Public Relations Inquiry as Rhetorical Criticism: Case Studies of Corporate Discourse and Social Influence

By William N. Elwood | Go to book overview

7
From "We Didn't Do It" to "It's Not Our Fault" The Use of Apologia in Public Relations Crises

Keith Michael Hearit

In a June 2, 1988, press conference, Consumer Reports charged that the Suzuki Samurai was an unstable vehicle prone to roll over if maneuvered quickly ( Levin, 1988a). Consequently, the magazine demanded that Suzuki immediately remove the Samurai from the market and buy back the 150,000 vehicles currently on the road. Suzuki responded to this public relations onslaught as vigorously as it was initiated. To the charges that the Samurai is an unsafe vehicle, Vice President and General Manager of American Suzuki Doug Mazza answered, "The Samurai was thoroughly tested for safety, including stability and handling, prior to its introduction into the United States. We have absolute confidence that we are selling a safe and stable vehicle" ( Levin, 1988a, p. D4). Additionally, Mazza questioned the motives behind the accusations leveled by Consumer Reports; he claimed that the charges were part of a political campaign by Consumer Reports to increase the safety standards of vehicles across the industry, and the Samurai, because it is a Japanese import, is a convenient scapegoat ( Levin, 1988a).

The Suzuki Corporation responded to charges of wrongdoing with a form of communication commonly recognized as an apologia, a discourse of defense. An apologia is not an apology, though it may contain one; rather, it is a justificatory form of address in which an organization seeks to provide a compelling explanation of its behavior. Apologiae offer counter-interpretations of the "facts" that surround charges of corporate malfeasance.

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