Actually, a real "PR obsession" at Penn State woul
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Actually, a real "PR obsession" at Penn State woul

Paul Holmes

Washington Post opinion blogger Erik Wemple makes a point I have heard from several others in the wake of the Penn State scandal—that all of the criticism of the university’s handling of the case “misses the point”—and concludes: “Down with our PR-obsessed culture.” I don’t necessarily disagree with Wemple’s point that much of the commentary on Penn State’s response over the past couple of weeks has been inane at best, offensive at worst. But with all due respect, his conclusion is entirely wrong. What Penn State could have done with, what our entire culture as a whole could do with, is a little more obsession with PR. Because here is what is would have happened if Penn State really was obsessed with PR…. First, when the university authorities, whether football coach Joe Paterno or university president Graham Spanier, first learned that assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been caught in a shower with a 10-year-old boy, they would have called in the university’s senior public relations professional—because that’s what people who are “obsessed” with PR would do. Second, because the university authorities were obsessed with PR, they would have a senior public relations professional who knew what she was doing. And because she knew what she was doing, she would have given the only good PR advice available under the circumstances: she would have told the university to report the incident to the proper legal authorities immediately. She would have given that advice because (a) good PR people understand that the truth would eventually come out, and (b) good PR people understand that doing the right thing is always better for an institution’s relationship with the public than trying come up with a justification for doing the wrong thing. That's PR 101. Third, and finally, if Penn State really was obsessed with PR it would have followed that advice, and by so doing it would have avoided all the frantic scrambling of the past couple of weeks, and the worst of the damage to its reputation—caused by its own inaction rather than the actions of one of its employees. More to the point, it might have prevented however much abuse occurred since that incident in the shower.
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