When I started my career, I worked a few years as a professional journalist. On balance I enjoyed it, except for days like the one when I was ordered by an editor to call the fiancée of a well-known local suicide victim and ask “do you have a comment?” Short answer: yes, yes she did. And I deserved every outraged syllable of it.
Most of my career I’ve been a public relations counselor and practitioner. It’s hilarious when you see PR pros portrayed on TV as vacuous, slightly evil sycophants. Perhaps that’s why “Seth,” the vice president’s press secretary on the delightfully devious House of Cards so freely owned his moral bankruptcy, stating to CNN’s Candy Crowley “I don’t know anything about professional photography, I’m just a flack.”
It’s considered clever, I suppose, for some members of the journalism profession to refer to PR pros as “flacks.” A cursory Google search reveals no clear etymology for the word, though a fellow PR practitioner I know reveals his take by proudly referring to himself as a “flack catcher.” Meh. Like him, I suppose some think the term is acceptable and not meant derisively, but I disagree.
I frankly chafe at this word being used about a profession that does, on balance, help people, companies, organizations and causes effectively tell their story. It stings a bit when we’re written off as disingenuous toadies. Yes, there are bad apples in the profession–in any profession, but to tar us all with that same tired brush? No. I mean, if you were to call a journalist a hack, she might try to bean you on the head with her rotary phone.
Back to CNN’s Candy Crowley: what the heck is she doing appearing on House of Cards, anyway? Does she care about blurring the lines between entertainment and credible journalism? I was totally taken out of the moment on the aforementioned House of Cards episode when I saw a steady stream of journos (who I assume wish to at least project an air of credibility) appearing as fictionalized versions of themselves on a TV show.
Sure, I expect that from those in the punditocracy such as Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity; but when a legend like Morley Safer eagerly deigned to feign lobbing hardballs at fictional modern day Machiavelli Frank Underwood, all I could do was sigh and shake my head.
Of course, take my gentle criticism with a grain of salt. It’s coming from a flack, after all.