The ethics of Edelman’s involvement in the Wal-Marting Across America blog campaigns is the focus of four articles (a case study and three expert commentaries) in the latest issue of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics (Volume 22, Issue 2-3, 2007):
The Case: Wal-Mart Public Relations in the Blogosphere – David A. Craig (Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma)
Abstract: This article presents a case study in media ethics that experts will analyze in additional article within this issue. This case concerns bloggers on a site called Wal-Marting Across America, which featured a couple who were traveling around the country and parking in Wal-Mart parking lots. The blogs were generally positive, upbeat stories of the Wal-Mart employees they met along the way. However, Working Families for Wal-Mart was created by Edelman, the public relations firm for Wal-Mart. Laura and Jim were professional journalists paid by Wal-Mart. Moreover, Richard Edelman had been a leading advocate of transparency and honesty in public relations work.
Commentary 1: This PR Firm Should Have Known Better – Lois A. Boynton (School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Abstract: This article presents the author’s perspective on an ethical situation regarding the public relations firm Edelman and their involvement in a pro-Wal-Mart blog that pretended to be impartial. The author is particularly critical of Edelman’s involvement in the controversy given their participation in crafting a public relations code of ethics, which explicitly forebids the type of deceit they practiced. However, he credits Edelman executives for their rapid response and admission of guilt and responsibility.
Commentary 2: A Case of Covert Persuasion – Sherry Baker (Brigham Young University, Tanabe, Japan)
Abstract: The author makes the distinction between information and covert persuasion, which she defines as advocacy disguised as information or as independent opinion. She feels the episode clearly violated the ethical tenents of both public relations and journalism.
Commentary 3: We Have All Been Here Before – John J. Pauly, William R. Burleigh, E. W. Scripps (J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University)
Abstract: The author discusses how the ethical code that was supposed to offer guidance for this situation was bypassed or ignored. She also raises ethical questions about the nature of blogging and of corporate information campaigns. She suggests corporations be made more responsible for arguments they create and issue.
The articles are behind a paid firewall, but you can always contact the authors and ask – nicely :) – for a reprint.
- Edelman, Wal-Mart, and WOMMA’s Code of Ethics, October 13, 2006