Arkansas State University Newport The Tylenol and Exxon Valdez Cases Discussion

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I’m trying to learn for my Communications class and I’m stuck. Can you help?


Read one article to answer the question.

It is OK to have one to four sentences. Be sure answer the question concisely and clearly.


“Moral Fables of Public Relations Practice: The Tylenol and Exxon Valdez Cases” Pauly and Hutchison Overview This article covers two important cases relevant to Communication in general and Public Relations in particular: The Tylenol and Exxon Valdez cases. It examines how these two cases have been studied and analyzed—as a kind of meta-case study. It asks whether these cases should set a standard in public relations ethics. Why do the authors do this study? (i.e. Why did the choose Tylenol and Exxon Valdez?) 1. The authors chose to study Tylenol and Exxon Valdez cases because in the years they have been studied, these two cases ___________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________. 2. The authors claim that perhaps these cases are _____________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________. How did the authors conduct the study? 1. 2. 3. a. b. c. Case As a Mode of Moral Imagination • • • • • Case studies function as the signature narrative form of PR. They are used to set standards in the profession “Those who have voluntarily placed themselves in positions of trust concerning the interests of others must give careful consideration to those interests” (May, 1996 as cited in Pauly & Hutchinson, 2005, p. 234). o o Facts of the Case Company Johnson & Johnson Exxon Corporation Crisis (1982) (1989) Reaction • • • • • • • • • • Ethical Implications of the Crises • • • Textbooks: o “[C]ore ethical principles as an explanation,” (p. 236) as if decision had made based on deliberative morality ▪ Johnson & Johnson’s _________________________ ▪ Exxon’s ____________________________________ o ________________________________________________________________ ▪ Johnson & Johnson’s quick response ▪ Exxon taking 10 days to address situation ▪ Ethics over legal obligations and risks o Positive public reactions is assumed to equal proper ethics ▪ ▪ ▪ Scholarly texts: o _______________________________________________________________ ▪ Johnson & Johnson: good ▪ Exxon: bad o Media silence as negative and unethical because it “withholds” information o Failure or success defines morality New Coverage 1. Both cases as stories of moral judgment and blame 2. Two habits of news reporting: Framing and sourcing. 3. Framing ▪ ▪ 4. Sourcing ▪ 5. Main frame: ________________________________________ 6. Anything that gave “bad publicity” was considered a crisis 7. Johnson & Johnson as a “gold standard” 8. 9. Conclusions • • • • The Johnson & Johnson and Exxon Valdez cases created the narrative of crisis communication, but should not set the moral standards for public relations ethics. Three faulty conclusions: 1. 2. 3. __________________________________________________________________ “Treating ethics as a heroic response undervalues the steady, conscientious struggle needed to behave honorably toward each stakeholder” (p. 246). Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 20(4), 231–249 Copyright © 2005, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.. Moral Fables of Public Relations Practice: The Tylenol and Exxon Valdez Cases John J. Pauly and Liese L. Hutchison Department of Communication Saint Louis University J Discussions of the Tylenol and Exxon Valdez cases found in textbooks, public relations scholarship, and news coverage are assessed to understand the meanings that practitioners, educators, critics, and journalists have attributed to those events. The essay objects to a central claim made by critics who say these cases set standards for ethical behavior in public relations. This claim, according to us, mistakes moral drama for ethical deliberation. When business and public relations executives talk about moral leadership in times of crisis, chances are someone will compare the cases of Tylenol and the Exxon Valdez. In scores of articles and books, journalists, leadership and management consultants, political scientists, economists, environmentalists, and public health advocates have all taken their turn interpreting the significance of those events. Equally striking is how often the two have been paired to make a point about public relations. Discourse and memory have woven the 1982 product tampering and the 1989 Alaskan oil spill into a single parable in which Johnson & Johnson represents the public relations profession at its best, and Exxon the profession at its worst. A 1994 speech by the noted practitioner and textbook author Fraser Seitel illustrated the commonplace. Seitel (1994) cited the Tylenol and Valdez cases to demonstrate his first commandment of public relations: “To hold as our one and only God, the spirit of Truthful Communications.” Johnson & Johnson prospered because it explained why it was removing Tylenol from the shelves, Seitel argued; by contrast, Exxon “said little and lost terribly” (p. 203). What should we make of this tale? Seitel (1994) and others rightly believe that the Tylenol and Valdez cases offer important lessons about crisis management, the importance of executive leadership, and media relations. However, his biblical metaphor implies a value judgment as well. Like many public relations practitioners and educators, Seitel proposed 232 Tylenol–Exxon Valdez Tylenol–Valdez as a moral fable, a cautionary tale about how the profession ought or ought not do its work. That pairing has been so taken for granted that we should pause to consider what it means. With so many natural disasters, corrupt practices, safety evasions, and industrial accidents from which to choose (Mitroff & Pauchant, 1990), why pick these two? With so many lessons to learn, why distill from these crises a story about public relations? With so many cases to contrast, why invest the comparison of these two with such moral weight? This article analyzes discussions of the Tylenol and Valdez cases in textbooks, public relations scholarship, and news coverage of subsequent crises to understand the meanings that practitioners, educators, critics, and journalists have attributed to those events. In particular, our goal is to test the widely accepted claim that these cases set standards, good and bad, for ethical behavior in public relations. Our main objection to this claim is that it mistakes moral drama for ethical deliberation, accepting the public praise of Johnson & Johnson and the public criticism of Exxon as evidence of ethical virtue, or its lack. What does it mean, then, when the profession searches for evidence of its ethical commitments in such cases, or offers them, juxtaposed, as moral exemplars? Our method was to discover as many discussions of the two crises as we could in public relations principles and case studies textbooks and in professional and scholarly journals and books. We also used the LexisNexis database to track mentions of the Tylenol and Valdez cases in newspaper and magazines stories from 1989 to 2004, as one measure of how the popular memory of those cases takes shape. Once we had gathered this body of evidence, we applied methods of qualitative textual analysis described by Pauly (1991) and now widely used by many scholars in the humanities and social sciences. We looked for patterns of storytelling, characterization, and framing across these different genres—textbooks, scholarly journal articles and book chapters, and newspaper and magazine stories—in the belief that similarities in argument, interpretation, and tone would support our claim that many commentators have accepted the Tylenol–Valdez comparison as a moral commonplace. Our argument proceeds as follows. We begin by noting the public relations profession’s dependence on case studies as a mode of narrative and self-reflection. We borrow a line of reasoning from the philosopher Larry May (1996) to propose a standard for judging the adequacy of case studies as a mode of ethical analysis. After briefly summarizing the facts of each case, we analyze the discourse about the Tylenol and Valdez crises in three bodies of literature (public relations textbooks, scholarly articles, and news stories) and conclude with an interpretation of what, if anything, these cases tell us about the ethics of public relations. Pauly and Hutchison 233 Cases As a Mode of Moral Imagination The importance attributed to the Tylenol and Exxon Valdez crises reflects, in part, the weight that public relations practitioners and educators place on the study of cases. Pauly and Hutchison (2001) argued that the case study is public relations’ signature narrative form. In its journal articles and textbooks and in award competitions like the Silver Anvil, the profession has made the case its preferred mode of self-analysis, using it to propose standards by which the profession would like to be judged. The day-to-day use of cases is largely technical. Teachers employ them to show students how to assemble the parts of a complex campaign, and students treat that exercise as authoritative because it simulates a world of real-time decision making. Not surprisingly, the normal focus of public relations cases is on practical outcomes—problems solved, goals met, news coverage earned, crises managed, criticisms answered, reputations repaired. Yet, cases also function as narratives—forms of storytelling that deploy setting, plot, characterization, and motivation to make the world coherent and meaningful. Their very making and telling involve us in moral sense making, as rhetorical critics from Kenneth Burke to William Benoit have reminded us. Burke (1973) argued that, in important respects, literary texts resemble traditional proverbs. Insofar as language is persuasive by its very nature, Burke said any story always urges a perspective on us, telling us what to look for and look out for. Public relations cases operate in just this fashion. What they “look out for” is any challenge to an organization, be it a threat to financial well-being or to moral standing or reputation (Benoit, 1995). The inclusion of a case in a textbook, scholarly journal, or news story signals to the reader that there are lessons to be learned, and that the reader would do well to pay attention. Thus the act of choosing and constructing cases should be understood as moral as well as technical work, or, in Burke’s (1973) terms, as a search for representative anecdotes that will render a profession’s work legitimate as well as intelligible. What is distinctive about the public relations case (like the business school case) is that it takes the organization, rather than the individual, as its unit of analysis, to make an organization’s behavior visible and thus available to be pondered and critiqued. When collected, cases begin to constitute a dramaturgy. They document a profession’s triumphs and failures, offering stories about how practitioners have managed group conflict, responded to threats to workers’ health, protected the market value of a brand, repaired an organization’s reputation, safeguarded customers’ lives, or created occasions for collective memory and community celebration. 234 Tylenol–Exxon Valdez For all their moral drama … public relations cases tend to gloss over an organization’s actual ethical practices. For all their moral drama, however, public relations cases tend to gloss over an organization’s actual ethical practices. Public relations’ role in the interplay of empirical evidence, legal argument, technical expertise, personal influence, standard procedures, social norms, and moral authority remains largely invisible. May (1996) has suggested that just such social processes powerfully shape the ethics of professionals. In his book The Socially Responsive Self, May argued that our moral concepts “need to be understood as embedded in social structures and processes such as socialization, solidarity, and collective consciousness” (p. 2). He especially hoped to show how social and organizational worlds enable or constrain professionals’ sense of integrity and social responsibility. Drawing on communitarians such as Charles Taylor (1989), May argued for a plural, social self whose beliefs and principles emerge in interaction with others. “The background or orientation provided by our group identifications,” May wrote, “provides the thread out of which the web of self will be spun” (p. 14). Drawing on the critical legal theory of Roberto Unger (1983), May suggested that professionals ought to understand their social responsibility as a “fiduciary duty”: “Those who have voluntarily placed themselves in positions of trust concerning the interests of others must give careful consideration to those interests” (p. 136). We find two aspects of May’s (1996) reasoning particularly relevant to the study of public relations ethics. First, public relations is just the sort of socially embedded profession he had in mind. Its practitioners have long struggled to accommodate their conflicting responsibilities to multiple publics. An influential theory such as two-way symmetrical communication (Grunig, 2001; Grunig & Hunt, 1984) can be understood, in part, as an attempt to describe the fiduciary obligations of public relations within the social science idiom of “information.” May’s style of ethical reasoning begins elsewhere—not with an analysis of information flows but with a fuller conception of the self as moral actor and of the social worlds inhabited by that self. Rather than treating the public relations professional as autonomous being governed by a single core principle (tell the truth, promote the client’s interests), May recognized the plural social demands on each individual as well as the complexity of professionals’ work. 235 Pauly and Hutchison Second, May’s (1996) approach suggests a way of making case studies a more useful mode of ethical reflection. We believe that cases, as they are now written, offer mostly moral dramaturgy—an affirmation of the goodness or badness of an organization’s public acts. May’s argument leads us to believe that cases would be more valuable guides to ethics if they described the social processes of deliberation, for it is through such processes that groups meet to interpret situations and decide on lines of actions. It is at such moments that professionals are called to give voice to their fiduciary duties and find their concerns acknowledged, resisted, ridiculed, praised, or silenced. Facts of the Case Analyses of the Tylenol and Valdez cases have been available for more than a decade. They typically draw from news accounts, press releases, lawsuit records, and government hearings. Although the facts included are sometimes contradictory, the basics of the cases remain roughly similar from one text to another. The summary of each case offered below is a composite, written to resemble the accounts that appear in public relations textbooks (Center & Jackson, 2003; Fearn-Banks, 2002; Seitel, 2004; Wilcox, Cameron, Ault, & Agee, 2005). On September 20, 1982, the managers of Johnson & Johnson learned that a product of its subsidiary, McNeil Consumer Products, was implicated in the deaths of several people in the Chicago area. As events unfolded, Johnson & Johnson realized that someone was putting cyanide into its Tylenol capsules. A series of responses followed quickly: The company immediately warned the public, pharmacies, and doctors regarding the situation; it pulled the product off the shelves nationwide as more cases came to light (at a cost of approximately $100 million); the CEO, James Burke, took front stage, working with the media and showing the public that he was committed to solving the problem; the company established a crisis team that included the top public relations person in the organization, Lawrence Foster; Johnson & Johnson offered a $100,000 reward to find the killer, distancing itself from the idea that the tampering occurred internally; and it reintroduced the product in safer, tamper-resistant packaging to much fanfare and attention. Much of this response occurred within days of the deaths. Almost 7 years later, on March 24, 1989, a tanker belonging to the Exxon Corporation ran aground in the Prince William Sound in Alaska. The Exxon Valdez spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Valdez, killing thousands of fish, fowl, and sea otters. Hundreds of miles of coastline were polluted and salmon spawning runs disrupted; numerous fishermen, especially Native Americans, lost their livelihoods. Exxon, 236 Tylenol–Exxon Valdez by contrast, did not react quickly in terms of dealing with the media and the public; the CEO, Lawrence Rawl, did not become an active part of the public relations effort and actually shunned public involvement; the company had neither a communication plan nor a communication team in place to handle the event—in fact, the company did not appoint a public relations manager to its management team until 1993, 4 years after the incident; Exxon established its media center in Valdez, a location too small and too remote to handle the onslaught of media attention; and the company acted defensively in its response to its publics, even laying blame, at times, on other groups such as the Coast Guard. These responses also happened within days of the incident. The symmetry of these cases helps explain why they have been so often linked in public relations lore. The symmetry of these cases helps explain why they have been so often linked in public relations lore. Johnson & Johnson acted quickly and publicly; Exxon did not. Johnson & Johnson’s CEO became actively and visibly involved in the resolution of the crisis; Exxon’s did not. Johnson & Johnson took responsibility for the crisis by withdrawing its products; Exxon blamed others. A top public relations person was a member of the Johnson & Johnson crisis team; no such person was visible in the Exxon response. These polar differences would encourage the pairing of the two crises as good and bad examples of public relations practice. The Ethical Implications of the Crises Public relations professionals and educators have discussed the Tylenol and Valdez cases at three key sites: textbooks, scholarly articles, and news stories. We chose these three because they cover a range of audiences, including students, professors, practitioners, and the general public, and are written according to different conventions. For each body of materials, we analyze what the presence or absence of ethics talk signifies, and the ways in which ethical issues—when recognized—are framed. Textbooks Textbook accounts of the Tylenol and Valdez tend to employ three main narrative strategies. They invoke core ethical principles as an explanation Pauly and Hutchison 237 of each company’s behavior, attribute corporate decisions to presumed moral deliberations, and cite public opinion as evidence of ethical probity. Several textbooks search the Tylenol and Valdez cases for evidence of core ethical principles. Center and Jackson (2003) said that one of the factors that helped Johnson & Johnson weather the Tylenol crisis was the organization’s culture and its founder’s belief in social responsibility. “High ethical standards were set in place early on to be continued as a tradition or as a legacy” (p. 185). In addition, the company’s much-lauded corporate credo declared that the first responsibility was to the users of their products. Center and Jackson implied that Johnson & Johnson relied on its credo when deciding how to act. Conversely, Fearn-Banks (2002) cited some Exxon employees’ belief that the corporate culture of cutting costs at Exxon had led to the accident because “the company had cut crews, and that …

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