The Untruth & Maybe Just A Bit Of The Truth (Birds of Different Feathers With Similar Problems)

Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances 

The above is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. But does it give the right for entities or people to tell outright lies? Obviously, the president and his surrogates think so; in fact some have publicly said that they have no obligation to tell the truth to the press. And so, obviously, does Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook Czar, whose company has been in the spotlight for running lying advertisements since before the 2016 presidential election, which many people believe tilted the outcome in President Trump’s favor.

The National Basketball Association has a different problem. Some observers believe that its reputation for freedom of expression is not entirely deserved and based on the current situation with China might be a propaganda ploy that has long been promoted with the help of the media.

Not surprisingly, after NBA Houston Rocket’s general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support of the Hong Kong protesters, it resulted in condemnation by the Chinese government. But surprisingly, NBA president Adam Silver and LeBron James’ initial responses didn’t’ support Morey’s tweet, “FIGHT FOR FREEDOM STAND WITH HONG KONG.” Negative U.S. media coverage questioning the sincerity of the carefully honed freedom of expression reputations of Silver and James had them “walk back” (as they say in the political realm) their initial comments and issue “clarification” statements. Surprisingly, it was the totalitarian Chinese government that issued a statement in support of the truth, believe it or not. I don’t think they mean it but nevertheless I feel what the Chinese said should apply to Facebook and other social media networks that point to the First Amendment when justifying disseminating lies.

The state run Chinese television network, CCTV, said that “Freedom of speech does not mean that it can be arbitrary nonsense.” Who would have thought that a media company run by a dictatorial government would issue a statement that should apply to Facebook (and other social media outlets.) But when you think about it, Zuckerberg believes he should be the sole decider regarding his company’s policies, also a dictatorial stance that has never been the policy of any U.S government, even during the days of the Founding Fathers.

Now, Facebook has refused to remove untruthful ads about Joe Biden. Which raises the question, does the First Amendment protect liars and entities 100 percent, and should it?

It’s my opinion that Facebook and other social media giants that report news are similar to far right and left wing commentators, but there’s a difference.

The slash and burn commentators on TV are somewhat balanced out by the news divisions of cable channels and advertisers, some of which have diverted ad money to other programs because they were unhappy with what the commentators’ said. Facebook doesn’t have that equalizing process. The NBA does and it’s called “sports writers.” Maybe not the everyday beat writers, but others who write what was called by my editors during my sport writing days as “writing around the games.”

As history has shown, companies that police themselves, as does Facebook (and the NBA) usually find no wrong doing. Because of its clout I feel that Facebook must have governmental regulations, as does other businesses. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, “a business, is a business is business.” Running advertisement that are false, and knowing that they are, should not be allowed. I’m sure that when the Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment they didn’t want to protect known lies, political or otherwise.

To those who claim that the First Amendment protects all facets of free speech, and that protects Facebook despite its dissemination of false ads, a little research is needed: Perjury, fraud, and false advertising are among the categories that are not protected. So should false political ads because a lie is a lie is a lie. False advertising should not be a part in electing a president.

It’s too late for the coming election but maybe it’s time for the Supreme Court to rule if known false political ads are protected on social media and other platforms.

What does the above have to do with public relations, you might wonder. Plenty.

In our business, misleading advertising and exaggerated and sometime false PR pronouncements are not unusual. Also, both advertising and PR agencies have for generations acted as propaganda merchants for totalitarian governments, bested only by sports organizations who hawk the ridiculous line that sports brings countries together. Like it did between the Russia and the U.S. during the Cold War. Right?

What the NBA-China relationship shows that it’s not what happens in the arena that promotes closeness between countries. It’s the economics of the situation that does.

In its October 21-28 issue, a Sports Illustrated article points out how the NBA has ignored morality since 2016 by opening a training center in a region where “an estimated 1 million Utghur Muslims are being interned in camps.” It ends the article with, “The league has prided itself as progressive defenders of free speech. Maybe someday it’ll actually put its money where its mouth claims to be.”

Both the NBA and Facebook say that they stand for freedom and truth. But as Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, said, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth,” especially, it seems, when it applies to Facebook and the NBA.

However, the Facebook and NBA situations reveal one absolute truth: It’s easier to manufacture a good reputation than to keep it forever.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or artsolomon4pr@optimum.net.

 

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