Monday, May 25, 2009

Deception within the Truth

Lauren Yusko

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth
“Is withholding a fact the same as telling a lie?” That is the question David Martinson raises in the introductory paragraph of his article “‘Truthfulness’ in Communication Is Both a Reasonable and Achievable Goal for Public Relations Practitioners.” Growing up, I was taught that I should always tell the truth. My mom always said that the only time it was okay to withhold information was when, say, planning a surprise birthday party for someone. In that instance, it was okay to deceive because of course, you’re going to want to keep the party secret in order to make it that much more exciting. I think Martinson raises a crucial question, one that we should consider whether we work in public relations or any occupation for that matter.

Withholding Critical Information
There will be times when we hear news stories that appear better than what they really are. There will also be times where news stories appear worse. Although news stories may consist of the truth, sometimes, significant facts are omitted and viewers are left to think the worst.

This happened in the well-known 1990s Food Lion case. In this case, ABC’s Primetime was tipped off on unsanitary practices that were happening at Food Lion. Primetime reporters went undercover (an unethical practice in itself) and captured footage of Food Lion’s unhealthy ways, which they ultimately decided to air. Viewers were aghast and as a result, Food Lion’s business was significantly destroyed.

Although ABC aired truthful footage, they left out some critical details, deceivingly slanting their story. Over 45 hours of footage that was never aired revealed that the undercover reporters actually encouraged violations of company policy. But, more importantly, it showed Food Lion employees resisting, deciding to follow more ethical practices. As a result, ABC had to pay.

An Internalized Value
Of course telling the “whole truth” will be difficult and tedious at times, but we must all strive to be genuinely truthful. If we do not, we could be hurting others and may have to pay detrimental repercussions. We need to internalize truthfulness as a value. Many who withhold the truth may never get caught. In actuality, they are not lying, but they ultimately are not being true to themselves.

Have “‘corporate values’ become an oxymoron?” Shane McLaughlin asks in the article “A New Era for Communicating Values.” My answer to the question is absolutely not. I look forward to creating my own personalized list of ethical codes and I will carry them with me as I begin my job search. At the top of my list: truthfulness.

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