Home » “Truth on Trial” Focuses on How Communicators Must Navigate in Today’s Changing World

“Truth on Trial” Focuses on How Communicators Must Navigate in Today’s Changing World

by | Feb 27, 2019

“Truth on Trial: Implication for Communicators” held at the Schar School of Policy & Government at George Mason University  in Arlington, VA, on Feb. 26, was a wide-ranging discussion on how communicators must navigate in today’s world of constant change.  The forum featured panelists billed as among the most influential legal, communications and media experts in the country.

Fay Shapiro, CEO of CommPRO, one of the organizers of the event, provided Capitol Communicator with background on “Truth on Trial”. She said that “the political divide is making it harder than ever for brands and non-profits to cut through the clutter and get their message out. They are being pushed to take positions on controversial issues. How are legal issues intersecting with the need to tell their story? What are best practices to cut through the clutter?  How is this effecting the political, media and communications landscape?”

Douglas Simon, CEO of D S Simon Media and right on stage in photo, moderated the three panels: Public Affairs in the Digital Age, The Intersection of Law and PR, and Media and Communicators. Speakers at the event were:

  • Mark J. Rozell, Dean, The Schar School of Policy & Government (HOST)
  • Michael Caputo, Strategic Communications Expert (left in photo)
  • Maria Cardona, Principal, Dewey Square Group (center left on stage in photo)
  • Peter Carson, Managing Director, Public Affairs, North America, Weber Shandwick | Powell Tate
  • Ty Cobb, Former White House Special Counsel to President Trump
  • Gabriel Debenedetti, National Correspondent, New York Magazine
  • Suzanne Rich Folsom, Former General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer & SVP-Government Affairs, U.S. Steel
  • Alexander Howard, Independent Writer & Open Government Advocate
  • Richard S. Levick, Esq., Chairman & CEO, LEVICK
  • Terry McAuliffe, Former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia / The Schar School of Policy & Government (center right on stage in photo)
  • Stefan Passantino, Former Deputy White House Counsel to President Trump
  • Steven Pearlstein, Columnist, The Washington Post / Professor, George Mason University
  • David K. Rehr, Ph.D., Professor of Public Policy, Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University
  • Lisa Osborne Ross, President, Edelman Washington D.C.
  • Frank Sesno, Director, Professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Michael Zeldin, Legal Analyst, CNN

According to Simon, the event was “a fantastic mix of talent and actionable insights on the panels. Among the important areas discussed was the increasing role of the legal team as PR spokespeople and whether that can abrogate attorney client privilege.  From Ty Cobb and Stefan Passantino, it seems likely that current law as they describe it will provide reason to limit release of the Mueller Report. Finally, the media and communicators discussion demonstrated how media cutbacks have made the interaction more transactional and made it more difficult to build trust.”

Michael Caputo advised communicators who represent a number of clients to never work for a political candidate. One of the reasons is that people will find out who your other clients are and may direct any hostility they have to your political client to your other clients.  (He said he gets death threats from viewers after he appears on TV shows that discuss and debate politics.)

One of the areas that came up for in-depth discussion was crisis communications, with one panel member stating, “You’d be amazed how many companies do not have crisis communications plans” and, among those that do, added another panelist, how many actually practice their plans in advance of a crisis.  It was noted that the value of the plan is in the first 48 hours “because that’s where the mistakes happen.”

Another subject that came up for discussion was the impact an image has on an organization – running the gamut from leaving a favorable image with customers to the ability to hire and keep employees.  In fact, added one panelist, we are in the midst of a “war for talent” – both to obtain and retain staff.  An organization must have a set of values – either stated or implied – and if employees disagree, they may search for employment elsewhere.  One of the reasons is that the internet allows perspective employees to research an organization, in depth, before decided if he or she wants to work at an organization.  In short, stated the panel: People now want to know the values held by a company and its has a direct impact on an organization – including that if they people have negative feelings about a company, they may boycott its products, even if the issue they are focusing on has nothing directly to do with the products themselves.

Finally, Pearlstein said the role of media relations at many organizations has shifted from providing information to reporters working on stories to “keeping reporters away … they don’t even answer phones.”  He said, as one example, that Amazon has a “no comment” policy and others have followed their model. In part, the reason is that companies now feel they can bypass the media and go directly to their customers.

You can view a webcast of the three “Truth on Trial” sessions below:

Public Affairs in the Digital Age

Terry McAuliffe, Former Governor of Virginia
Maria Cardona, Principal, Dewey Square Group
Michael Caputo, Strategic Communications
Moderated by Doug Simon, CEO, D S Simon Media


The Intersection of Law and PR

Ty Cobb, Former White House Special Counsel to President Trump
Stefan Passantino, Government Relations, Political Law and Public Policy, Michael Best
Suzanne Rich Folsom, General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officer & SVP – Government Affairs, U.S. Steel
Richard S. Levick, Chairman & CEO, LEVICK
Moderated by Doug Simon, CEO, D S Simon Media


Media and Communicators

Lisa Osborne Ross, President, Edelman Washington, D.C.
Peter Carson, Managing Director, Public Affairs, North America,
Weber Shandwick | Powell Tate
Steven Pearlstein, Columnist, The Washington Post
Gabriel Debenedetti, National Correspondent, New York Magazine
Moderated by Doug Simon, CEO, D S Simon Media


This event is the third in a series and below are links to on-demand access for the first two events:

  • Truth on Trial – Featuring Ty Cobb, Former Special Counsel to the President (On-Demand Video) – http://sumo.ly/UHSq
  • Truth on Trial: Implications for Communicators (On-Demand Video) – http://sumo.ly/10iEs


(Photo: Buzz McClain, Communications Manager, Schar School of Policy and Government)

About the Author

Capitol Communicator

Capitol Communicator is a unique online and offline resource for Mid-Atlantic advertising, marketing, public relations, digital and media communications professionals. The e-magazine, e-newsletters and events bring together communications professionals, fostering community and providing important information; news; trends; education; and opportunities for networking, career enhancement, business exchange and showcasing great work. Visit www.capitolcommunicator.com to learn more.


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