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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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While the study of the 2008 presidential general election adds to the agenda-setting literature, the study is limited to the data analyzed. While campaign messages between candidates may have an influence on other politicians and pundits, future researchers should consider campaign messages and their relationship to the media agenda simultaneously with 90 intercandidate analysis. In addition, data should be collected to gauge public attitudes of which issues are important to the agenda of voters who ultimately interact with candidate messages.

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Introduction

Who are the moral exemplars of public relations? Why is their existence not only significant to the universal standards that determine sound ethical practices performed personally, but also to those that are made professionally? Baker’s (2008) recent research, which examines those traits that embody the model of the “Principled Advocate,” suggests that a PR professional’s adherence to the virtues that frame this model will paint a clearer picture of their role in advocating sound ethical practices. Specifically, Baker (2008) called for further research in this area stating, “Journalists have moral heroes… But who are the moral heroes in public relations and advertising? Moral exemplars in these fields should be identified, and their virtues and principled practices should be identified, recognized, and lauded among professionals and students so they can serve as role model for others” (p. 248). To date, there has been no such research identifying moral exemplars in public relations.

As human beings we have always looked to others for points of reference or imitation.

There has always been a handful of individuals that stand in a position to guide others by their everyday actions. For those of us that turn to these guides, our identity and place in this world is often shaped by our longing to become like them. Nevertheless, one must ask what makes a moral exemplar? What makes an individual stand above the rest and be deemed a hero or moral exemplar? What gives these individuals the innate ability to consistently perform good deeds no matter the circumstance they are faced with? Why are they so few in number? And why are there so few that dot the professional world? Or are they so few?

The present study seeks to find out who the moral exemplars of public relations are and attempt to establish the set of guidelines and criteria that address the make-up thereof. Since the PR professional functions in a role serving both their client and society, who they look to as a reference in their decision-making is significant. Additionally, this study will address if the moral reasoning of public relations practitioners is grounded in those individuals that they consider to be their moral exemplars.

Literature Review

Who and what is a moral exemplar?

Rugeley and Van Mart (2006) stated, “Moral exemplars are stereotypically portrayed as heroes or heroines who perform acts of great courage” (p. 381). Hart (1992) suggested that there are three critical criteria essential to identifying a moral exemplar, which are good or high character; consistent and intentional actions that are most often perfect; and the contributions made by them are of an important manner (as cited in Rugeley and Van Mart, 2006).

Additionally, Rugeley and Van Mart (2006) stated, All moral exemplars do their jobs with such extraordinary integrity and moral clarity that their strength of character is readily recognized. Some exemplars rebuild their agencies to serve a new mission, become more professional, and function with increased levels of transparency and citizen input. They achieve consensus in ways that appeal to the moral values of followers in an attempt to raise their consciousness about ethical issues and to mobilize their energy and resources to reform institutions. (p. 383) This posits a fourth criterion in which the exemplar is engaged in self-evaluation. While the moral exemplar may possess a level of perfection that encompasses good character, flawless and intentional actions, and offers significant contributions, they are constantly looking to evolve or 96 improve. It is here that the moral exemplar’s actions determine and predict the ethical behaviors that not only they will perform but also determine the actions of those that follow. Pojman (2002) stated, “Moral agents who go beyond minimal morality are necessary for a society if it is to overcome evil and produce a high degree of flourishing” (p. 164). The livelihood of society depends on the good actions made by moral agents.

Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi, and Damon (2001) discuss the actions of moral agents in their discourse on “good works,” defining good work as, “[the] work of expert quality that benefits the broader society…. work that is both excellent in quality and socially responsible – at a time of constant change” (p. xi). It is not only one’s good character that deems the makings of a moral exemplar, as earlier noted, but it is the actions performed that truly determine and identify the moral exemplar. However, to completely evolve to the full status of a moral exemplar one must recognize and take responsibility for how their actions, even if good, will affect society as a whole. Gardner et. al (2001) continued by stating, “When these conditions are present, we have a chance to experience work as “good” – that is, as something that allows the full expression of what is best in us” (p. 5). Thus, it is the design of good character, good actions/works, continued improvement, and recognition and responsibility to society that a moral exemplar is therefore created.

Gardner et. al, (2001) also suggested that “good works” are habit-formed (Baker, 2008) and require a consistent and repetitious effort. Beyond this aspect of a moral exemplar lies the hallmark of a true moral exemplar, which becomes the driving force of all other criteria, which is one’s disposition, genuine desire, and motivation. This underscores not only the passion that most exemplars display but also explains why common individuals are enamored, drawn to them, and seeks to imitate them.

While this blueprint provides the most basic criteria that define one as a moral exemplar, it does not completely explain the complex nature that encompasses why a moral exemplar is able to act in such a way that makes them more notable and distinguished above others in everyday life. Colby and Damon (1992) give three common premises that explains this nature, stating, First, moral exemplars were found to possess a sense of certainty in their beliefs and actions. Second, even during the difficult periods, they continued to have a positive outlook. Third, the moral goals of exemplars were found to be united with their sense of self, and that the ‘‘relation of self and morality... provides the most central key to understanding the unwavering commitment shown by the moral exemplars. (p. 277, as cited in Matsuba and Walker, 2005) When an individual can clearly identify those characteristics related to self and develop a standard of morality to reference, then the actions and choices that arise are predicated by one’s ability to be loyal and authentic to self. It is here that the focus is directed to the character of the moral agent and not so much on the actions performed. If an individual is of a good character then they will coherently act or perform in the same manner.

An individual’s good character is at the heart of virtue ethics. Pojman (2002) stated, “ Virtue ethics is not only about action but about emotions, character, and moral habit…. It calls us to aspire to be an ideal person” (p. 160). Baker (2008) stated, “In virtue ethics, then, while it is important to do the right thing – it also is important to have the right dispositions, motivations, and emotions” (p. 237). One’s disposition, motivation, and emotion are at the foundation of their character. Cabot (2005) suggested that moral motivation involves the individual prioritizing moral values over others and taking responsibility for their own actions.

97 Hardy and Carlo (2005) further posited that there is a correlation between one’s moral identity and moral motivation, stating, “that individuals highly committed to moral causes seem to experience unity between their self and moral goals” (p. 252). Thus, most actions performed are congruent with the character of the person acting and uniformly morally motivated. Walker and Frimer (2007) stated, “moral exemplars in general tended to have stronger motivational themes of both agency and communion in their life narratives than ordinary individuals” (p.



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