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A Tale Of Two Press Releases: MPAC And CAIR On NPR’s Williams

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In Br. Galloway’s incisive round up on l’affaire Williams, he posed the following:

Here are two leading Muslim organizations MPAC’s and CAIR’s statements on the issue. Of the two stances whose was better?

To be fair it must be noted that CAIR’s statement came before Williams was fired and did not specify a particular action and MPAC’s statement is a reaction to his firing.

View CAIR’s release here: http://www.cair.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?mid1=763&&ArticleID=26665&&name=n&&currPage=1

View MPAC’s release here: http://www.mpac.org/issues/islamophobia/firing-juan-williams-was-wrong-despite-his-offensive-comments.php

Can you point to a better way?

As this is an area I also work in, I’ll bite :)

From a PR point of view, MPAC on the whole is a much better response. Regardless of their position (I can see where some might charge it’s almost too conciliatory), it does two important things:

1) it presents a much more balanced scope and context.
Note how it follows through with the rest of Williams’ remarks:

While Williams expressed his anxieties toward Muslim airline passengers, he then went on to stress that it is the responsibility of O’Reilly and other media commentators to be specific in identifying the threat as coming from extremists rather than any group as a whole and said America has “an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of everyone in the country.”

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It provides further scope by drawing attention to the more volatile and dangerous stance that O’Reilly takes:

Bill O’Reilly’s statements during the same interview were grossly offensive and bigoted, as he painted Muslims at large as a suspicious population because “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” and said he would no longer qualify that he was referring to “extremists.” O’Reilly is sanctioning blanket suspicion of all Muslims, which is bigoted and dangerous. …

For all its thoroughness, however, it’s hard to discern MPAC’s true desired outcome (and any PR person will tell you that all release are crafted with a specific outcome in mind).

I can’t speak for MPAC, but the release almost seems to be calling for Fox to reign in O’Reilly somewhat, with its too-subtle following paragraph:

In the past few months, a number of high profile commentators and journalists — including Rick Sanchez, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Helen Thomas — have been fired or quit due to offensive comments they made….

But MPAC doesn’t really connect the dots between the two paragraphs. If that’s a call they’re making, they need to be a little more fearless.

2) It offers a constructive call to action.
In the opening paragraph it calls for a meeting with Williams ” in order to advance the public discourse on Islamophobia in America” and again makes a similar call at large in the last paragraph (“These incidents have made it clear that more discussions need to take place addressing race, religion and American identity in the face of xenophobia and fear.”)

By contrast, CAIR selectively omits the rest of Williams remarks and offers no scope or constructive path — points that even a Fox anchor was able to pick up on when they had CAIR communications director Hooper on (see the clip, which I happened to watch after the first draft of this article).

I’ll deal with the relationships between newsrooms and press releases in parts 2 and 3 of this series, but if I’m in a newsroom and both of these cross my desk, I’m apt to follow up with MPAC. There’s more of a story: did Williams respond to that call for a meeting in the first paragraph? Can I tease out MPAC’s seemingly waffly position on O’Reilly?

Another important note: If I’m comparing the two side by side — and you know a newsroom will get both — CAIR’s selective editing compared with MPAC’s fuller context could diminish CAIR’s credibility as a newsroom source for long term use: journos need to trust their sources. Journos know that every press release has an agenda, and they learn early in their careers how to smell the spin: but the contacts and sources journos keep in their smartphones are the ones whose spins are the least aromatic.

While CAIR’s response is decisive and direct (while MPAC’s is perhaps not direct enough), it’s simply a call to action, so at the release’s outset there’s less room for follow up until further development regarding Williams happens.

Which it did, and so Hooper got the follow up, but the vulnerabilities in the press release left him a little bit open.

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With nine years experience in mainstream news media -- first in radio, then web and social media for both print and television -- Mustafa Stefan Dill was an early advocate and practitioner for applying social media techniques to mainstream journalism. Dill has lectured on online journalism and social change at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bangalore, India and has been featured in Online Journalism Review, The Media Center's Morph blog, J-New Voices, motherpie.typepad.com, and participated as a panelist in a national web seminar by the American Press Institute. In August 2010, Dill planned his escape from the newsroom environment launched a new consultancy offering PR, social media and new media strategies for a wide range of clients, with a specialty in serving Muslim and interfaith organizations and NGOs working in Muslim regions. Dill reverted to Islam in 2002.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abeer

    November 2, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    Not a very useful article.

    You are comparing apples to oranges. The two releases had completely different contexts, timings, and purposes. They only shared the subject matter.

    • Avatar

      Mustafa Stefan Dill

      November 3, 2010 at 2:49 AM

      Abeer, thanks for the feedback! Sorry you don’t find it useful, but think of it as a case study on how releases might play out to journalists , in the context of the other pieces in the media series (see part 3, for example).

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