The Commerce Department came out with a ruling on a knotty trade case and the press releases started rolling in. From the fax machine came a release from New York public relations firm G.S. Schwartz & Co. Inc. touting the views of the U.S. knitwear industry, which charged that Asian-made sweaters are being unfairly dumped in this country. Minutes later, a representative of the same firm called -- this time pushing the other side, the view of lawyers for some of the Asian sweater manufacturers.

"I guess you could say that we represent interests on both sides of the fence," said Rick Anderson, executive vice president of G.S. Schwartz. Anderson said he saw no ethical conflict because the PR firm built a "Chinese wall" between the those working for the knitwear account and their colleagues representing the New York-Washington law firm of Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz & Silverman.

A partner in Grunfeld, Desiderio and the executive director of the knitwear association shrugged off the dual representation as "pure coincidence." But Jack O'Dwyer, who publishes a newsletter on public relations, called such cases "an ongoing scandal in the industry." The code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America says a member should not represent conflicting or competing interests without the express consent of both sides.