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Gini Dietrich

Trust Me I’m Lying: How One Person is Hurting an Entire Industry

By: Gini Dietrich | July 23, 2012 | 
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Last week, some news came to a head. Some very disappointing news that makes me really wonder about people.

A new author, Ryan Holiday, has written a book called, “Trust Me, I’m Lying.” And, with it, a gaggle of blog posts and articles are coming out about how reporters and bloggers have been duped by the 25-year-old claiming to be a PR professional, but who is instead a “media manipulator.”

Let’s Start from the Beginning

I don’t disagree with the premise of his thinking. He says journalists and bloggers are manipulated because of the 24/7 news cycle, which doesn’t allow for fact checking and source investigating that it did of the past.

In a recent Forbes article, he wrote:

At top of the pantheon of the media manipulators, of course, sits the late Andrew Brietbart. “Feeding the media is like training a dog,” he once said, “You can’t throw an entire steak at a dog to train it to sit. You have to give it little bits of steak over and over again until it learns.” And learned it did: they followed his lead exactly in the Shirley Sherrod story, and continue to fall for the manipulations of his student, James O’Keefe, who has ravaged NPR, ACORN, and many other liberal organizations.

And then you have influential bloggers, such as Michael Arrington, founder and former editor of TechCrunch, who once said, “Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap.”

Things are now written and published based on – what I call ego-driven metrics – pageviews and number of clicks, regardless of it being right or not.

It’s easy to get sucked into those metrics. After all, organizations are getting funding and making money based on eyeballs. And they feel good. Really good.

But that Doesn’t Make it Right

Along the way, he began to use Help a Reporter Out (HARO), the brain child of Peter Shankman (who later sold it to Vocus).

HARO is a free service that puts sources in touch with media outlets. A journalist or blogger sends a query and people who have expertise on that topic email back.

Holiday decided to respond to each and every query he got, whether or not he knew anything about the topic. Nor did he do it alone. He enlisted an assistant to use his name in order to field as many requests as humanly possible.

He expected it to take a few months of meticulous navigation, but he found himself with more requests than he could handle in a matter of weeks.

According to the Forbes article,

On Reuters, he became the poster child for “Generation Yikes.” On ABC News, he was one of a new breed of long-suffering insomniacs. At CBShe made up an embarrassing office story, at MSNBC he pretended someone sneezed on him while working at Burger King. At Manitouboats.com, he offered helpful tips for winterizing your boat. The capstone came in the form of a New York Times piece on vinyl records.

But he’s an expert on none of these things and, in fact, doesn’t suffer from insomnia or collect vinyl records.

Spin Sucks

This guy is neither a PR professional or a communicator.

He is a liar.

In his own words:

I am a media manipulator. My job is to use the media to make people do or think things they otherwise would not. People like me are there, behind the curtain, pulling the puppet strings.

Yes, the 24/7 news cycle is a beast. Yes, there are free services, like HARO, that make it easier for journalists to source their stories without a ton of elbow grease. Yes, deadlines make it harder and harder to fact check and get it right.

But it’s still the job of the journalist or blogger to do exactly that and use services, such as HARO, as a starting point. And it’s the job of the PR professional to be ethical, not lie, or “pull puppet strings.”

Our industry is not regulated by a governing body so it’s up to us to self-police. Do we really want to be known as liars? Or will you join me in being ethical and shouting from the rooftops, “Spin Sucks!!”?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

225 comments
shelholtz
shelholtz

Hey, Gini. I've left this same post over on the Inside PR blog:

 

I'm so glad you covered Ryan Holiday and his book. Since he's getting less critical coverage elsewhere, it's important that we who believe in the ethical side of PR speak up. Neville and I addressed Holiday on FIR #661 on July 23 (http://bit.ly/P13Wci) after I heard him interviewed on the Mixergy podcast (http://mixergy.com/ryan-holiday-interview/) by someone who thought his tactics were great. I also wrote a post suggesting that the ease with which someone like Holiday can manipulate the media gives rise to a greater need for our profession to examine certification (http://bit.ly/M9roSH). But what you may be most interested in is the Google+ Hangout on Air that John Jantsch moderated between Holiday and HARO founder Peter Shankman; David Meerman Scott and I sat in as commentators. You'll find it here: http://youtu.be/s4a0Vrk4ZEw

 

Thanks again for calling this kind of behavior out for what it is.

gcj
gcj

When your income stream is attacked, I can see why you'd respond emotionally and dishonestly. Where has Ryan represented himself as anything other than a manipulator?

Brigitte
Brigitte

Gini - Did you read the book? It agrees with all the conclusions you draw here.

Avi Lambert
Avi Lambert

I think this narrative shows that reporting is not what it used to be. Citizen journalism has ruptured the cultural norm that previously separated professionals and amateurs. And the news cycle has definitely increased in velocity because of the social conversation and social communication. But the personal choices made by Holiday to make a point about media manipulation reveal more about Holiday's low ethical standards and drive for celebrity than anything else. While PR practitioners and journalists drop the ball on occasion and with some frequency, ethics are a core part of each discipline. At the very least, it's worth thanking Holiday for raising significant questions about credibility. 

joeldon
joeldon

After I saw the movie Borat, two things crossed my mind:  1) this was a really funny movie and; 2) Sacha Baron Cohen can't make a Borat 2.  Sacha's version of an R-rated Candid Camera is a one trick pony.  Now that we now all know who Ryan Holiday is (never heard of him until now) and what he is not (a public relations person), the PR/marketing profession can be assured that Ryan won't be interviewed by the New York Times anytime soon as an expert on neutrino particle degradation or cited in a National Geographic post on best digital camera choices for an Antarctica expedition. 

 

Perhaps the most amusing part of Ryan's quest for his 15 minutes of page views was his interview by George Knapp on the national Coast to Coast AM radio show on July 22.  In that interview, Ryan referred to HARO, the service he scammed, as: 1) "a secret service"; 2) "a secret social network" and; 3) "a secret backroom" for journalists and sources.  Really?  A secret?  Ryan, if you checked some sources you'd find the "secret" phase of the PR business existed before you skipped out of college at 19, when companies and clients mostly had to rely on public relations pros to connect with media. Peter Shankman disrupted that business model with HARO, creating a free tool to enable anybody to directly pitch story sources or expertise to media, without the need for PR intermediaries/gatekeepers.  And by anybody, that means, in Ryan's words to the millions of Coast to Coast listeners, "publicists and hustlers and self-promoters."  Much to the dismay of some PR people who once enjoyed total control of the process, HARO is about as secret as Tucker Max's well-exercised liver or his personal struggle with social etiquette.

 

But enough of the Ryan Show.  When this story hit the radar, the first thing I did was look at the clients and companies that have hired Ryan Holiday or engage him today for his "promotional" (not PR) services.  We are often a reflection of the clients and companies that hire us for public relations and marketing counsel.  And it goes both ways.  The company you keep, in our brave, new transparent world, is revealing. 

 

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Read this, then read Peter Shankman's post. Agree w/ most of the comments here and there: what this person did is NOT in any way PR! It's some misguided, terrible attempt to game a system, in order to 'make a point' and get the publicity in order to sell a book. It is not PR. 

 

Sadly, I think for the few who don't look further this will hurt the perception of the industry. (See @KenMueller comments.) But I think it will be limited; I mean I'm just learning of this now and as the story unfolds, I hope this will die a quick death. Lost in all this b.s.: the 'news' that - wait a minute - what we read in the magazines and see on TV aren't 100% true and 110% accurate all the time?! Color me unsurprised. (And as some of the tweets and comments have pointed out re: research, fact checking, this reflects just as negatively on journalism.)

 

But this.. lying and manipulating the media for sport, for eventual profit, just to show you can? IDK. This is such an abomination, such a ridiculous ploy - I hope that most rational people will see it for the reeking, flaming pile of poo it is. FWIW.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@JamesBSchultz Are your ears burning? Lisa and I were just going thru your site.

ryancox
ryancox

I guess I'd never heard of this guy @ginidietrich and I can say I was probably better off for it. Media manipulator reads: lie on purpose and get paid because of it. There are plenty of other ways to prove and change industries that are broken. Exploiting it for self profit because you "can" isn't how my mother raised me. I'd rather be less self profitable than a man that can't look in the mirror and be happy with what I see.

shonali
shonali

@nikki_little Me too! @ginidietrich

Tinu
Tinu

Yikes. I'll stay on your team, Gini. I'm not surprised this is possible, but I'm amazed someone is that sketchy. Really I think we should spearhead a group that agrees to report and share with integrity. Or finds publications that do so and reports their records, even awards the ones with the most integrity. It's crazy that media became democratized partly to be an alternative to the tred of manufactured news- Yet here we are again.

CesLSU
CesLSU

I don't think media manipulation is anything new.   You used the example of Andrew Breitbart, but there are just as many manipulators on the left.   Politicians have been using the media to delive its message like their own private PR firm for a long time.   I would even venture to say that the media has become its own manipulator, attempting and, in many cases, succeeding to get the general public to believe a certain political or consumer message.   I think we must all trust but verify.   Hard to do in the 24/7 news cycle and hyper-competitive media industry!

pouchee
pouchee

@ginidietrich wow, that story is wild!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Maybe jail time for lying like this?

 

It blows my mind what they do in politics completely lying and yet no reprecussions. Today the Washington Post gave 3 Pinnochios  to a new Mitt Romney ad that to me is complete slander, Obama did something similar a month ago.Both should be taken to court for them but they aren't.

 

I know the US was built on lies, deception and cheating. But we do have laws and to me there should be some sort of checks and balances. Maybe that would slow down the news cycle somewhat but seriously there is nothing that I need to know right this very second unless a nuke is heading towards me. 99.9999999999% of the news doesn't matter if you learn it now or tonight. Or tomorrow.

 

So what can be done?

delwilliams
delwilliams

@ginidietrich I'm just guessing here, but something tells me he didn't win you over as a fan with his lying stunt. I could be wrong :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@vedo I was thinking about you while I rode my bike yesterday. No clue why...you just popped into my brain

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@randypitler And gets away with it. Sigh.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@jckreidel LOL!! That's something I would say...my butt.

laurenboyer
laurenboyer

@jasonkonopinski @jsprenk is this a true story? #want

ChelseaOrcutt
ChelseaOrcutt

@KellyLux @jdross I just started reading this book! Interesting perspective, but it's a bit infuriating. Def. not #PR I'd like to emulate.

belllindsay
belllindsay

What a complete and utter jerkwad. While I agree with @seanfleming that journos have a responsibility to check sources, etc., it boggles the mind that nowadays we all need to be so incredibly cynical and untrusting as to think the worst of everything we read and everybody we connect with, personally, professionally or otherwise. Coming from TV land, sometimes crap happens and erroneous information makes it to air (hey, journalists are human too!) - but this story - this deliberate ruse to prove some self-serving point - really makes me sick. 

Billy_Delaney
Billy_Delaney

@ginidietrich lead on my dear. We will follow... spin sucks.

bdorman264
bdorman264

But I always do check with me when I'm writing a post about myself; which I'm prone to do quite often. Ok, ok, I might embellish the stories at times so people will think I'm way better looking or cooler than I really am, but the basic premise is still the truth. 

 

It's lazy at best and it certainly isn't right and even though we should care, how many people really do? Is this another example of where the line has been moved so far that what is now acceptable looks ugly indeed.....but it's the new norm? 

flemingsean
flemingsean

This is a great piece.

 

The key thing here, imo, is that the responsibility lies with the journalist (and/or blogger) to check their facts. To an extent, I expect amateur bloggers not to understand that concept. But journalists, or those writing for commercially-run blogs, have nowhere to hide on this one.

 

Check your facts. Do not run with a single-sourced story. Ask questions. Be wary... the source feeding information to you has an agenda. They always do. 

 

Hard work and professional persistence are the things that separate the good from the great in journalism.

 

As for those of us on the PR side of the wire... we have to decide if we want to play fast and loose with our individual reputations or not. Hello... personal branding anyone..?

 

Great stuff, as always, Gini.

 

 

KristK
KristK

Shouting from rooftop: Ethics do matter and SPIN SUCKS! How one man's lies affect all journalists, PR per @ginidietrich http://t.co/kX8XPLS0

jackielamp
jackielamp

The worst thing about this is that it made me wonder if the joke's on me for believing in ethics and following them. Really, I thought, "Am I the naive one here? Clearly what this guy is doing actually worked for him." So I'm glad people who have been in the industry much longer are saying that this is not typical or acceptable behavior. It's sad, really. We take one step forward and someone like this puts us about 10 more steps back.

jeffespo
jeffespo

@ginidietrich that image makes my eyes bleed...

jonmikelbailey
jonmikelbailey

Given the right amount of charm and ambition, I think anyone could game the system for at least a little while. The beauty of a free (or relatively free Country) is that eventually liars are called out. But, I agree that it is up to the professionals as well to make sure they get the facts straight. Either that or it isn't. Definitely one of those two. And Ken can't be Robert Downey, Jr. because I am!

KurtScholle
KurtScholle

Kinda makes you wonder how many other guys like this are lurking out there.

kaitlinmaud
kaitlinmaud

@CristerDelacruz I disagree. That one person isn't hurting the industry just because he exposed a weakness. The industry is hurting itself

HeatherTweedy
HeatherTweedy

While I agree that this kid isn't a very good person, his actions do help publicize a much bigger problem and that's the fact that he could lie to these institutions.  

 

It's horrifying to think that so many news organizations were so lazy as to let him become a defacto expert without any verification. 

 

Let's be honest, news has gotten so lazy that even veterans are calling rumors "good enough". Just look at how the Aurora shooting was attached to the Tea Party because a guy with the same name was a member.  An ABC News Chief couldn't be bothered to be ethical and do due diligence.  It's hard to say that we should expect more out of a kid who openly admits his contempt for this type of sloth if we can no longer expect integrity out of those who have been in the media for years. 

 

It may be our job to be ethical, but it has to be the other side's job to not give the few bad apples a microphone and legitimacy with a complete absence of scrutiny. There's a more thorough background checks to be a cashier at McDonalds.  

 

(Thanks for something to rant about today that isn't the NCAA)

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

"Content is King"

Yeah, right.  Some of the comments here tie this into trendy nonsense (a certain family whose name starts with K comes to mind) and I agree completely.  The pressure to create quantity of content, some of which is "nooze", has been sorely working against quality generally.  This is only one symptom of the problem, IMHO.

As a person who attempts to create quality content for both myself and my clients I find that I am being appreciated a tiny bit more every day.  That makes me feel good.  But it's still a tough battle to fight.  Until a real value is placed on quality we'll see a lot of this crap in various forms.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Don't trust me, I'm telling the truth - The media puppet masters have been doing this for decades. Haven't you seen The Truman Show? That's why there's such a need for good conspiracy theorists. News, unfortunately, has become a mix of real events and entertaining realistic looking scenarios.

dmscott
dmscott

@jasonkonopinski Thanks, interesting. I just commented.

FranchiseKing
FranchiseKing

Gini!

 

So, your book is selling well? (Yiddish voice)

 

I have an idea; let's stop talking about this dude.

 

Free PR for him is damaging to the industry, too.

 

He'll be a nobody soon, anyway. Let's help him get there by not talking about him from this day forth :)

 

Love,

Joel 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@adamtoporek It truly makes me want to cry.

Trackbacks

  1. […] tone that makes us proud to be in the communications business, rather than being embarrassed by the likes of Ryan Holiday, the lying jerk and “media manipulator.” The letter is non-threatening, helpful, […]

  2. […] The revelations garnered such an enormous outcry that HARO (and some lazy, entitled people in the journalistic and PR communities) had to respond. Naturally, they decided to strike back at me personally. It doesn’t surprise […]

  3. […] bags because of the fear that Holiday’s lies will smear all professional communication. (Gini Dietrich’s take on the matter — and the accompanying comments — is well-thought out, but her take is a […]

  4. […] week’s topic centres on the post Gini wrote about Ryan Holiday’s new book, Trust Me, I’m Lying.  Holiday claims he’s a media manipulator. To prove it, he and his assistant conducted a test […]

  5. […] Inside PR 3.03,  Gini Dietrich, Joe Thornley and Martin Waxman discuss the post Gini wrote about Ryan Holiday’s new book, Trust Me, I’m Lying.  Holiday claims he’s a media manipulator. To prove it, he and his assistant conducted a test […]

  6. […] the same publication: Lying to journalists is not a genius PR stunt.  If you want to know more, read this post, or this one, or this one, or this one — which has great data, that I went and double […]

  7. […] Trust Me I’m Lying: How One Person is Hurting an Entire Industry (spinsucks.com) […]

  8. […] a tough row to hoe, when we are inundated daily with reports of sneaky native advertising, journalist fakeouts, and “astroturfed” social content, much of it generated by so-called PR […]

  9. […] and get the first and most accurate story. Dietrich quotes TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington who stated, “Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap.” Such remarks are exactly what we […]