Reporter pressing charges against PR chief in Honeywell debacle

A PR guy allegedly barricaded the journalist to shield the CEO from questions. The worst media relations gaffe you’ll see all year, maybe all decade.

It’s unlikely that many communications positions have the phrase “may be asked to falsely imprison reporters” in the job description, but perhaps Honeywell will want to consider it after this past weekend.

Mike Elk, a reporter with In These Times, accuses the company’s external communications director Rob Ferris of barricading him in a room for several minutes when Ferris was trying to interview Honeywell’s CEO, Dave Cote.

“Indeed, Capitol Police asked me if I wanted to press charges against Ferris for false imprisonment for barricading me into the room, but I declined,” Elk writes in his account of the ordeal.

However, Elk tells our sister site, PR Daily:

“I have changed my mind with this and have press charges. The U.S. Capitol Police are currently investigating the matter. At the time, I just wanted to go home, I was very upset. After thinking about it over the weekend, I decided its important to not let PR guys get away with roughing up a reporter in a room like the U.S. Capitol.”

Earlier that day, Elk tried to ask Cote a question during a Washington, D.C., event at the Capitol, which was hosted by Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). A video posted to YouTube shows someone ripping the microphone out of Elk’s hand as he attempts to ask Cote a question. The video has more than 50,000 views and has appeared on a number of other websites.

Elk has been reporting about ongoing labor issues at Honeywell’s uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill. He was granted press access to the event in D.C., which was titled “Revitalizing America: Encouraging Entrepreneurship.”

Elk says that he has never been physically barred from speaking with a source in his career. He also says no one from Honeywell has reached out to him with an apology. Elk has no plans to scale back his reporting on Honeywell and its labor issues.

“These guys are powerful and they feel like they can do whatever they want to prevent tough question from being asked,” Elk says. “Certainly, no reporters tried to ask Honeywell CEO Dave Cote the question I tried to ask him when he appeared on stage in Minneapolis the next day with President Obama.”

PR Daily reached out to Ferris for comment. On Tuesday afternoon, Honeywell spokesperson Victoria Ann Streitfeld sent this statement:

“Mr. Elk’s unprofessional behavior at the ‘Revitalizing America: Encouraging Entrepreneurship’ summit in Washington, D.C., disrupted what was supposed to be a positive and open forum on important issues facing our nation, such as job creation, entrepreneurship, tax reform, and our growing debt/deficit, and caused event organizers to dismiss him from the room. His account of the subsequent events is inaccurate and other claims are without merit.”

Brad Phillips, president of Phillips Media Relations, expressed surprise over Honeywell’s approach to this issue. The company didn’t want to be asked questions about its labor practices, yet it gave Elk the exact type of reaction that guaranteed wider coverage of the event.

“Imagine if Mr. Cote had calmly responded that he’s answered labor questions before and will again, but not today?” said Phillips. “Mr. Elk wouldn’t have

been happy, but few of us ever would have heard about the exchange.

“It’s a simple formula, really: If you blatantly try to obstruct press freedom, you’re going to get worse press.”

(Hat tip to former Ragan Report Editor Hugh Iglarsh for bringing this story to our attention.)

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