Wednesday, September 2, 2009

hell, Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word: I’m talkin’ about ethics.

Recent events have informed me of the existence a Code of Ethics created by the Public Relations Society of America. Bottom Line Communications states that Joe Miller's Salon article about the Mayor is in direct violation of those "ethical guidelines."

I confess, when this ethical code was first brought up in an unrelated discussion, I laughed at the thought of PR people having specific ethics. But here they are, and they're as well-meaning as you'd expect an ethical code to be. Miller stands accused of violating the following:

Core Principle Client trust requires appropriate protection of confidential and private information.

Intent To protect the privacy rights of clients, organizations, and individuals by safeguarding confidential information.


A member shall: Safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of present, former, and prospective clients and employees.

Protect privileged, confidential, or insider information gained from a client or organization.

First and most obvious problem is that Joe Miller is not, and I can't imagine ever has been, a member of the Public Relations Society of America. So, really, BLC calling him out on this is about as meaningful as me tsk-tsking Miller for violating Rule 4-1.6 of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers.

The less obvious, but more meaningful, problem is who BLC has identified as the client. Mayor Funkhouser didn't pay Joe Miller 80k out of his own pocket to be communications director of the Mayor's office. That was taxpayer money. Protecting the confidences of the guy who hired you is not the same thing as protecting the interests of the institution that is your "client." As applied by BLC, this is a rule that serves to promote one's ability to get hired in the future, protection of client interests is incidental.

At a practical level, ratting out Funkhouser certainly decreases the odds of Joe Miller getting hired in the future to deal with confidential information. At an ethical level, he was working as a public servant. His highest duties were owed to the public, not the mayor.

I understand that personal interest frequently prevents insiders from sharing their information with the public. I do not understand why I should condemn a person whose personal interest it was to share his information with the public. I'm not saying that Miller is an awesome guy or that his story was a great contribution to the public discourse. Midtown Miscreant does a fine job of arguing against those points. I just think it's dangerous and wrong to automatically condemn a public servant for sharing "inside" information with the public as if the practical reality of "no one likes a rat" somehow creates an ethical obligation to protect a politician above all else.

1 comment:

  1. Goes to the bathroom without companySeptember 14, 2009 at 10:32 PM

    Joe worked for the public; therefore, his professional obligation was to the public -- not a failed mayor with serious mental problems.