Involuntary Transparency: Trump and Clinton

Donald Trump recorded by a hot mic making lewd comments about women prior to a 2005 media appearance.

The Washington Post released a 2005 recording of Donald Trump making lewd comments about women, bragging about using his celebrity to grope them with impunity. WikiLeaks released emails detailing portions of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches preceding her 2016 presidential run indicating a more favorable position on trade deals and banks than conveyed on the campaign trail as she fought off a formidable challenge on the left from Bernie Sanders.

Both Trump and Clinton are undergoing “Involuntary Transparency,” a concept I have blogged about previously:

Involuntary Transparency 2014

In 2010, I blogged about the concept of involuntary transparency, coined in a Forbes article on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It amounts to the age-old act of leaking confidential information, amplified by digital technology that immortalizes damning content, facilitates its collection, and accelerates its publication. More then 40 years ago, Daniel Ellsberg brought the Pentagon Papers to light by commencing a difficult and time-consuming sequence of events: being an employee at the RAND Corporation, secretly photocopying thousands of pages of classified documents, and sharing them with major media. In the 21st century, insider status, Xerox machines, and The New York Times are not required to turn whispers into headlines.

Today, anyone can be an Ellsberg just as anyone can be a Zepruder. And just as easily, anyone can be an exposé subject. Assange and Edward Snowden have targeted the executive branch of the U.S. government as Ellsberg did. CEOs and celebrities now receive similar treatment as their private actions are captured in Nixonian archives, ready to be breached:

  • Donald Sterling lost ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers due to an audio recording of his racist views.
  • Ray Rice was tossed from the NFL with the posting of a security video showing him punching out his now-wife.
  • Stephen Collins was cast out of his acting career with the release of an audio recording in which he admitted child molestation.
  • Amy Pascal was revealed to partake in racist remarks about President Obama and overall boorish behavior when her emails as Sony Pictures co-chairman went public.

The perpetrators of involuntary transparency are frequently guilty of legal and moral transgressions themselves. Donald Sterling and Stephen Collins were recorded surreptitiously. Amy Pascal’s personal correspondence was part of the data trove stolen by hackers retaliating for “The Interview,” Sony Pictures’ comedy about Kim Jong-un. Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden all drew the ire of the U.S. government, with Ellsberg put on trial.

The right to privacy and the right to know constitute a dialectic, a tension of opposites. Abuses occur at both poles. Hackers consider anything on the Internet fair game. Posting celebrities’ private nude photos is not the equivalent of disclosing the methodology and depth of NSA electronic surveillance as the former holds scant right to know for the general public. Will the right to privacy and the right to know achieve synthesis, a new balance in the digital era?

Posted in Bad PR Examples, Public Relations | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Atomic Press Release

August 6 marks the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Official announcement came through a press release issued by President Harry Truman:

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East…

Arthur W. Page, a legendary figure in public relations, wrote the release. Son of the co-founder of the Doubleday, Page & Co. publishing house, Mr. Page served as AT&T’s VP of Public Relations. During World War II, he oversaw the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation and was responsible for numerous communications and morale programs.

Noel L. Griese is the author of a definitive biography on Mr. Page. According to his account, Secretary of War Henry Stimson summoned Mr. Page to full-time duty in April 1945 and briefed him soon after on the Manhattan Project. The Trinity test blast would take place in the desert of Alamogordo, NM, on July 16. Mr. Page was asked to write the release that ultimately would be read to reporters at the White House on the day of the Hiroshima bombing while President Truman was at sea returning from the Potsdam Conference.

Arthur W. Page is credited with writing the most momentous press release in history. Whereas the 1969 moon landing–the 20th century’s other signature event–was beamed live to television audiences, Page’s release alone was the public’s introduction to the atomic age. It is likely the last time a sheaf of paper would change the world.

Posted in Public Relations | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

V for Victory and Viral

Churchill_VJuly 19 marks the anniversary of World War II’s “V for Victory” campaign. New York Times article of the day describes it as a “nerve war” against the Nazis in occupied Europe. Launched by the BBC, championed by Winston Churchill, and executed by countless brave people in conquered countries, V for Victory was quintessential propaganda. It was also viral marketing in an era when the only computers were a handful of top-secret, room-sized machines (also part of the fight against the Nazis, used to break their coded messages).

The concept began in early 1941 with a BBC radio broadcast by Belgian refugee Victor De Lavelaye. He urged those under occupation to use “V” as a rallying symbol, the first letter in the French “Victoire,” the Flemish “Vrijheid,” and the English “Victory.” BBC editors embraced the concept, and the service beamed the official campaign to occupied Europe.

Per the NYT account, a BBC announcer with the nom-de-guerre “Colonel V. Britton” read a statement from Prime Minister Churchill:

The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny. So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.

Col.  Britton urged listeners to create “V” graffiti, to chalk or paint the letter on walls and pavement. The “V” theme continued as it was construed as the Roman symbol for the number “5.” Listeners were instructed to read Daniel 5, beginning with the fifth verse–the “writing on the wall” foretelling the downfall of the Babylonian empire that had enslaved the Jews.

Additionally, Col. Britton told the audience to tap out Morse code for the letter “V,” three dots and a dash for the benefit of friend and invader alike. That rhythm mimicked the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth (again, V as 5), a motif likened to “fate knocking at the door,” an extra affront to the Germans that co-opted the greatest work of one of their greatest composers. The first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth became the BBC’s call sign for its broadcasts to continental Europe throughout the war.

V for Victory spread across Europe, as one defiantly drawn or tapped “V” sparked another and another. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels quickly countered, claiming the campaign was a Third Reich invention signifying the German “Viktoria.” The Nazis posted their “V” on banners and newspaper front pages and used Beethoven’s Fifth in their radio broadcasts. It is true brilliance when you can get the competition (enemy) to carry your message.

V for Victory was viral marketing. A major media platform, the BBC, created the spark and the people did the rest. The great communicator of the age, Winston Churchill, continually flashed the V sign for photographers, maintaining his role in the movement. Seven decades before social media let people strike blows against dictators and report from battlefields, V for Victory gave voice to Hitler’s involuntary–and temporary–subjects.

Posted in Public Relations, Social Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment