Joke Email Reveals Public Perception of PR

A friend sent me this story. I looked it up and UrbanLegends says it’s an email joke that started getting passed around in January . True or not, it sure is funny! So, I thought I’d share for the laughs of it.

Behind the laughter, of course, is the more sobering realization that most people believe this is what we do and how we do it! One of these days, we really need to do some PR for our own industry to let people know we don’t really lie for a living!


Judy Wallman, a professional genealogy researcher in southern California, was doing some personal work on her own family tree. She discovered that Congressman Harry Reid’s great-great uncle, Remus Reid, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. Both Judy and Harry Reid share this common ancestor.

The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows  in Montana territory.

On the back of the picture Judy obtained during her research is this inscription: ‘Remus Reid, horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.’

So Judy recently e-mailed Congressman Harry Reid for information about their great-great uncle.

Harry Reid’s staff sent back the following biographical sketch for her genealogy research:

“Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honour when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

NOW THAT’s how it’s done, Folks!



See? Good for laughs to be sure. I truly did laugh out loud on that one.

But, isn’t it a shame that this really is the public perception of the art of spin?

I went bowling with some pals of mine not too long ago and one of them didn’t hesitate to flat out say I lie for a living. I explained that in PR, we don’t lie … we change the lead … we guide the conversation. A good PR pro simply identifies the back story, the anecdotes, the examples that tell the story we want told. That doesn’t make what we’re saying untrue.

Take the joke email, for instance. If my client was a Congressman who had an outlaw relative and the press got wind of it, I’d make the story about how tough on crime my client is. Or, perhaps my client is pushing for some kind of justice department reform or harsher penalties for parole violators. I’d talk about what the Wild West was really like and how much better it is now that we have people like my client making the community safer with his new bill which will do XYZ for the community. I’d change the story to something I want to talk about, something that’s true and – let’s face it – something that is relevant to his constituents. THAT is spin and that is how it’s done.

So, as funny as this email is – and it is very funny! I’d really love to see our industry do a better job of telling and changing our own story to improve our own image.

Leave a Reply