Panel I

General Strains and Pressure Points in Today's Media

Rance Crain Publisher and editor-in-chief of Advertising Age
Dan Kimmel Film and television critic
Brian McGrory News and political writer for The Boston Globe
Kenneth Andersen Professor and Vice Chancellor, University of Illinois
Sean Tracey Television director
Terry Clarke Public relations

Moderator

Lisa Roghaar Division of Communication Studies

Respondents

Ellen McDonough Division of Communication Studies
Dennis White Division of Mass Communication

Roghaar
Good morning to all of you here. As Dr. Payne said, my name is Lisa Roghaar, from the Division of Communications Studies, and I'll be moderating the day's first panel, entitled "General Strains and Pressure Points in Today's Media." More so than the panels that will follow later in the day, this morning session provides something of a general overview of ethical issues faced in a variety of contexts: advertising, film and television, newspaper and print media, college and university settings and public relations. Each of the distinguished panel members to my right will be outlining, as Greg said, some of the ethical issues that they face in their respective professions.

And let me introduce this prestigious group to you now... We're really lucky to have all of them here. At the far end of the table is Rance Crain, publisher and editor-in-chief of Advertising Age. Sitting next to Mr. Crain is Dan Kimmel, film and television critic and the local correspondent for Variety magazine. Brian McGrory is next, a news and political writer for The Boston Globe. Sitting next to Mr. McGrory is Ken Anderson, Vice Chancellor and Professor of Ethics in Communication at the University of Illinois. Next to Ken Anderson is Shawn Tracey, national and regional television producer, and director and president of Shawn Tracey Associates, whose primary focus is commercials and advertising. And finally, Terry Clarke, founder and chairman of Clarke and Company, Public Relations, and founder and chairman of Clarke and Goward Advertising. Please give a welcome to all of our panelists today. [applause]

After each of our panelists do make a short statement, our respondents to this morning's panel are professors Ellen McDonough and Dennis White from the [Emerson College] Divisions of Communication Studies and Mass Communications. They'll be speaking briefly afterwards. And finally, with some luck, we will have some time for some questions and discussion and dialogue with the audience at the end of this session. We hope you find this panel both intriguing and thought provoking. It's time to begin, so we'll start with Rance Crain. Thank you.

Crain
Thank you very much. I have a simple criterion for ethical media behavior: Any factors that conspire to prevent the telling of the full and complete story, in my mind and in the mind of our reporters and editors, is unethical and unacceptable. Now, that includes reporters' biases, conflicting interests on the part of the big media conglomerates that are more and more shaping the communications landscape, and also -- and maybe especially -- hidden agendas that we as readers know nothing about.

Let me give you an interesting example that just occurred within the last several days. On Monday, I believe it was, The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial talking about how the Bass brothers withdrew a twenty million dollar grant to fund a program at Yale University on Western civilization. And the interesting thing about it was that up until that point, nobody knew that the Bass brothers had withdrawn this grant. That was a news story, but yet it was in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. Then the next day, in the news section of Journal, they had a story on that development and they quoted -- which I've never heard of before, ever -- "Our editorial page broke this story." This [behavior] is unbelievable to me.

I had to think of why this would occur... and here we go again about hidden agendas. The only reason that I can come up with for why this happened, is that, in some instances and in some respects, there's an uneasy feeling between the news side and the editorial side, at The Wall Street Journal. The editorial side is much more conservative. I think that the editorial side was afraid to give this story to the news side because the news side would distort the story.

As the editorial side put it, the ostensible reason that Yale University returned this grant was that the Bass brothers wanted to control the curriculum of this Western civilization study program. But I think, at least from The Wall Street Journal's point of view, that they think the real reason was because Yale University faculty and perhaps students too, were having a very hard time putting together a program on Western civilization that some students and faculty members thought emphasized one particular civilization over another. And in this day of political correctness you cannot do that.

So in my Machiavellian mind, The Wall Street Journal's editorial pages wanted to control this story. So they broke it first and then The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and everybody else on the editorial side picked it up. Now that's the kind of hidden agenda that I think is intriguing on the one hand but very, very dangerous on the other. So with that statement, I think I would like to turn it over to somebody else and let them talk about what our important ethical issues from their point of view. Thanks. [applause]

Kimmel
I was a little surprised when I was asked to appear on this panel because as a film and TV critic, my chief ethical issue is whether I should give away the ending of the movie! [laughter from audience]

However, what I'd like to use my brief time this morning is to say a few kind words about censorship. Now before anybody leaps out of their chairs -- I'm on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Affiliated of the ACLU, so I'm obviously not talking about the state telling us what we can write or read or say or hear. What I'm talking about is an idea of self-censorship, of having standards.

Let me illustrate this with a story: Chuck Jones, the great Warner Brothers animator, who is responsible for a lot of the classic Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons, is sitting in his office one day with Michael Maltese, his writer and collaborator on many of these cartoons, when in comes the producer of the Warner Brothers Animation Unit. According to Jones -- the way he tells the story -- the producer was a singularly humorless man who came in with no preparation and announced, "There will be no bull fighting in our cartoons. Bull fighting is not funny." With that he walks out. Jones and Maltese look at each other and say, "Well, what are we going to do in our bull fighting cartoon?" [audience laughs] They had had no plans to do a bull fighting cartoon. But because they were told they couldn't, they went ahead and did "Bully for Bugs." If you're a Warner Brothers cartoon fan, you know that's one of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons.

By having taboos, by having rules that you shouldn't -- not can't, but shouldn't -- do something, the writer or the producer or the director of a TV show or film, or for that matter of newspapers or news magazine shows, has something to test themselves against. They have to be that much more creative if they're going to come up with a good reason to violate that taboo.

The perfect illustration of that of course, is currently the show NYPD Blue on the ABC network -- which is doing a lot of things that we've always been told you can't do on commercial television. They're doing it very well because they're saying "See, there's a reason here; we've thought about this. We're not just doing it because we can get away with it." Too much of what's going on in the media today -- and I include journalism in this as well, in all its forms -- is being done simply because it draws an audience. Simply because one can do it.

Drawing an audience is no great trick. Last June, you may recall, a lot of TV stations put on a white Bronco going down a California highway and they had more than 50% of the viewing audience. It's not a trick to draw an audience. The trick is to come up with a reason to do so.

I'm sure most of you are aware of a controversy surrounding a TV talk show hosted by Jenny Jones. In a sentence, she invited two people to come on to reveal a secret admirer. It turned out the secret admirer was another man. The person who was thus fooled into appearing on the air for one reason or another couldn't accept this and ended up murdering the person and then turning himself in.

What is shocking to me beyond that story is the reaction in the media. TV executives and producers are saying "Well, we're not especially proud of shows like this -- but it draws an audience." To me the biggest ethical issue facing us today is: If you can't come up with a reason other than it draws an audience, it probably shouldn't be on the air. [applause]

McGrory
I'd like to agree fully with Dan on virtually all of his points. When that white Bronco was riding down the highway, I was in a Los Angeles hotel room. I turned on my TV and said "There goes O.J., blowing my deadline!" [audience laughter]

That happened to be my second -- what we call in the media -- "gangbang" in the course of a year. The first one was in Portland, Oregon, involving Tonya Harding. When I was out there, for really the first time in my career, I saw what was happening to media ethics: the tabloidization of mainstream journalism. We were from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, and we were competing head-to-head with shows like The American Journal, Hard Copy, and A Current Affair -- and we were competing with a disadvantage. They were all passing envelopes filled with money to people they wanted to talk to. We were asking them to talk to us just for the sake of getting things right. It doesn't work well that way at all. The case of O.J. Simpson has dwarfed the Tonya Harding case, and we see now pressure points being applied all over the place to media ethics.

It's not a good day in the media when the Globe and The New York Times actually quote Hard Copy in their coverage. Yet I found myself doing that again and again. I don't have the answer yet where it takes us or what we do about it, although I agree with Dan that much of what we're doing is simply to provide interesting coverage and get readership and viewership. It's not good and I'm open to any suggestion anyone has what we can do about it. [applause]

Andersen
I feel like a duck out of water in a sense. Here I am, an academic, to talk about academic issues amidst a group of practitioners who have said many things that I heartily endorse. I'll probably try to take the view of "Hey, here I am, a teacher of communication. What kinds of ethical issues crop up in my role?" That is, not in addressing the media directly, but [what issues come up] in preparing and working with students who will work in the media?

Every teacher faces an amazing number of ethical issues every time they walk into the classroom. What is my coverage to be of my subject matter? How much of me threads into that coverage? How do I pull myself, my culture, my values, my standards out? How do I treat other people in my classroom with the respect they earn as persons of moral worth?

When we begin to think about diversity issues -- that whole range of concerns that have become much the target of those who accuse us of excess political correctness -- there certainly is a tremendous dilemma. We're constantly evaluating our students. But it's important to note also that in the academic world we place tremendous responsibility upon evaluation of our peers. That person who is my friend, colleague, coauthor and dinner buddy may tomorrow be the individual who is being reviewed for tenure, and I cast the deciding vote: "No, this is not a person who is going to have a career at this university."

And I've known too many people who have lost their future. I have a nephew who, for example, lost a tenure position and did not get another one, went through the slew of despond, and his marriage broke up. These are very real consequences, and here one sits balancing a responsibility to make that decision about one's colleague with the knowledge of the implications of what to do if one follows. Obviously, there are [also] issues of assigning grades, and all those things students focus on.

As a communications teacher, it seems to me we have a kind of unique set of responsibilities because we need to orient people to the awesome task of the impact of the choices they make as they engage in the process of communication, as they negotiate the way in which we'll live with one another, what the rules of selection are, what the rules of what I'll telecast are, what I'll put on, what I won't, whatever those things may be.

So there are tremendous implications. What is my purpose? What are the means I'll use in accomplishing that purpose? Do I settle for effectiveness? Do I settle for a mass audience? Do I settle for a smaller audience but an audience that receives the message I want to send? What is the balance between what is effective and efficient, and what is ethical and responsible for me to do? How do I weigh a short-term effect? How do I weigh a long-term effect? How do we talk about what is to be done in the terms of my interest as a communicator, or as a source of communication, versus as an immediate receiver of that communication and this role versus the impact on the larger society? As we begin to say, "Yes this is addressable, yes this is acceptable, yes this is acceptable," we are creating a slippery slope, I sense. What day will a smut film become acceptable on general television?" Maybe we'll have to talk about censorship.

It seems to me that as communication instructors, we have not served the general public well because we focus too much on those who are preparing to go into the communication field and not nearly enough on those who are the targets of all of us in the communication field. What ought we to be writing for the general students as they are being prepared to live in an information age? I'm deeply concerned about the withdrawal on the part of large numbers of our public from participation in the civic. Notice I didn't say "civil" -- I said "civic" life. My students don't vote. My students don't get interested in politics. My students don't participate in a shared civil life of the community, whether it's a student election or general popular election. We need to think about the ethical responsibility of how we prepare people to live in this coming age and not be buried or mired in the information swamp. [applause]

Tracey
I'm hoping that today I don't get perceived as the Antichrist, because I'm in the commercial TV and the commercial advertising field. I'm a director and I've been a producer. But let me give you a little bit of background.

About 12 years ago I graduated from Brown University with a degree in religious studies and ethics (Ethical Philosophy). And that's about the last time that I've heard anything about ethics. [audience laughs] Certainly not in the business that I'm in. In fact, I can honestly say that I've been directing TV commercials for ten years and have never heard anyone say, "Is this ethical?" It's never been a question. It seems as though there are rules and laws that we follow, but whatever you can do within these rules is fair game.

But perhaps, as Dan Kimmel put it, my industry might be self-censored. In trying to sell a product, there may be certain limitations. Certainly advertisers do not want to bring negative attention to themselves. Most of the time [advertisers] all have a perception of what is right or what can be done. But it's never really discussed. That's the interesting thing. This is the world of Special K and the milk ads. I've done ads for nursing homes that I think have an inherent fear factor built into them.

Let's talk about rules: I've done commercials for Easy-Off oven cleaner. They do a before-and-after type of situation with their ovens and how they were used. We had to use 23 different shells, or interiors, of an oven and actually have a signed affidavit from up to, I think it was, six different people who said that shells that we showed, and that we edited in from before and after, were actually the identical shells for each commercial. And because we wanted more than one take we had to have all of these different pieces -- and that's crazy. It really wouldn't have made much of a difference to anybody, I think, with the way that the technical experts had done such research to figure out exactly what kind of grime and grease that Easy-Off would take off the ovens. In ten years I've never been asked anything about whether this is ethical.

I want you to know the kind of work that I do could probably be called the most coercive kind of work that is done in advertising. There are directors who specialize in shooting food or shooting special effects or shooting cars. I am a "people shooter," a people expert. What I do is not bathing suits and T&A and coercive things in terms of pictures, but the kind of work that I do is manipulation of the subconscious. It's at the emotional level. I try as hard as I can to make you, as viewers, believe that what you are seeing is real people going through real emotional moments on film. In fact, most of the time they're not. They're actors.

That's where I come from. My job is to create a false world, hopefully effective at selling a product. Steve Scott used the word "manipulators" -- and that's me. [audience laughs and applauds]

Clarke
May I move my seat? [audience laughter] As chairman of both an advertising agency and a public relations firm employing approximately so many people between the two of them, I guess I can offer up that there are some items that I won't discuss, that anybody as an employer could talk about in the way of issues that face us all in the business that we do, whether one is a dean or a president of a college or an employer. And I'll abandon that for the moment and address rather the two industries of advertising, if I may, who use wonderful people like this young man to my right to make those false impressions, and as also public relations.

Of all the disciplines out there, there are probably the fewest ethical questions in advertising, ironically, because it's the most policed. That commercial that [Tracey] puts together to run on national network will not get on if it breaks any ethical, or if it comes up against any ethical questions or ethical issues. For every two commercials, or for every commercial you see on national network television to this day, there are probably five or six that were shot down before those two got shown. So we have a built-in policing that goes on in the advertising business. One might say "Thank God!"

It's interesting isn't it? Probably the least believed medium out there is advertising, yet it's the most policed. The one that's the least policed is public relations. And if more people in this room understood what indeed goes on in public relations there would probably be more bills filed tomorrow, and people coming down on us, and whatever -- because of what people in public relations are able to get away with. People don't know what they're doing. The ethical question is one of "beauty in the eye of the beholder" -- is it not?

There are people who indeed would see nothing wrong with toying with the minds of a particular audience through a variety of third party persuasion, which is what we use, and which is what public relations is all about. We rely on the media, which is a third party source, and we rely on opinion leaders, which are third party sources in a community. We have wonderful ways of identifying who are the opinion leaders in any society. We can come into this university, this college and tell you who are the twenty-five most listened-to people in this institution. There's a way to go about finding that out. And then influencing those twenty-five... and guess what? Within a certain period of time I can go back and check it out, and you'll probably all pretty much agree with each other on one particular issue. And there are ways to go about doing that. Advertising, it is said, is one of those tools.

The greatest ethical issue we have in advertising involves political advertising. It's the only area which is unpoliced. When I do a commercial whether it's in this [local] market or for national television, I must pass it through equity, through the legal department. It must meet all the requirements of what makes a good 28-second commercial, allowing time for the sign-on and -off, and they will tell me whether or not I can do it. I must back it up and support it with all kinds of information.

That is not so with political advertising. If you are a station, and a politician hands you a commercial, you must run it as is, no questions asked, providing it's in good taste. And we've all seen the good taste [laughter] in commercials that have been run. [Political advertising] is probably the greatest influence in giving advertising a bad name.

Let me get back to the public relations side again: It's a real concern, what's happening in the journalism community. With due respect to all my good journalism compatriots here on the panel, our greatest concern is [that] somewhere along the way, somebody lost control of the publication, of the station, of the network. It seems in our own local newspapers that everybody is in control of something but nobody is in control of the paper, and as a result I think the papers have lost their view. They've lost where they're going; they've forgotten [that] their mission is to inform, educate and entertain -- and, I would add, to possibly support the community. That's not what we see occurring. We see the journalism community tearing the community apart -- particularly [effectively], in some areas of the country. That's where we feel, as public relations people, a responsibility to bring together, where we can, our community. [applause]

Roghaar
Before we continue on with comments from our respondents, I thought it might be interesting if the panel members themselves might ask questions of each other for a few minutes here, since you seem to be representing the diverse views. So I encourage you to begin a conversation here.

McGrory
All in good fun here: I was surprised to hear you paint P.R. people as the white knight saving the community, and the local press is the institution that is tearing the community down. Why would you want a newspaper that has one uniform view? That is, one controlling person running that whole paper editing, censoring... What does a community get out of that? Also, what are your examples of a newspaper like the Globe or the [Boston] Herald tearing down a community?

Clarke
Let me come back to what you took away from my "all having one view" perspective. When I say a "view," it's more of a vision for a city. There are any number of things that are influencing your industry, that are preventing different reporters for the different media from pursuing a story from all angles -- as it might ending up as good old fashioned reporting, if you will. There's very little time today to research and dig out and do the stories that one would like to do because of the lack of the staffing, [and] because of the diminishing amounts of advertising that allow for more pages and more page space.

I wish I had brought today's newspapers; then I could have probably cited some particular views. On one page we'll have a columnist supporting a particular issue and in the editorial page taking that same issue apart. And a news story on the business page that takes even a third view of that, none of which seem to all relate one to the other and [thus] leave the reader confused. One would argue, "Well, isn't it nice that you have these three views to select from and build your own?" Again, to bring you back to the first question: This is an educational environment. So, it's healthy, number one, to establish a good debate. As it's been depicted [here], journalism these days -- as profession or a trade -- is seen more as one of tearing apart; yet the role and the definition of public relations to bring things together, to bring people of opposing views together through common values.

Crain
I wanted to ask Shawn about his views on advertising. Are you unhappy that there hasn't been more of an ethical discussion during your last ten years, or do you think it's because of most of the advertising that's done is acceptable, and on the up-and-up? Or do you think there should be more discussion of these ethical issues?

Tracey
Actually, I can say that most of the time I think we all operate under the idea that people understand that what they're viewing is intended to motivate them in a certain way, so I'm hoping and expecting that everybody has their antennae up to begin with. Therefore I don't really feel that there's been a need to get into, on a day to day basis, [the question] "Well, is this an ethical thing to do?" And I think, as it's also been said, we all operate with this ceiling, which is, "Well, we couldn't possibly do that." We don't even discuss it because we know that we couldn't do it. It just wouldn't get aired.

Crain
I think in some respects, Shawn, you're being a little too hard on yourself when you say that you deal with a "false world." Plays, all sorts of drama -- they all deal with a false world. Everybody knows it's acting. Everybody knows that they're trying to sell products, everybody knows that they're actors. To say that these people do not have genuine emotions is pretty much understood by the people who view your work.

Tracey
The interesting thing -- as I said about my particular work -- is [about] my show reel, or the reel that I use to market myself. I can bring it to ten very, very astute, very experienced advertising professionals, creative directors, writers, and others. Maybe 50% of the people that are on my reel are real people, and 50% are actors, and most of the time these astute advertising individuals get it wrong. They think the actors are the real people and the real people are the actors. So that's where I think it becomes a little bit like creating a false world. Yes, they do have emotions, but we're really trying to blur as much as possible the distinctions between the acting and the reality.

Andersen
I'd just like to pick up on that. In general, when you pick up a novel, or when you go to a theatre, or you go to a movie, you know that this is a creative reality, and that there are conventions about this. They're not as highly structured, perhaps, as [in] an opera, where one has to accept a whole series of conventions. For many people, what they see in advertisements, what they see in various kinds of representations, is not seen by them in that same mode and in that same setting. I think they do take it as a kind of reality -- in the same way that when a newscast runs a commercial for a politician, [there is an] effort to dissect it.

What we've often found is the images have been more powerful. So while the news commentator is, in effect, saying "We found falsehood to be here, these are not true statements," the creator of that ad is sitting back and saying "Hallelujah! I'm getting my image on there, and it's legitimated." It's the image that's going to carry -- not the statement, "This is a false claim." The research demonstrates this happens.

Crain
I think you're giving too much credit to the power of advertising. I don't think that advertising has nearly that much power. What matters is, "Is it a persuasive reason to buy a product?" And that's in the last analysis what counts. Whether the emotion is true or not, I don't think really matters.

Kimmel
If advertising doesn't affect people then why are we spending all this money on it? [laughter] Obviously advertising is trying to persuade us, and not always in intellectual, rational ways -- often very much in emotional ways.

You mentioned a story about political images. There's a story from the '84 campaign -- I think it was Leslie Stahl on CBS -- [who] did a devastating story about how Reagan was running an empty campaign. It was just a lot of flag waving, and showed clip after clip of Reagan saying nothing, [but] with cheering crowds and waving flags. She got a call from Reagan's campaign: "Thanks a lot for the story. We couldn't buy images like that. That was wonderful." They felt basically that she was doing the job, yet she thought she was doing a story that was devastating to the campaign. Obviously there was a strong emotional appeal in these kinds of images.

Crain
Obviously there's a strong emotional appeal. There's a strong emotional appeal in all forms of drama. There's a strong emotional appeal when a lawyer defends his or her client. That's just part of life. But to think that people are so naive that they don't know that a commercial is out to sell product, I think is missing the point. Commercials are out to sell products. They do a good job of it, and that's why so much money is spent on it. But I don't believe that it's working under false pretenses in any way.

Kimmel
I teach a couple of classes here. One of them is "Writing for the Media." It's a survey course for all the different types of writing in radio and TV, and we do a unit on advertising. Sometimes I'll ask the class if they're affected by advertising, because, after all, Emerson students are very savvy about the media, and [they know] "You shouldn't be sucked into these sorts of things." I'll stand there asking this question [while] holding a can of Diet Coke. Then, after everybody agrees that -- of course -- here at Emerson we're not fooled by advertising, I'll say is there anybody here who finds it odd that I'm standing here with a can of Diet Coke? And nobody does. And then I ask, "Would you think it's odd if I was standing here with a can of Tab? They're both diet colas put out by the same company. Why do you have the reaction to one and not to the other?" And then I remind them that the initial advertising campaign for Diet Coke had the tagline "Have you noticed how many men are drinking Diet Coke?" The thing was marketed as a diet soda that was safe for men to drink. [laughter] That's a purely emotional appeal. That has nothing to do with logic. It's the same soft drink, with a different sweetener perhaps.

Crain
That's life. That's life! To say that advertisers can't use emotional appeals is ridiculous because emotional appeals are used in every form of our existence, and that's a normal, legitimate form of persuasion. To make one other point: A lot of people say that they're fed up with this O.J. stuff. They can't take any more of this stuff. You ask them about it -- and they'll start telling you every detail there is about the case. [laughter]

Andersen
Yes, we're not saying you can't use emotions and stimulate emotions. On the other hand, are there no limits to the use to which that can be put, and under what circumstances? Tell me about why it is that teenagers and preteens are picking up smoking faster than those adults who are sensible with all the logic and emotional appeal about smoking are dropping it? Tell me about what really justifies Joe Camel, ultimately?

Clarke
I'd like to address that if I may [laughter] as well as some as some other issues that are being raised about advertising. It's interesting. As I mentioned to you earlier, it's the most disciplined, and it's the most restricted and regulated industry out there. It's very obvious when you see it; you can almost read through what's occurring. It's extremely effective -- and it doesn't just relate to emotions.

The best advertising, first and foremost, finds out from [its] audience, "What's the makeup of this audience? Is the audience influenced more by logic -- or by emotion?" We have two sides to our brain. If it's a group of engineers or lawyers or physicians or people who are logically driven, the advertising is going to be logically driven as well. If it's people who are driven more by emotion than by logic, it will probably have a heavier influence of emotion in the message that goes out. But the best advertising includes both, a logical argument and an emotional argument as to why you should have that product.

I'd like to get off advertising for a moment, because it really is not the issue. The issue is the quality of information. As an educator, as I was before I started this business and continue to be, to some degree, I'm highly concerned about the quality of information you are getting, day in and day out, from a variety of media -- and I don't mean by that just the news media. In the public relations field, I'm also very concerned about the number of attorneys who are now practicing bad -- unethical by my standards -- public relations. I teach an introductory course at a nearby school that has a public relations sequence, and 45% of my students last year are going on to law school. That's frightening. That's really frightening.

When I picked on The Boston Globe, it wasn't for everything, it was for a good debate's sake. But indeed, the people in the news media probably have the toughest job of all trying to sort through what they have, and put information out. For my information, and for my interest by the way, I think there's no better, no more enlightening news media in this area than National Public Radio's WBUR. It gives me a little island of solace and information of great quality as I drive to work. Only occasionally will I flip back and forth to Don Imus to laugh, then I'll go back to WBUR. But that's information -- the quality of information.

Roghaar
[Now I'd like to introduce our first respondent,] Professor in Communications Studies and the Director of "EmCom" at Emerson College, Ellen McDonough. [applause]

McDonough
Boy, did they push some of my hot buttons! I could spend a couple of hours on each of these people and enjoy it because they all make very valid points. But there's some lines of demarcation that I'd kind of like to put a spin on here.

Most of you I think know that I have kind of straddled both of these worlds -- the practical and the academic. Since coming on to the academic side, I found out, amazingly, that my field was considered unethical by many. Not just by many -- most of the students that enter my advertising classes truly believed that advertisers seek to deceive or are somewhat unethical -- and indeed, yes, were supposed to manipulate.

Shawn? [laughter] Can we do a little terminology check here? I want to ask you which version of manipulate do you agree with: to move objects in a predetermined form, or to make people do something they don't want to do? Which one do you do?

Tracey
The second.

McDonough
You make people do things they don't want to do? You do?

Tracey
Well, possibly. I think that it's very possible that you can actually...

McDonough
Which people are you talking about? Are talking about your audience? Or are you talking about the people working for you in the commercial?

Tracey
Oh no, that's a given. The people that work for me in the commercial, it's a given. Oh of course, you're moving them. They're the objects moving into your predetermined form.

McDonough
All right, so who are you manipulating?

Tracey
The viewer.

McDonough
The viewer...

Tracey
I honestly believe there are moments -- and I could go through a story... I do a lot of lottery commercials. I've done over a hundred, maybe more than a hundred fifty, and I know that I have met people who have commented on commercials that I have done and said that [these commercials] had actually moved them to go out and buy lottery tickets when they didn't think that they ought to.

McDonough
OK. Interesting. That's very interesting. There's so much to study from all of these points of view. I have so many arguments for his point of view, and the opposite point of view, and somewhere in the gray area in between -- but we don't have time for that. But we're in the same field. I still practice advertising and P.R., and yet we disagree. When you have journalists and academics and advertisers who all, amongst themselves, disagree about what our intent is, it's no wonder there's a problem of perception out in the real world among the audiences. It's no wonder that they're not sure. "Are they or aren't they doing this on purpose? Are they trying to deceive me?" I know that I spend a lot of time deprogramming.

Perhaps like Phil Amato, I'm a little naive. I've never, ever, believed that what I was doing in the advertising business had any concept of being unethical. In fact, the goal was always to stay on the course. Certainly it might have something to do with the moral and ethical upbringing that I had but it was never mentioned -- "Let's go out and manipulate someone today," or "Let's make people do what they don't want to do." As Terry said, we spent most of our time figuring out why do people do things and "Why would they want my product?" And if so, "Gee, if they would really benefit by my product, let's talk to them about it."

It's no different from my going door-to-door selling and having a conversation with the person who answers the door. Every single message from a mass media standpoint is supposed to appeal to us as individuals -- one-to-one. It's about trust. There is no point, as advertisers, in our causing distrust, because then people don't buy our products. It's not our intent. It's not the intent to mislead in journalism when you're The Boston Globe.

With tabloids, my perception is that they have a different intent. I'm going to pick on the favorite one that I seem to be in defense of. I've spent five years in defense of a business that I think is absolutely marvelous. It does a marvelous service informing and problem-solving for people who have too many choices. I believe that we try hard, you know, to be fair and equitable and ethical here.

But that Joe Camel -- poor old Joe! I want to talk about the first thing that Rance said. "Full and complete stories, telling the whole truth." Many of you have read articles on Joe Camel, I'm sure, and one of the most often quoted research points is that Joe Camel is in the top five most-known characters by children. "Oh my God!" say audiences. "No wonder children are smoking!" Because they are immediately making that jump [in logic]. Well that immediately equates to [our] running down to the store quickly and getting a pack of Camels so we can be cool, too. In Advertising Age, the full story is there -- but in many it is not: Joe Camel is also in the top five of the most disliked characters by children. Well, how different the story becomes when you have the full story.

We spend a lot of time with media that don't give us the whole truth, and we who are academics and/or practitioners have the responsibility of defining that difference. Perhaps it's part my fault that I come into an academic arena defending myself when I never did anything to change that perception when I was in the business. I was too busy doing ads and P.R. and satisfying clients. I wasn't thinking, "I really have to go out and make sure the image of advertising is okay." I thought it was. I thought it was fine, and I thought all these people who had these little [critiquing] research projects that were so narrow and so silly that everybody thought that they were silly, but I wasn't looking at the whole world understanding what I do. I was looking at what I understand.

I think it's the same for many different communication fields. We're so focused on what we do, and the burden is to us to follow that taste and decency concept, that is inherent to the advertising principles that I follow -- and not, maybe, watch those tabloid shows. If they have no audience, maybe they won't be there. Each [of us], individually, has to follow through on that. Thank you all. [applause]

White
One thing, brought up this morning, that is very important is the quality of the information we're getting. When Brian talked about quoting Hard Copy and quoting Inside Edition -- [he discussed] questions that really bother me. I know those people are paid, and once the Tonya Harding story came out, we found out who was being paid, and how much. For me, that is very important for the audience to know. When a news station who's running Hard Copy -- or any station that's running Hard Copy -- quotes [from it] in their news program, that changes the public's perception of Hard Copy. Even though people at home are perhaps saying "That's a tabloid show," once your local news person or Dan Rather or Connie Chung or Tom Brokaw all get out there and say, "This was on Hard Copy today" or "This was on another tabloid show," or "This was on a talk show today" -- that changes the audience's perception of how valuable that information is.

And that also clouds the line between what we find as journalists who will go out and say "Will you talk to me?" to saying "I will pay you X thousands of dollars if you talk to me." That's a point that was brought up this morning; it really troubles me as a journalist. I know that as an educator, that's something that we really have to bring to the surface: that we're looking for quality of information.

We have become an "infotainment" society. We want MTV, we want fast stories. One of the panelists this morning brought up the idea of "Is there enough time? Are there enough pages?" Well, there will never be enough pages, there will never be enough column inches, there will never be enough television time. As a journalist working in the field, [I find] everybody is always saying "I need more, I need more." It's just like a professor [who] at the end of a class period says "I just have one more thing to tell you" as you're running out the door. We always need that extra time, and to me that's very interesting.

What we tend to lose in advertising, as well as in news, is audience responsibility: How do we perceive our audience, and how does the audience perceive us? How many people do you know who actually say "I watch X channel because it gives me the best information." No, [it's] "I like the fuzzy weather man." "You know, I really like this anchor." "I really like the co-anchor situation -- the man and the woman really work well together." Nobody sits there and says, "Well, I read the [Boston] Globe this morning, and it said this. I read the Herald, and it said this. I watched this channel -- it said that. I watched that channel. I watched [Boston channels] 4, 5 and 7 and 56 and 38 and Fox and NECN [New England Cable News], and everybody -- and now I know exactly what's going on. And so I watch this channel more often because it gives me the best information."

So I think audience participation is extremely important. Too many in an audience are more willing to just sit back and say, "Well, OK. Yeah, go ahead. Come on, I'm ready." It's the couch potato syndrome of news. If you want bubble gum there's MTV, there are the comedy shows, whatever. And I think that the lines are getting fuzzier, and fuzzier, and fuzzier.

There is also the whole Jenny Jones sequence: "We told them," "We didn't tell them." This one says, "Yes, I saw them. They said everything was fine." That one says, "No, they weren't." Who's telling the truth here? Ethically, it's skirting an issue. Maybe the perception of the alleged murderer was that he wasn't told. Whereas [for] the producer -- maybe the information was manipulated, so it was there -- but it wasn't there.

In advertising, that's sort of it. You say, "Well, what's there?" You look at it and say, "What's really there?" When they're selling you jeans and you only see people with these great bodies, are they selling you these jeans? What are they selling you? Again: the maligned Joe Camel. I don't know what to say about Joe Camel. I don't know what the big flap is, personally. But I think when you talk about ethics, you need to talk about both sides: the audience has some responsibility as well. As a journalist, I think journalists have a responsibility to always bring up ethical questions. You have to live your life with ethics, and as educators I think we try to make people more aware of what's happening. And we're learning just like everybody else. Thank you. [applause]

Roghaar
I want to open the floor to questions... I feel obliged to make Shawn feel a little more guilty. [laughter] And maybe the rest of us.

Q1
We've heard a lot said about the quality of information. Let's face it, when you watch a TV commercial, you're not being given the information, you're being presented with a style. As a recent book (written by a psychiatrist from here in Boston) was entitled, [this] indicates most clearly just exactly what most of these commercials are doing. They're "driving us to distraction." Driving us to distraction: It's not a thinking process -- it's perhaps some sort of an emotional process. It doesn't involve you as a person, it just grabs hold of you, it gets your attention and lets go. It's like a one night stand.

[To] people in the business of making commercials, television commercials: Shawn should know this better than all of us. How often have you heard the expression, "Well, let's make this commercial -- let's have it be visually driven." It's driving us to distraction. This person who wrote this book, Driven to Distraction, claims -- as do other people in the field -- that all the evil I'm talking about stems from Sesame Street. When they started Sesame Street they said "Well it's gonna be for kids -- so what do they know? We'll make everything in little pieces." And now we've got thirty-second commercials, fifteen-second commercials. Even if they were one-minute commercials, they do little more than drive us to distraction and they create in us attention deficit disorder -- which is genetic -- but now is culturally produced. If that's true, would that bother anybody [on the panel]?

Crain
If that was true that would bother the hell out of me. [audience laughter] I'm telling you we'd stop Advertising Age if that were true.

But that describes entirely too much power to force anything. Nothing has that kind of manipulative ability.

Q2
My name is Eric Guch. I'm a film major at Emerson, and I hope that I can do some things different from what today's [panel] does.

You all sound very ethical. I really like a lot of points you said, but on the other hand I'm a little bit disturbed because reality looks very different to me. And to you Mr. Crain, especially, the question: If emotional appeals are all right in advertisement, why do we bash historical figures? Excuse me for naming him, but Adolph Hitler used emotional approach too. I'm not saying that advertising is exactly the same thing but you certainly know yourself that emotional appeals quickly cross the line where you don't know what the people are doing. And you say advertising is mixed with emotion and intellect. I often miss that in commercials and I would like to know if you're really serious about that -- that emotional appeals are acceptable? If they are, then I'm going to use them, too, for my advantage, not just for advertising.

Crain
If you're a film maker, obviously you will use emotional appeals to your advantage. That's what films are all about. I think we've got to place a distinction here. Advertisers do not advertise Adolph Hitler and there are certain products that are wrong to advertise, that nobody except the worst kind of people could possibly want to sell.

I, for instance, am against lotteries. I think lotteries are not a good thing for most people, because people who least can afford it spend their money on a ticket to "happy land." And Shawn -- I really mean this -- if you feel that lotteries are not a good thing, you shouldn't do those kinds of commercials.

Everybody's got to make decisions in their own lives. But basically if you're advertising an ethical product that doesn't do any harm, and in fact contributes to the overall good, then of course you can use emotional appeals. Why should advertising be the only form of persuasion that is not allowed to use ethical appeals or emotional appeals? That's silly.

Q2
Then explain to me which products are ethical and which not? Cigarettes are advertised, too, and everybody knows how...

Crain
On television they're not advertised.

Q2
Well, in movie theatres. What's the difference?

Crain
No, they're not -- they're not allowed to be used in movie theatres.

Q2
In my country, yes. In Germany they use it.

Crain
Not here.

Q2
Well it's still influencing people.

Crain
I believe that most products that are advertised -- if they're legal, and they perform a worthwhile service -- should be allowed to [be promoted with] every other persuasive force that any other medium can use. It's just really not fair to tie the advertiser's hands behind his back. That doesn't make sense. Advertising doesn't have that kind of complete control over people's minds. That's just ridiculous to say that. If you believe in that, you believe in subliminal advertising. That's just not true! Advertisers wish it were true. [laughter] But it's not true!

Kimmel
I'd like to get a piece of this. I think that we've been beating up on advertising and I really don't think it's fair. If we're talking about using an emotional appeal to make you buy the green soap rather than the blue soap, then, unless they're selling the green soap for $40, I don't think there's a serious ethical issue here.

I think there's a really profound ethical issue in advertising in one area; it was touched on earlier, but then we all moved on to lottery and commercial products. [That area] is political advertising. If you look at the last cycle of American political advertisements where they are using the morphing special effect, so that, say, the Republican candidate turned his opponent into Bill Clinton and back, to show that his opponent was a Democratic monster. If you saw the movie Forrest Gump, you cannot believe what you see on film. I'm waiting for the next cycle of ads. "Here's my opponent meeting with Leonid Brezhnev, see? Here -- we have a film clip to prove it!" [laughter] I find that very scary.

Q2
Well I admit that's scary, but I think that's just a way to get out of the situation. I mean we all know why advertising is done. Companies want to sell something, and unfortunately, they don't care very often what their products do to their environment. I know that advertising agencies, they abound, because there's nothing easier than to hire an agency, and hire a new one if the agency doesn't do the job as the company wants it.

Of course I see the problems, but then again, I ask you, Mr. Crain: What possibilities do you see for advertisers to live out a little bit more the moral things that you said advertisers had to have? Why don't advertisers try -- at least sometimes -- to not do what a company really wishes to do them? To influence people to buy 100% of it, whether they need it or not? They want to make money, that's all they want.

Crain
Advertising is a messenger, number one. If a company is going to do something immoral or unethical, it's going to do it anyway, whether it uses advertising or not. It could use P.R., for that matter.

Clarke
The best way to get caught is to advertise it. The best way to kill a bad product is with good advertising. ...

There are 260 million people in the United States. If I want to get out and get that message out for my client and my client wants to let people know that a thing exists, I'm going to try to find a way to reach as many people as possible. I might take the Super Bowl. It'll cost me a million dollars for a commercial just to buy the [air] time. A million dollars -- but I'm going to reach, probably, 60% of the adult audience of the United States. And I've got thirty seconds to get that across -- to do what? To make people aware of my product. That's what advertising does, number one. It makes people aware of your product.

Number two, it helps build a favorable perception for that product. That's it. We make people aware, and we help build favorable perceptions. I have to buy to get my message across, so dammit, I want to control that message! I'm not gonna get him [pointing to Tracey] -- he doesn't believe in what he's doing. [general sustained laughter] I'm going to get a television commercial [producer] who believes in this product.

[A food] isn't packaged, and sold state to state, unless it passes any number of things. The FDA requirement -- it's a food. It's a food product. Even though it's water with flavored water -- it's a food. So it's not my job to determine, by the way, if my client is selling a legitimate product or not. But you know what? We do it. We go out and we ask people who have used it, we find out how it's made, whatever. We're very jaded. It's one of the best things about a communication background, by the way. You come out very jaded. [laughter] And that's great. We should have more jaded people and then we wouldn't be having conversations about stupid advertising. Guys, it's stupid.

Roghaar
We need to move on to someone else.

Q2
Let me just have this last point. Since advertising is not monitored by anybody, you are right. You can do what you want.

Clarke
Yes, indeed it is [monitored].

Roghaar
Thank you. Another...?

Q3
This is a question for the panel in general, and I'm going to probably steer a little bit away from advertising and go into other areas.

My name is Linda Hamel and I'm a graduate student here. In my background, business has to deal with money. The way you're successful is by making money for the company so that then you can move on. What I've heard today is that ethics isn't really brought into that conversation. I'm sure if you went to the company and said "Can we make a lot of money and be ethical?" versus "Can we make a lot of money and be non-ethical?" -- well sure, I think that most companies will pick the ethical side.

My question is: If you bring the money issue back in, is it possible to put fines on good taste versus bad taste in your areas? If I'm doing environmental waste and someone catches me, like Kodak, dumping into the rivers, then someone will come in and someone will fine you for it. If something gets tampered with -- your product -- and it's the company's fault, you'll get fined for it, like Tylenol, [which] had the problem. They had to take it off the market; they were fined for it.

I've seen is a sneaker commercial with bungie jumping. One ethical side was, "Well, we have to take this off. We can't advertise it because kids are gonna go bungie jumping." So my question is: What about the idea of fining? So that you're bringing back into the business the idea of money?

Clarke
Let me take some shot at that. I could tell you many cases where we were very successful in selling a product -- in driving up awareness, and building up enough favorable perception -- where people, in turn, will go buy the product in great numbers -- but the company goes out of business because there was no real money to be made.

Money, yes, is part of the issue. But I don't think anybody has ever said to me "I like to do 'blank' because I like to make a lot of money." I guess we're all in business for profit, but generally, the assignment we're given is "I'd like you to increase awareness by a certain percentage point" or "I'd like to change this perception, alter that perception."

Let me address that particular issue, because you referenced at least two things based on your perception which, indeed, are not real, are not true, are not fact. And that's the concern I have. Over the years we've all been talking about perception is reality. We've all said that. Dammit! You know what's happening? Today perception has become reality and there's nobody who's taking the time to alter one's perception with education with more information. If you've got concerns about these things, read up about them.

This guy over here says that advertising isn't regulated -- but, my God, it is regulated! It's the most regulated medium out there. And, by the way, publications -- print media as well -- won't run liquor advertising, won't run cigarette advertising. Not because they're made to do that, but because the have an ethical conscience that says "I won't do it." Some publications do. Most publications that are respectable don't.

Q4
My name is Suzi Sims-Fletcher. I'm a teacher at Emerson and a couple of other schools in town, from performance skills to P.R.

In listening to all these bleak things, such as people who are worried about tenure because they're eating dinner and maybe telling something they shouldn't, or subliminal messages, or... We've gone through Aristotelian logic, and logic and pesos, and now [we're] talking about ethics. We're suing our parents, we can't trust our loved ones, and we end up getting up divorced -- so who do we trust? It comes down to something as basic as that. Can you point me, as a consumer, into some direction? If I can't trust the news because you're buying it (or you're quoting people who are buying it) from other people, if you've got people manipulating me -- whom do I trust?

Crain
Well this is an easy one. You trust Walter Cronkite. [general laughter] I think it was TV Guide [that] did a survey -- more than 10 years after the man left CBS News -- he was still the most trusted man in America. [laughter]

Q4
That was easy. Thank you.

Crain
No, I'll tell you. To be serious about that: You trust yourself. You get as much information as you can. You watch things directly instead of through the coloring of the media. That's why the Town Hall concept has gained so much. That's why direct interviews have gained so much. That's why C-SPAN has gained so much: because you can get it right from the horse's mouth. You can see what's happening and you don't have to wait until it's filtered through the media. So trust yourself.

Andersen
One of the most important things you do I think in building a code of ethics about communication is to accept responsibility in your role as receiver, as participant, as respondent. You are responsible for yourself, and you want to have control over your own life. The only way you're going to control your decision-making is if you have enough resources to make the decision. Now, probably it doesn't matter much whether you use Cheer or Tide, but it matters a hell of a lot whom you choose to marry, who you choose to do X, Y and Z with. On those issues, you better take responsibility for your life -- and let Tide worry about itself.

Tracey
I also believe that you must trust yourself and you must also educate yourself in a manner that enables you to perceive what advertising and media and everyone else is trying to do. I've been lucky enough to teach some courses here in the Communications Studies Department, and I was amazed in the beginning at how little -- when they came into the course -- people actually analyzed and understood what was being done to them in these television commercials and other media. By the end, though, it was very easy for people to discern exactly what was going on, and I think you have to develop that ability. You know, television is so invasive. Turn it off, if it's in your home and you don't like what's happening. That's an important power that you have.

But before I finish, I just have to field the two SCUDs from either side. [general laughter] First of all, I do believe very much in what I do. In fact, I believe so much in what I do -- I think much more than what you credit the ability of television commercials to do, Rance.

Every once in a while there are those issues in something like lottery. But I don't think the lottery is a bad thing. I think it's a great thing. I've seen a lot of good done with some of the money from the lottery and whatever. I've seen a lot of winners. I've shot a lot of commercials with winners who are extremely happy about their winnings. It can be possible to win, it's not a ruse -- but every once in a while, just like any other product, it has a capacity to be abused. There are people who will abuse it. I feel bad about that when I do a commercial that is so coercive I feel there is a possibility it has induced somebody to go out and buy lottery tickets instead of food for their family -- and that's possible. But at the same time, I do not think that I should not do those commercials [just] because that is a possibility. Then I'm becoming paternal with them and I don't feel that's my responsibility or my right.

Roghaar
Another question.

Q5
Hi. I just have a question. My name is Cynthia Clark and I teach here at Emerson College. My question is for Terry and Brian.

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