will only obstruct transparency and result in a decrease in government trust. If the Senate were to take action as a result of this investigation, would limiting the government’s use of public relations contractors have an impact on the transparency and trust of the public? If so, is this good or bad?

Visit the following link for more information on PRSA’s position on this issue and actions to directly address the Senate,

To read Corbett’s full op-ed, visit




  1. Great post Sara. I imagine myself, Laura and Beth Anne would all argue that limiting government’s ability to us PR services would have an impact on transparency and civic participation. When I was doing PR for a city, I would put myself in the position of the ‘public’ and approach information procurement and dissemination with that public in mind. I would guess that about half the time, city staff would have just as soon not bothered to share… not out of secrecy or malice, but because it’s not their priority.

    What level of advocacy for specific policies should be supported? And where is the line between advocacy and education? Until we have reform around campaigns, specifically the unregulated right to buy air time and publish outright lies to a medium people have been conditioned to trust, how can any government change policy without using PR services to inform and counter an opposition that uses falsehood as a tactic?

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