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Ethics And Its Applicability

Ethics And Its Applicability

Roots of Public Relations

Contemporary public relations is a twentieth-century phenomenon that evolved from the press gentry of the 1800s. These old-time press agents played upon the credulity of the public in its desire to be entertained, whether or not they were deceived. Advertisements and press releases were often exaggerated to the point of being complete falsifications. In promoting an attraction, press agents dropped multitudes of tickets on the newspaper editors desk along with the releases. Voluminous publicity for the attraction usually resulted, and reporters, editors, and their families flocked to the free entertainment with scant regard for any ethical constraints (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee 37). One man, Phineas T. Barnum, exemplified such a press agent to the extreme. Barnum is considered the master of the pseudoevent, the planned event that occurs primarily for the purpose of being reportedsimilar to the special events held by public relations practitioners of today. However, modern-day practitioners like to draw the line of comparison between Barnum and themselves at this point. This hardheaded businessman used deception and hoax in his operations and in his publicity and advertising. Nevertheless, a public thirsting for entertainment permitted his exaggerations and people were amazed by the wonders he produced (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee 38). For example, Joice Heath was a slave who claimed to be 161 years old and said she had been George Washingtons nurse. Barnum produced a stained birth certificate as evidence for the public, but after she died, her autopsy disclosed that she was far younger. On the same note, Jumbo, the worlds largest elephant, was brought by Barnum from England with enormous publicity. Posters and pamphlets featuring inflated prose exaggerated the animals size (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee 38).

Roots such as these have created the skepticism with which the public views the field of public relations. Furthermore, it is the duty of practitioners to create positive images for businesses and organizations. Therefore, other, more recent issues have augmented Americans mistrust in the business world in general, including the Watergate Affair and the business-and-government-related scandals of the 1980s, such as the near collapse of the savings and loan industry. The American public is demanding higher ethical practices from business firms and organizations than it did in the past (Wilcox, Ault, & Agee 116).

How Public Relations Practitioners are Perceived

Despite pressure from the public, very little empirical evidence on...

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