A colleague of mine recently had an unfortunate experience with WWMT Channel 3 here in West Michigan. One of their reporters burst into the offices of Patriot Solutions with cameras rolling and accusations flying.
It offers a “teachable moment” to point out two problems I see public relations professionals encounter with their counterparts in the news media:
Problem 1 – Not Doing One’s Homework
The basis of the investigation is that Patriot Solutions is classified as a “service-disabled, veteran-owned company.” WWMT noted that the disability rating of the owners is “0 percent,” so they are alleging some sort of fraud.
The problem is, as the National Veteran-Owned Business Association could readily tell you, having a “0 percent” disability doesn’t mean that a veteran wasn’t disabled as a result of their service to their country. What it means is that their disability is not at a “compensable level” – meaning it doesn’t “substantially [limit] one or more major life activities.”
So, for example, a veteran could have a “0 percent” disability rating if they suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but are able to make it to work every day and lead a relatively normal life despite suffering from mental health issues.
Problem 2 – Asking Questions One Knows Can’t be Answered
What WWMT did with their ambush interview was put Patriot Solutions in an impossible position: every journalist worth his/her salt knows that any employer has to decline to comment on private personnel matters. It’s against the law – employees have privacy rights. Same with patients; showing up at a hospital and demanding information on someone being treated is a HIPAA violation. Further, the same is true of students; their privacy is protected by FERPA.
Veterans of the Marine Corps and the Army (which the owners of Patriot Services are) deserve respect and fair treatment as much as all other citizens (if not moreso). What WWMT essentially did was attack these individuals during business hours and demand that they cough up sensitive, personal medical information because its reporter doesn’t know how to use the Google Machine.
Dick move, WWMT. Dick move. Hopefully they do the right thing and nix the piece before they do more damage.