Too many reporters have a conveyor belt mentality, blithely writing copy based on press releases without doing any real reporting or even basic fact checking. And sometimes, their stories blow up spectacularly when their investigative laziness is revealed. The latest example is the media's unquestioning adoration of the "Zero Minutes of Fame" PR campaign, sponsored by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Ogilvy Mather Chicago.
This is the misfired PR campaign that gave mass shooters the type of fame they crave while infuriating victims of gun violence.
Even as Ad Age was praising the Zero Minutes of Fame campaign as its Creativity Pick of the Day, and Ogily Mather Chicago bragged that this is one campaign that was "sure to cause no controversy whatsoever with anyone," (think: "The RMS Titanic is one unsinkable ship!"), gun violence victims launched a Change.org petition slamming the campaign for making mass shooters more famous and holding the Brady Campaign accountable for the PR pratfall.
The petition points out that the video ad exploits victims of gun violence by using the photos of slain children to raise money without obtaining their families' permission. And while the point of the Zero Minutes of Fame campaign is to obscure the photos and names of mass shooters, the promotional video actually does the opposite by roll calling mass shooters' names while spotlighting their faces. In order to download the app, users have to sign a Brady petition which includes a solicitation for contributions.
The petition states:
This is an unethical ploy to raise money while giving a false promise of lessening mass shooters' notoriety all while actually making them even more famous. This campaign re-victimizes members of the gun violence prevention community.
Despite the victims that Brady purports to represent crying foul, the Brady Campaign first tried to defend the promotional video. Then they quietly shortened the two-minute video to 14 seconds but have yet to publicly apologize to victims and to all those whom they have offended. Yet major media coverage touting the video continues to roll out from Reuters, CNN.com, ABC.com, CBS.com, Newsweek, Engadget, and the Washington Post, quoting Brady president Dan Gross about how excited he is over his new PR campaign.
However, the idea is not new. The No Notoriety and Don't Name Them campaigns have been around for years, doing much more effective work to persuade the media not to glorify mass shooters and to focus coverage on victims and survivors. In contrast, the Zero Minutes of Fame Chrome extension does nothing to address how media covers mass shootings.
If these reporters had bothered to download and test Brady's new Chrome plug-in, they would have given it Zero Minutes of Fame -- because it had a 20 percent failure rate in blocking the names of America's 30 most famous mass shooters, although it annoyingly blocked the names of innocent people who happen to share a name with a mass shooting suspect.
On April 29, Brady posted the following non-apology on its Facebook page:
We have heard from our supporters and we understand and respect their concerns with the public service announcement we released earlier this week. As you may have seen yesterday, we've already taken action to address those concerns. We're also working on a new PSA that will raise awareness about the problem of notoriety for killers. We take the input of victims and survivors very seriously. We remain committed to the effort to deny killers the fame they seek and raise up the voices of victims of gun violence.
It is bizarre that Brady labels this controversial video promoting its Chrome extension and fundraising efforts as a "public service announcement."
Ad Age might want to reconsider its recognition of this hot mess. And the Columbia Journalism Review should consider this debacle as a case study in reporters' conveyor belt mentality.
Disclosure: I am the former Chief Communications Officer for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Update:On April 29, shortly after the publication of this piece, Reuters published an international wire story, "Brady Campaign's ad draws ire of U.S. anti-gun violence activists."