For Transparency, It was the Best of Times and Worst of Times

PR pros call it transparency. Most everyone else, including Billy Joel, calls it honesty. Antonyms include misinformation, obfuscation, falsehoods and, at the most basic, lying. Yet transparency, as you will see below, is more complicated than telling the truth or lying.

This week shows that sometimes the truth seems up for grabs.

The week began with several excellent transparency examples. In an interview with President Trump shown Sunday on Fox News, Chris Wallace famously, or infamously, fact-checked the president on claims related to coronavirus testing and the country's mortality rates.

Despite Wallace’s fact checking, the president repeated the same, incorrect claims–that U.S. testing rates and mortality are superior to those in the rest of the world–during three briefings of the White House Coronavirus Task Force this week. Few seem to care the president's data is faulty. (Back to Billy Joel. "Honesty is such a lonely word.")

In what appears to be another whack against transparency, the White House stripped the CDC of its data-reporting duties recently. Moreover, medical science is sometimes seen but not heard during this new round of briefings. Again, few seem to mind this lack of transparency.

Global Entry

Another transparency story this week made few ripples outside the N.Y. area. The story illustrated transparency sometimes has degrees.

Yesterday, Homeland Security admitted it made false statements in a court case about the Global Entry program. Global Entry allows vetted U.S. citizens to move through airports faster. (Remember airports?)

In February, Homeland Security excluded New Yorkers from the Global Entry program. Ostensibly, that was in retaliation for the Empire state restricting federal access to immigrants' motor vehicle records. A court case ensued.

Yesterday, Homeland Security reversed itself in court documents. It admitted some arguments used to exclude N.Y. residents from Global Entry were “inaccurate or misleading.” Both Homeland Security and the Justice Department apologized to the court, using nearly identical language, The New York Times reported.

Yet transparency couldn't catch a break. Other media coverage glossed over Homeland's unexpected burst of transparency. Instead, stories concentrated on a compromise between President Trump and N.Y. governor Andrew Cuomo.

Incidentally, neither Cuomo nor Andrew Wolf, the acting Homeland Security Agency secretary, mentioned the government’s transparent admission in statements yesterday. Hmmm.

In addition, a story that broke July 23 goes to the heart of transparency. The Times reports the U.S. Immigration, Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, a branch of Homeland Security, offered filmmakers unprecedented access to its operations in 2017. The filmmakers' project is an upcoming Netflix documentary, "Immigration Nation."

Upon reviewing the documentary, ICE wanted to cut some footage or delay releasing the film, until after the November election. In a win for transparency, the series will air early next month.

Weber Shandwick and Diversity

Loyal readers of this site will recall seeing several transparency-related stories this week.

The first was an outstanding example. Weber Shandwick took what many considered a huge step: The agency issued its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data. Moreover, it said bluntly the data were unacceptable.

"[T]he headline–on every level–is that people of color are grossly underrepresented in our agency," a 346-word statement read. The data show that the agency's DEI values "simply aren’t reflected in" its workforce composition. "We have to do better.”

Its admission shone a spotlight on Weber. In addition, it set a transparency standard that possibly could lift the PR industry. ‘If Weber can release its sobering diversity data, why can’t other large firms?’ was a refrain some repeated this week, albeit behind closed doors.

In an industry that’s somewhere around 80 percent white, it seems a safe bet that Weber is not alone. Moreover, while DEI is not solely an issue of numbers, measurement is necessary to establish benchmarks. As Weber said, “We believe that real progress going forward will be accelerated by transparency on where we stand today. But change starts with clear benchmarks to measure long-term, lasting impact.”

Transparency and Your PR Career

Two other articles on the site this week highlighted transparency. The first is what some are referring to on social as the 7 Deadly Sins of PR story. In that story, PRNEWS reporter Nicole Schuman taps lying as the PR pro’s fist sin. You could argue several of the sins mentioned­—breaching trust, inflating numbers, for example­—stem from a lack of transparency.

The story dubs an avoidance of transparency as the sixth PR sin. It’s a nuanced treatment, viewing transparency as withholding pertinent information from stakeholders. Releasing select information, the article says, can hurt a PR pro’s reputation.

Veteran PR pro Arthur Solomon contributed the other transparency-related story on the PRNEWS site this week. In his tips-based article about how PR pros can make themselves media-friendly, much of Solomon's advice centered on one dictum at the core of transparency: “Never lie to a reporter.”

Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS and Crisis Insider Follow him: @skarenstein