Perry’s Credibility Goes Up in Smoke

by Dan Ward

Belvin Perry Jr. built a reputation for honesty and integrity as a chief circuit court judge and through his even-handed guidance of the Casey Anthony trial.  He sullied that reputation Monday with his WFTV commentary on Amendment 2.

This is not an argument for or against the amendment, which seeks to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.  It’s an argument for common sense – which was lacking at WFTV – and for disclosure – something which is inexcusable for a former judge to ignore.

If you haven’t already read the articles about Belvin Perry’s Sept. 29 Amendment 2 commentary, here’s the gist:  Mr. Perry, as a legal analyst hired by WFTV, took issue with an anti-amendment commercial, saying that it played on fear and amounted to a “giant smoke screen.” One problem:  Perry neglected to mention his current job with the Morgan & Morgan law firm, whose leader is the most vocal proponent – and strong financial supporter – of the amendment.

The coverage I’ve read so far takes WFTV to task, and rightly so. WFTV has now apologized for its lack of disclosure and has removed the commentary from its website.  But while WFTV was clearly wrong, Perry deserves the lion’s share of the blame here.  As a jurist, he built his career around objectivity, in an environment where disclosure of relevant facts is a requirement.  I find it hard to believe that he simply forgot about his role with Morgan & Morgan while developing and delivering his commentary.

Disclosure is a core principle of the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics, requiring that public relations professionals reveal the sponsors for causes represented and disclose financial interests.  We know how important it is to build and maintain public trust.

There’s no excuse for a media organization or a trained jurist to not uphold those same ethical standards.  WFTV admitted it was wrong. Perry must do the same if he is to rebuild his credibility with viewers.

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