PR Watch Bungles Criticism of PRSA With Error- and Omission-Riddled Attack

It’s important to preface this post by noting while I’m a PRSA member – I’m no shill for the organization.

I support PR Watch and the Center for Media and Democracy – in fact, I believe I’ve even contributed financially to them in the past. I enjoy their Media Minute (and I’m glad it’s once again being produced), and I’ve frequently recommended  their tool to colleagues and students (and contributed to it).  I own all of John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s books (and my copy of “Toxic Sludge is Good for You” is even autographed from when I met Rampton at a lecture he gave in Grand Rapids).  I’ve also frequently criticized PRSA.

That said …

this analysis by Anne Landman of PR Watch (“The Battle Between O”Dwyer and PRSA) is completely misguided and full of fatal flaws and it seriously impugns PR Watch’s credibility – something I’m truly sad to see.

Here are some of the problems:

  • Landman failed to note in the initial publication of the piece that Jack O’Dwyer is a member of the PR Watch staff (a fact only corrected when Arthur Yann, VP of PR for PRSA pointed it out).
  • Landman falsely identifies PRSA President & COO William Murray, CAE as having previously worked for Phillip Morris (as a way of tarring his reputation by association) – confusing him with R. William “Bill” Murray.  I was disappointed to see that grievous and sophomoric error is still in place on
  • Nowhere in Landman’s analysis does she mention that PRSA has hard evidence demonstrating O’Dwyer’s organization illegally accessed internal PRSA conference calls AND hacked into the PRSA members-only website.
  • Amazingly, nowhere in Landman’s editorial does she mention O’Dwyer’s strident claims that PRSA owes him money because it duplicated some of his content as part of its clippings-sharing service many years ago (which is the primary motivator behind his aggression toward the organization).
  • Landman attempts to bolster O’Dwyer’s credibility by citing a Forbes Magazine article which was also seriously deficient in its analysis.
  • Landman name-checks Wendell Potter, but doesn’t note that PRSA made him a featured speaker during its 2009 International Conference.
  • Landman incorrectly describes O’Dwyer’s criticism of PRSA as going back “a few years” – but O’Dwyer has been a caustic opponent of PRSA ever since I was an undergraduate student in the Public Relations Student Society of America back in 1999 (that’s more than ‘a few’ years ago).

O’Dwyer isn’t barred from attending the PRSA International Conference because the organization fears he’ll produce unfavorable reporting.  They’re barring him because he’s NOT A JOURNALIST.  He has routinely violated the Code of Ethics prescribed by the Society of Professional Journalists (of which O’Dwyer is a member).

O’Dwyer is a profiteer with a financial vendetta who has found it valuable to criticize PRSA (which is why he focuses disproportionate attention on them, virtually ignoring all other professional public relations organizations).   He’s also turned his criticism to any organization he feels owes him money (like the PR firms that declined to pay to be listed with his service) – using his faux-journalistic enterprise to criticize them as a way to extort money from them.

I urge PR Watch to reconsider this line of attack.  There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to make of the PR industry and PRSA – but Jack O’Dwyer is not the horse you want to back in doing so.

7 thoughts on “PR Watch Bungles Criticism of PRSA With Error- and Omission-Riddled Attack

  1. Anne Landman says:

    Thanks for reading PRWatch. I will attempt to address your criticisms about the PRWatch article regarding Jack O’Dwyer and PRSA:

    Jack O’Dwyer has been a contributing writer to PRWatch, but is not an actual paid staff member, nor has he ever been. Because of the way our website is structured, all contributors must be named and have a bio listed, or the authorship gets listed as “Anonymous.” Since we don’t allow anonymous contributors, CMD created a bio on O’Dwyer a to give readers some information about him and his background. He is not, and never had been, a paid CMD staff member. That said, even in Jack were a full-fledged CMD staff member, it would not have changed my opinions regarding PR and PRSA’s direction towards obscurity. My points about the PR profession’s increasing tendency to work in the shadows would remain exactly the same.

    You are correct in that I should have been more careful to check and see whether this was the same William “Bill” Murray who had worked in PR for Philip Morris. I regret having confused the two William “Bill” Murrays. I corrected the error as soon as I became aware of the discrepancy, and noted the time and date the article was updated.

    To me, it is both curious and suspect that anyone interested in PRSA and who has made a career out of covering the PR industry would be denied access to PRSA’s conference calls, assemblies, etc. It makes one wonder what PRSA has to hide.

    The money issues between O’Dwyer and PRSA have no effect on my opinions. PRSA’s policies that make the group more obscure and difficult to cover are a public concern, and mirror what is happening to PR in general. Increasingly, PR professionals are working from the shadows and using strategies to keep information from the public rather than trying to better inform the public and urging more corporate and political transparency. The money dispute between O’Dwyer and PRSA has no bearing on my larger point that PRSA is going the way of corporate PR in general.

    It is similarly impertinent to my overall opinion of PRSA policies that PRSA hosted Wendell Potter as a speaker at one of their conferences. I’m glad you had him. He’s a great person and an excellent speaker, and I’m sure he did a good job.

    If O’Dwyer has been a critic of PRSA back to 1999, then it could have been that long ago that PRSA began adopting policies that merited scrutiny.

    I cannot possibly address every complaint that Jack O’Dwyer has against PRSA over the years, (as I said in my article, I am aware that they are many) but I can see the similarities between Jack’s recent points about PRSA’s increasingly restrictive policies making the group more difficult to cover and the contemporary ethical issues surrounding PR that we regularly address on PRWatch.


    1. Derek DeVries says:


      What you’re describing in terms of the policies you follow for PR Watch don’t conform to basic codes of journalistic ethics. PR Watch demands transparency, yet fails to provide it and doesn’t understand why that is problematic.

      PR watch also maintains an entire database devoted to unearthing the monetary influences that drive front organizations – yet it doesn’t seem to see the need to mention the financial motivations for O’Dwyers PR (which is basically a front group for Jack O’Dwyer’s mad crusade against PRSA over a copyright issue).

      Why would ANY private organization make INTERNAL conference calls accessible to the public? I fail to see how that somehow makes PRSA deserving of suspicion.

      Have you ever tried to run a conference call with hundreds of callers? Muting questions by phone and directing people to type them via chat is a survival strategy – otherwise no one would be able to hear the conference call with all of the people who invariably fail to hit the “mute” button on their own phones and end up broadcasting their background office noise. Again – much ado about nothing.

      It’s telling that you don’t actually have any idea what PRSA’s policies were dating back to O’Dwyer’s original criticism – you’re just emptily speculating.

      Does it change any of your overall opinion of PRSA to know that Jack O’Dwyer has fallen asleep at conferences (in addition to the litany of other insults and violations he’s committed in his interactions with the organization)? Were he to attend this year’s conference, in addition to hearing assistance I wonder if he would also demand he be supplied with Red Bull so he can stay awake during the assembly proceedings…

      Does it change your overall opinion of PRSA to know that Jack O’Dwyer has had unwelcome physical contact with at least one female delegate during the assembly (which is why he was confronted by a male companion at last year’s event)? – Or does PR Watch not oppose sexual harassment?

      Does it change your opinion of PRSA to know that Jack O’Dwyer calls employers of people associated with PRSA and attempts to affect their employment status by telling them that their employee is associated with a “criminal organization” (ie PRSA)?

      It should, because that’s not journalism, and Jack O’Dwyer is not a journalist. That’s why he’s not permitted to attend the conference.


  2. Lynn Anne Miller (@organicmania) says:

    Excellent post. I’ve wondered about the backstory here – I’ve seen PR people whom I greatly respect “go off” on O’Dwyer, but they’ve never been able to succinctly explain why they feel the way they do. Thanks for summarizing the long backstory of the conflict between PRSA and O’Dwyers.


  3. Jack O'Dwyer says:

    Hi Derek and others commenting:

    How come none of you has the nerve to call me on the phone? That has been true of national leaders and staff for years. They’re like your Flash Mob of 2010 which interrupted my interview with Art Stevens and then ran away. He had just seen nearly a year’s work for the Committee for a Democratic PRSA go down the drain. APRs blocked any non-APRs on the board, making the Society very undemocratic.

    Jack O’Dwyer


    1. Derek DeVries says:


      I’m under the age of 60, so I don’t call *anyone* on the phone. It’s an outmoded technology. Why would I waste time (and money) making a long-distance phone call to someone who may or may not pick up at a moment that may or may not be convenient for them to have an awkward conversation? Asynchronous communication has many advantages.

      Plus I’m not really interested in having a conversation with you, similar to the way you’re not interested in objectively reporting on the happenings of PRSA.

      Your interview was interrupted for a grand total of 36 seconds, and it resumed immediately after the flash mob. I’m fairly sure you’ve intruded on the important business of plenty of PRSA members for far longer than 36 seconds at a stretch, so attempting to play the victim doesn’t really work.

      Art Stevens’ campaign was a noble effort, and it was heard loud and clear and the delegates (who are representatives of their chapter members) decided that the case wasn’t compelling enough. That’s how representative democratic governance works. He’s free to bring the issue up again and again and perhaps someday in the future he’ll have enough support to overturn the requirement. But there’s nothing sinister about what happened at the assembly in 2009-2010.

      If blocking non-APRs from the PRSA e-board makes the organization undemocratic, does that mean the US government is also undemocratic because there are age limits to serve in the House of Representatives, Senate and Presidency?


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