Five Questions about Ethics in Political Communication: Laura Gross


Laura Gross is the President of Scott Circle Communications. She is an award-winning public relations expert with over 20 years of experience in communications and media relations. Her past experience includes work with The White House, U.S. Agency for International Development, NPR, Gov. Howard Dean and several presidential campaigns. @lgross

1) To what ethical standard should political communication be held? Where should political communication ethics be grounded?

Political communicators need to be straight forward and truthful with very high ethical standards. Period, end of statement. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to talk about things that are not politically advantageous or do not sound good on the record - and that’s always challenging, but it’s never a reason to lie. Ultimately, political communication ethics must be grounded in the truth.

2) Why should someone in political communication behave ethically?

How can we trust our government, elected officials and politicians to represent us if the people that are communicating with us are lying? They need to be ethical – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s how they gain trust from their constituents and ethically govern our country.

 3) Can you give an example of ethical political communication? What can people point to and say “do more of that?”

I have to be honest – I struggled with this question. There is not much to point to these days. However, I think Congressman Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is doing the right thing by going against his party and calling for Trump’s impeachment when most (if not all) of his fellow Republican members of Congress are not calling for an investigation because it is not politically advantageous for them.

4) Can you give an example of an ethical challenge or question you or political communication professionals in your field have faced or are likely to face?

I supervise a wonderful team of public relations professionals at a firm that is focused on organizations that really want to make a difference, such as non-profits and associations. We hire people that are passionate about issues and passionate about helping others. Not very often – but, every once in a while - our team needs to promote something they don’t personally agree with – legislation, court decisions, etc. Even if they don’t fully agree with a particular position/issue – they know that it is their job to get a particular message to an audience that may be interested in that topic. 

5) What advice about ethics do you have for people studying political communication or starting their careers in the field?

“It’s not the lie, it’s the cover-up.” OK, so that’s an extreme. But, seriously – do you want to work with anyone that doesn’t have a high set of values and ethics? It won’t always be easy though – unfortunately, there are still people with low ethics that just want to promote themselves and what’s best for them instead of the greater cause. Try to stay away from those people and forge your own path.