Tuesday, March 28, 2006

When Justice Smears 

I have written about this often enough, but it is worth mentioning again. There is no greater danger to the reputations of individuals and companies than Federal and State prosecutors. They are a PR nightmare from which few recover. That is why it is interesting to see this defamation suit go forward. There is no doubt where the writer at The New York Times got his information. He used it to critique the FBI. In the process, however, the scientist was placed in a harsh light for many months from which he will never recover.

If the scientist is guilty, it makes no difference what was said about him. The problem is that no one has proven the scientist guilty. His reputation, however, is in tatters.

There ought to be better ways of handling sensitive information, and editors ought to be more careful about how reporters characterize "persons of interest." There is plenty of room for Free Speech, but there also should be plenty of room for protecting those who are innocent until proven guilty.

From a PR perspective, there is little one can do when government turns against you. The government carries the credibility and communications power, and the government can use or abuse that power. Zealous prosecutors are frequently abusive and worse, they justify their excess by claiming they are doing the public's work.


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