Thursday, February 19, 2009
I have a new goal in life: become the president of several universities over the course of the next 60 years and shut down every Public Relations program I can get my grubby little fingers on.
PR people — media hacks — disinformation distributors — are the bane of journalists everywhere. PR people are trained in the arts of industry buzz words, gloss-over phrasings, question-evading and circle-talking. The usefulness of corporate PR people is at least understandable: they do not want negative news about their employers to reach the public. What isn't acceptable is the increasingly secretive corporate culture infiltrating American government. Administrators, whose salaries are paid by you and I — do not want to talk to journalists about their government programs, even though we pay for them and are directly affected by them.
In the course of writing about the federal stimulus money central Illinois is to receive for infrastructure projects, IDOT administrators repeatedly herded me back to PR hacks ready to provide vague, uneducated answers to precise questions. It's easy: government administrators provide the media relations personnel with just enough info not to hurt themselves or the institution. Even more infuriating, I'm typically not attempting any sort of "gotcha" journalism, whatever the fuck that means. I'm simply trying to do my best to maintain government transparency and honesty.
Lucky for me, I made enough phone calls to enough IDOT departments that eventually an honest administrator spoke with me. It was nice to talk to someone that actually works on the projects and has say about where the money would go. I ignored requests to call the PR lady, but eventually she found me, unaware that I had already spoken with an informed human being, not a nonsense spouting robot.
I asked her a few polite questions but my head nearly exploded when she dropped this bit of English-breaking baloney:
"(The stimulus money) is just a piece of the pie. Like, literally, if you had an apple pie, this would be just one slice."
Never mind the misuse of the word 'literally,' she actually felt the need to explain the meaning of that incredibly complicated metaphor. Thank you, PR lady, for spending more time explaining the nuance of a cliche than you did attempting to understand the details of millions of dollars being used to repair our roads and bridges.