Poor George

    February 15, 2006

Reading an item from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I was reminded of one of the comments submitted to Jeremy Zawodny’s blog after he blasted a Silicon Valley PR agency for allegedly spamming him.

The comment (by “Aimee”) read:

There are a few things to address here. Yes, it’s really bad form to send an unsolicited email to any journalist or blogger….certainly a letter of introduction or phone call would be an appropriate start. But every PR firm will hire the occasional “twinkie” who may or may not take the easiest route to completing a job task. It happens. It’s a mistake I imagine most PR newbies make once or twice.

How young do you have to be to be a twinkie, I wonder? Twenty-three? Twenty-four? Twenty-five? And when the twinkie makes the mistake, how does his or her employer react? I would hope by helping said twinkie learn how to avoid such mistakes in the future. We learn, don’t we, from the mistakes we make. Who among us can claim we’ve never made one, particularly when we were just starting out? God knows I did. I made some doozies. Calling one or two of them “mistakes” would be understatement. “Massive fuckups” is more like it. But I had patient bosses who must have seen some potential in me and, in the end, I was a better communicator for having made the mistakes and been guided by smart and attentive superiors.

There is evidently no such forgiveness at NASA, which accepted the resignation of 24-year-old “political appointee” George C. Deutsch, who worked in the space agency’s public relations department. Deutsch’s transgression (or mistake…or fuckup), according to the AP story:

The New York Times reported that Deutsch tried to limit reporters’ access to Jim Hansen, a noted NASA climate scientist, and insisted that a Web designer insert the word “theory” before any mention of the Big Bang.

The story notes that NASA administrator Michael Griffin sent an email to agency staffers addressing PR’s role at the agency:

The job of the Office of Public Affairs, at every level in NASA, is to convey the work done at NASA to our stakeholders in an intelligible way. It is not the job of public affairs officers to alter, filter or adjust engineering or scientific material produced by NASA’s technical staff.

Fair enough. But Deutsch is 24, a bona fide twinkie, as Aimee would put it. When you’re 24 and new, can’t you make mistakes, get some guidance from older and smarter mentors, and grow into a valued member of the staff? Or at least be given the opportunity? Of course, “resignation” here is a euphemism for “got his ass fired.”

Maybe Aimee has a job for George. Sounds like she’d be a better boss than NASA anyway.

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.