Monday, July 09, 2007

Publicity: Vice or Virtue?

When I think about the media circus created around Paris Hilton, in general, and particularly on the day of her release from jail, I imagine that “thinking people” in the U.S. and elsewhere must question not only her frivolity but the frivolity of journalism and the mechanism of publicity. As one journalist noted, the wayward heiress’s exit from jail “received more news coverage in some circles in the past month than the entire continents of Africa and South America in a year.”

But for every Paris Hilton, there are many other situations which remind us that publicity is often a towering virtue, and one we would not want to be without. It can serve as an important pressure tactic to bring justice, educate the public about the prevention of dangers and disease and build awareness of new products, ideas, opportunities and leadership, for example. One way or the other, it influences us positively, negatively, or not at all, but it may influence action that makes a difference.

I will just cite one example, so we can keep the use of publicity in perspective.

Adam Liptak’s article, "Prosecutor Becomes Prosecuted," which appeared in The New York Times on June 24, is about the disbarment of Michael Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case, for withholding evidence from the defense, misleading the court and inflaming the public. According to Liptak, while other prosecutors have been found by the courts to have done similar things, very few have ever lost their jobs or their licenses to practice law. Even when prosecutorial wrongdoing has put an innocent man on death row, discipline has been light or nonexistent.

What made this case different is the fact that it was a huge media magnet. Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in Manhattan who now teaches law at Pace University, said the Nifong case was handled differently because the national exposure it generated “put the disciplinary body and the entire system of justice under the spotlight.”

Publicity enables the court of public opinion. But its value is dependent on how and for what it is employed.

Technorati Tags: publicity, Paris Hilton, Adam Liptak, Michael Nifong, Duke lacrosse case, Bennett Gershman, Pace University, business, communications, public relations


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