Along with an introduction to Public Relations book, every aspiring public relations practitioner should consider reading the book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. The book outlines the power of Public Relations and its ability to cause harm. Although we know that “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”, there is still a lot of misconception about the role of Public Relations today, due to past malpractices of spin, lies and public deception at the hands of PR practitioners and those that they represented. The methods and tactics described in this book encompass everything that PR is not.
The beginig of the book covers the story of the tobacco industry in the 70s. How through the power of advertising and marketing, the tobacco industry was able to essentially lie to the public regarding the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. This same strategy was applied to the case of global climate change “discredit the science, spread confusion and promote doubt, tactics that were used in the 70s to combat plans to limit smoking – whose links to cancer were by then becoming unambiguous – and which have been refined and used in battles to combat acid rain, ozone-layer depletion and greenhouse gas emissions," according to Robin McKie of the Guardian.
The book, “tells the controversial story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is "not settled" have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive. These "experts" supplied it.”
The book, which has been adapted into a documentary, is a must read - or must watch, in order to understand that when we refuse to stand up for the truth, we serve as culprits to the manufucturing and distribution of lies and deception.
As PR practitioners, we are guided by a certain set of values and ethics that we should always uphold. We also should act as guides to our clients, letting them know where to draw the line. Let’s put it this way, PR practitioners have a responsibility not only to the client, but also to the public to deliver accurate messages.