Hurricane Katrina still stands as the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States and the deadliest since the Okeechobee hurricane of the late 1920s (Knabb, Rhome, & Brown, 2005). As such, the scrutiny of the government response, particularly at the federal level, to the hurricane was intense and widely proliferated in the mainstream media. As the leader of the federal government, President George W. Bush made numerous public statements regarding the exigencies of those who were directly impacted by Katrina and what the federal government’s relief plan would entail.
The following is a deconstruction of some of the president’s communications in the context of the social and political climate of the immediate aftermath of Katrina’s Louisiana landfall. During the deconstruction, the messaging will be compared to the singular archived response the president issued after category four Hurricane Charley struck Florida the previous year, which also happened to be an election year, to better understand, again, the social and political underpinnings and the implications of power versus powerlessness in a situation when people are at the government’s mercy for relief and relief communication.
James Grunig is the hegemonic theorist in the public relations sphere. I would wager it is because he was the first to the top of the theoretical jungle gym. Once he got there, he declared himself “King of the Playground.” I should note I do not totally disagree with Grunig’s curiously named excellence theory. I do appreciate that he has been developing his theory over many years. He is certainly dedicated and passionate. He also can admit his theory still has the potential to evolve. Further, there are elements I rather like, such as the notion of public relations serving as an important management function.
My hang-up with Grunig is he does not seem to move beyond thinking of public relations as a management function. He is too fixated on that aspect to fully develop his theory to a point where it may be more applicable. Grunig spends far too much time idealizing and expands too little on how his theory might be adopted by those who cannot force public relations to serve as a function of management or how agency public relations practitioners, for example, might level the playing field with a client. It seems as though, in Grunig’s eyes, those practitioners who are unable are not excellent. And if not excellent, what are they? Does Grunig’s theory have to be all or nothing? And if so, how can public relations practitioners who are attempting to reconcile Grunig’s theory with their practice ever be satisfied? He never truly explains. He is too busy idealizing a rigid excellence utopia. His theory is not grounded in reality.
I was recently asked to respond to a public relations legal case. The case read as follows:
“You are the public relations director for a small liberal arts university. Recently there have been some fights in campus dorms involving drunk students. The university is concerned about the number of students who are drinking and how their behavior is affecting the school’s image. The university wants to ask the city council to pass an ordinance [a law passed by a municipal government] prohibiting the use of a billboard on the edge of campus to advertise local drinking establishments. In other words, the ordinance would ban the advertising of bars on billboards. How might you advise the school’s president about the legal status of such an ordinance?”
I would advise the school’s president that pursuing that sort of legal action to combat advertising for bars downtown would not be a wise decision. In the legal action the bars would most likely bring against the city or university, the Central Hudson test would most likely be employed to determine whether or not the commercial speech in question is worthy of protection. I believe the commercial speech would pass the Central Hudson test.
The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act gives companies a safe harbor to make predictions on corporate performance as forward-looking statements without having to worry about suffering litigation if their statements do not pan out. While I can appreciate criticism of the PSLRA, the benefits to companies and the free market far outweigh the risks.
While companies do have the luxury of the safe harbor, there are numerous policies the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 put into place to keep investors apprised of the actions of companies and maintain transparency of publicly traded organizations. Among these are the necessity of companies to publish annual reports, timely disclosure of pertinent events that could affect securities and banning of selective disclosure and insider trading (Gower, 54-58). Furthermore, the act explicitly states “any… course of business which operates… as a fraud or deceit upon any person, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security” is prohibited (Gower, 55).