A Monumental Crisis

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

It’s funny how the best intentions can sometimes lead to the worst PR situations. Actually, it’s not funny at all. But that’s what happened prior to November 13, 1982, the day of the dedication ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Certainly the individuals  leading the effort, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund committee, had tried to do the right thing. They had gathered the support of influential people like H. Ross Perot. They held an open competition, accepting more than 1,400 design proposals. They also gathered eight distinguished artists and designers to judge the designs, concealing the identity of the entrants.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the jury announced that the winning design had been submitted by Maya Lin, a 21-year-old undergraduate student at Yale. Her proposal was a bit of a surprise, too: A giant, black, granite V, cut into the ground.

Lin’s design was the jurors’ unanimous choice and well-received by many. As the New York Times wrote, “This design gives every indication of being a place of extreme dignity that honors the veterans who served in Vietnam with more poignancy, surely, than any ordinary monument ever could.”

But some people did not like Lin’s proposal – and among them were many were veterans. They questioned little details about the design, like why, since all of the other monuments in D.C. were white, this one was black. And they wondered why all the other monuments soared into the air, while this one sank into the ground.

Some critics thought the giant V was intended as a subtle form of the two-fingers Peace symbol; one opponent called it “a tribute to Jane Fonda.” One of the most vocal opponents was Tom Carhart, a Vietnam vet who also had entered the competition; he called Lin’s design “a black ditch of shame and sorrow.”

The controversy escalated. People on both sides received threatening phone calls. More than two dozen Republican congressmen wrote a letter to President Reagan, calling the monument “a political statement of shame and dishonor,” while columnist Pat Buchanan asserted that one of the jurors was a Communist. James Watt, Reagan’s secretary of the Interior, refused to issue a building permit, and Perot withdrew his support, describing Lin, who was of Chinese descent, as an “egg roll.”  As NPR later reported, the project “needed public relations crisis managers.” Indeed.

Eventually a compromise was reached: A bronze statue of three soldiers and a U.S. flag on a 50-foot pole would be added to the memorial. This, too, was the subject of controversy, with the unhappy vets wanting the additions placed front and center of the V, an idea that Lin and the architects association strenuously opposed. Ultimately the statue and flag were added, but were placed off to the side. Depending upon your viewpoint, this was either a good compromise or yet another insult.

The years appear to have worked in favor of Lin and her supporters. The American Institute of Architects now ranks the memorial No. 10 on its list of “America’s Favorite Architecture,” and it has become the most widely visited monument in D.C. Several traveling and fixed replicas also have been built.

The initial hostility to Lin’s design may have been an over-reaction, but the opponents did have one point PR pros may want to keep in mind: None of the people judging the proposals had served in Vietnam. We’ll close with excerpts of a thoughtful opinion piece Tom Carhart published in the New York Times:

“There were really two wars in that era: The first was a military war fought in Vietnam where 57,000 Americans died and whose veterans the Fund is authorized by Congress to ‘recognize and honor’; the second was a political war waged here at home. The jurors know nothing of the real war in Vietnam — the television portrayal was far from adequate. … The net result is that the design the jury chose as the winner was necessarily a function of their perception of the war they lived through in America.”

Indeed.

Join us for our GFW PRSA Half-Day Professional Development Event on Wednesday, October 9, at Colonial Country Club!

Ready to be inspired and hear a thought-provoking message from Olympian Johnny Quinn right here in Fort Worth?

You are invited to join the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of PRSA on October 9 for our professional development program.

Spend the morning learning the elite action steps of ultra-performers – men and women who find a way to get the job done with the current resources available – with author, leadership speaker and U.S. Olympian Johnny Quinn. Johnny will translate methods for productivity, performance and perseverance that he developed in the Olympics and professional football to help you and those in your organization train to become an ultra-performer in the workplace.

Following the morning session, Johnny will clearly lay out a plan to develop a champion mindset to give you and your team the ability to adapt to change and come out ahead of the competition.

Schedule

8 a.m. – Registration/Networking

8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. – “Think Like an Olympian” program featuring Johnny Quinn

11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. – Luncheon registration/networking

12 p.m.-1 p.m. – Annual Membership Meeting and “Championship Mindset” luncheon presentation featuring Johnny Quinn

***** Notice of Annual Membership Meeting of Fort Worth PRSA *****

During the annual membership meeting portion of the luncheon, members will vote on the slate of the officers compiled by the Nominations Committee for the 2020 Greater Fort Worth Chapter. (Please note: The full slate will be released prior to the meeting.)

Costs

Morning Program Only – $70.00 (all registrants)

Morning Program and Luncheon – $80.00 (all registrants)

Luncheon Only – $30.00 (members), $35.00 (national members), $35.00 (non-members), $20.00 (students)

Register here.

Submit your nominations for Communicator of The Year & PRSA Professional of The Year

COMMUNICATOR OF THE YEAR
Each year, the chapter recognizes a community member (non-public relations/communications
professional) who has demonstrated leadership and communications ability while involved with
an issue or event of significance to the area served by the chapter. Think communication,
collaboration and engagement when making your nominations. Prior year recipients include
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price; Dr. Kent Scribner, FWISD Superintendent; Paul Paine, former
President of Near Southside, Inc.; Patsy Thomas, President of Mental Health Connection of
Tarrant County and Robert Earley, President and CEO of JPS Health Network.

LEARN MORE AND NOMINATE for Communicator of the Year,
visit https://forms.gle/FPQJJxi8r2oBXSjV9.
Deadline to nominate: Friday, Sept. 20

 

PUBLIC RELATIONS PROFESSIONAL OF THE YEAR
An exciting award addition this year is The Douglas Ann Newsom PRSA Professional of the Year.
This award is open to any public relations/communications professional in the North Texas
Region. The individual must be a member of PRSA National and will be recognized, through
peer review, on the active leadership and significant contributions to the public relations
profession/industry in North Texas. This award recognizes those who have contributed to the
advancement of public relations, as well as challenging their peers to continue and extend the
gains highlighted by these achievements. Nominees should also be involved in mentoring and
volunteering in the community.

LEARN MORE AND NOMINATE for The Douglas Ann Newsom PRSA Professional of the
Year, visit https://forms.gle/5ckVjtLohLXZpDnw9.
Deadline to nominate: Friday, Sept. 27

Parental Discretion Devised

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

We all know that politics can be a dirty business. But on Sept. 19, 1985, things got really dirty – as in, completely inappropriate for the kids. And the PR pros.

That’s the day the U.S. Senate held a hearing on “porn rock.” The intention was to consider whether the content of some music may be inappropriate for children and, if so, what should be done about it. The driving force behind the hearing were four politically connected moms who had founded the PMRC – the Parents Music Resource Center. And the primary spokesperson for the group was Tipper Gore, wife of Senator Al Gore.

The PMRC wanted the record labels to put a warning sticker on albums that had explicit content and to create a rating system similar to the one used by the movie industry. They also wanted stores to conceal any albums with cover designs that were really hot. I mean, offensive.

Representing the degenerate musicians were Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Frank Zappa and John Denver, who attended because he mistakenly thought the topic was endangered species. What ensued was a superb public relations battle.

To make their case, the PMRC activists and several others read song lyrics and showed music videos. As the Washington Post reported, “The litany of licentiousness generated equal amounts of laughter and groans from the standing-room-only crowd.”

The activists also cited “the Filthy Fifteen:” fifteen songs they said were particularly objectionable. The list included songs by Prince, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Madonna and Black Sabbath; a longer list also named several songs by Yanni as musical abominations, but for different reasons.

But the musicians gave as good as they got. Snider admonished the group, “The full responsibility for defending my children falls on the shoulders of my wife and I, because there is no one else capable of making these judgments for us.” Zappa – rarely one for subtlety – called the PMRC’s proposal an ill-conceived piece of nonsense,” adding it was the equivalent of treating dandruff with decapitation.”

And Denver, whom the Senators probably had considered to be a ringer, said the proposals were similar to the Nazi book burnings. He further stated, “That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting” – coincidentally, words I recall being told repeatedly throughout my college years.

Despite the musicians’ strong testimony, the record industry, which had several other legislative priorities, voluntarily agreed to add the warning stickers; that’s the “Parental Advisory” labels you’ve seen on many records (and at the entrance to each Popeye’s).

Side note: Tipper Gore was hardly a prude. She played the drums, and in her youth, she sat in with The Grateful Dead. She also performed in an all-female band called the Wildcats, and I’m sure they were really hot. I mean, offensive.

In the end, both sides could claim victory. Gore’s group got their labels and were very successful in raising awareness about explicit music lyrics. The raunchy performers, meanwhile, got some great exposure. One radio personality credited the PMRC with helping popularize heavy metal, and as Dee Snider later observed, the common response from kids was, “ ‘Now we know which records to buy!’ ”

 And we in the PR profession got another good lesson. Because even when your campaign is topping the charts, you have to be ready to deal with the misses. And the Missus.

2019 Worthy Award Sponsorships

Sponsorships for the 2019 Worthy Awards are still available! Sign up to support this year’s gala & showcase your organization to the area’s communications leaders. Contact Paul Sturiale at paul@paoloac.com to reserve one of the sponsorships today!