WARNING: I am violating my #1 rule of “never talk politics in business” (forgive me) for the main reason of showcasing a historical perspective that occurred 20 years ago in order to educate and enlighten on the poor use of “PR.”
DISCLAIMER: This was not written with any resemblance or reference of current political scenes. Any resemblance to current news, contemporary political persons, living or dead, or actual current events is purely coincidental.
NOTE BENE: This story is a display of incorrect or not–real PR.
When we talk about PR, we often talk about controlling, or at least managing, the narrative about ourselves or our organizations so that it doesn’t turn negative or untrue. PR is all about improving or positively influencing public opinion. Of course, there are right and wrong ways to do this. And no one proved to be more wrong about how to “control” a popular narrative than Richard Nixon when he held his “Honor America Day” on July 4, 1970.
Nixon’s PR was suffering as he had just ordered the invasion of Cambodia, getting the U.S. further entrenched in the hugely unpopular Vietnam War. He and a few collaborators cooked up “Honor America Day” as a sort of publicity stunt that would supposedly show American solidarity as a nation behind the president.1 Nothing out of the ordinary as a PR strategy – but the problem was that his “control” of this narrative, particularly about the war, he turned into a vise-like grip.
Only speakers and entertainers who supported the war, such as the Reverend Billy Graham and comedian Bob Hope, would have anything to do with the event. Others such as Dick Gregory and the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary declined on principle because they could smell Nixon’s intentions a mile away.2
But that wasn’t all. Protestors, younger and anti-war, descended on the event, chanting, causing chaos, smoking marijuana, even shedding their clothes. Police released tear gas on the protestors which blew into the main crowd, causing even further disaster.3 Nixon’s “show of solidarity” turned into a debacle which only further highlighted the deep divisions in the country and the lack of support for the war.
Instead of making “Honor America Day” about serving ALL the nation’s people and actually honoring America, he turned the Independence Day event into an opportunity for partisan posturing and preening and excluded an entire party in the process. A show of true solidarity, and MUCH better PR—actually true PR, would have involved giving ALL the people what they truly needed instead of attempting to control the narrative by loading the lineup with pro-war speakers.
It’s always a bad look to make July 4th about any one political party; Independence Day belongs to us ALL.
1) Little, Becky. “Nixon’s July 4 Bash Ended With Tear Gas and Nude Protesters.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 25 Feb. 2019, www.history.com/news/richard-nixon-honor-america-day-july-4-1970.