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Ringling Bros. Circus Tries to Deflect Serious Accusations Against Itself By Making Absurd Ones of Its Own

A Public Relations Primer

January 11, 2002

Let's say someone makes three serious, specific accusations of wrongdoing against you.  We'll call them Accusations 1, 2 and 3.  These allegations are true.   You have no defense.  How do you respond?

You follow the old saying, "The best defense is a good offense."  (That's a particularly apt strategy when you have no other defense to offer!)

So instead of denying Accusations 1, 2 and/or 3, you completely ignore them, and instead, accuse your accuser of himself being guilty of serious Counter-Accusations 4, 5, and 6.  It's best if your Counter- Accusations 4-6 paint your accuser as committing the very type of violations that your accuser has charged you with.

It doesn't even matter if your Counter-Accusations 4-6 are false, or even absurd to someone who knows the facts.  Just making them will force your accuser to expend time and effort denying them, and thereby distract attention from the charges against you.

As an additional move, you should also claim that you do Good Deeds A, B and C in the area of endeavor that Accusations 1-3 against you involve.  It's okay to engage in broad generalizations here.  The benefit to you here is, that while not requiring you to falsely deny the truth of Accusations 1-3, claiming you have done Good Deeds A-C creates the impression that since you do such good deeds in this area, how could Accusations 1-3 be true.   (Many people won't realize that even if Good Deeds A, B and C are true, that doesn't mean at all that Accusations 1, 2 and 3 are not also true!)

The above primer on advanced public relations has been carried out to a tee by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in its public relations war with the animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA has long accused Ringling Bros. of inflicting many varieties of horrific cruelty on the animals it uses in its shows.  Three of its major specific accusations, which we can here label Accusations 1, 2 and 3, are:

  1. Ringling Bros. keeps animals chained to the ground or confined to tiny cages at least 20 hours a day.
  2. Ringling Bros. forces animals to perform actions which are completely unnatural to them.
  3. Ringling Bros. repeatedly disciplines elephants by jabbing them with sharp metal hooks in sensitive areas behind their ears and knees.

Ringling Bros. has apparently just decided to wage a major public relations counteroffensive against PETA.  The circus ran a full-page ad in The New York Times and other publications earlier this week which implemented the above "best defense is a good offense" strategy quite professionally.  The ad takes the form of "An Open Letter to Animal Rights Groups." [text of ad]

First, the Ringling Bros. ad completely ignores PETA's specific Accusations 1-3 above.

Second, the ad makes Counter-Accusations 4, 5 and 6 against PETA:

  1. PETA unnecessarily euthanized over half of the 2,103 pets it "confiscated" in 1999.
  2. PETA wastes money on ineffective lawsuits, vulgar ads and publicity stunts.
  3. PETA doesn't develop relationships with individual animals.

Third, the ad then presents Good Deeds A, B and C which Ringling Bros. performs in the area of animal welfare:

  1. Ringling Bros. has established the Center for Elephant Conservation, a breeding program for endangered Asian elephants.
  2. Ringling Bros. develops relationships with each and every one of its individual animals.
  3. Ringling Bros. makes sure that its animals are "healthy, well cared for, and content."

And there you have it.  Ringling Bros.'s public relations firm should get an "A" for effort.  After ignoring the specific charges against it, Ringling Bros. makes counter-accusations that it is actually PETA which harms animals, and also claims Ringling Bros. is the one really doing the good deeds in the animal welfare area.

Ringling Bros. should be also be awarded a special Gold Star on its report card for having the chutzpah to claim that PETA, a group recognized as the most effective animal rights organization in probably the entire world, is doing its job poorly, and that PETA should take Ringling Bros. advice on how to help animals!

But anyone seeing through the smoke and mirrors of the Ringling Bros. letter, and therefore still wondering about the truth of PETA's specific Accusations 1-3 against Ringling Bros., would have to give the esteemed circus an overall "F" for the effectiveness of its response.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on Ringling Bros.

More on Animal Rights

people for the ethical treatment of animalspeta

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