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Silence of the Scams

By Art Buchwald
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page C04

You see it in the newspapers every day: "Mr. Blank did not return this reporter's calls when contacted for this story."

"No one in the company could be reached."

"Attempts to contact officials before we went to press were unsuccessful."

I didn't realize how important these unanswered calls could be until I found out every public relations firm now has a department devoted to not answering a reporter's calls.

When I telephoned Ben Mum at the public relations company of Mum, Darkness & Light, he wouldn't answer my calls. Every time I called he was either "with a client," "in a meeting," "out of town" or "in the men's room." His answering machine left no clues.

It got so bad I went over to see him.

He had a large office, which justified his high fees. On his desk were seven telephones, each a different color.

I was angry. "Why haven't you returned my calls?"

He said, looking up from his crossword puzzle, "I don't answer anyone's calls anymore."

"Why not?"

"Because I was hired not to. In the past, press agents were paid to respond to questions about their clients and put spin on it. Then the firm of Run Silent, Run Deep found it was better for a client not to return the calls. All the PR firms adopted the strategy, and it's paid off. We receive $200,000 if he prefers to remain silent. More and more companies will pay exorbitant fees to keep their names out of the newspapers."

I asked, "Why do they need a PR person if you're going to remain silent?"

"Most clients don't know when to shut up. They are angry and distraught. That's why they hire us. We counsel them how to stay out of print so they won't add gasoline to the fire."

"Give me an example," I said.

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