EXPOSING THE BUSINESS PROPAGANDISTS- Corporate PR experts see people as -a herd waiting to be led-
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By Ed Finn
One of the reasons
--arguably the main reason--
why the big corporations are now running the world
most people don't believe they are.
of the minority who do realize they live under corporate rule,
some think it's unavoidable and others that it's even desirable.
This ignorance or acceptance of the New World Order
is the greatest triumph of the public relations industry.
in the service of business leaders,
have perfected the art of media-transmitted mind control.
mass brainwashing techniques
by Bernays, Edward L.
nearly a century ago.
Not many people have ever heard of Bernays,
within the glass-and-marble towers
Hill & Knowlton,
and other big
he is revered as
"the Father of Spin,"
as the patron saint of mass persuasion.
got his start
in moulding public opinion
during the First World War,
when he was asked by the U.S. government
enter the war
coined the slogan
"Let's Make the World Safe for Democracy," and
with changing public sentiment
was in great demand
by business firms
looking for mass marketing techniques
to sell their products.
of his biggest clients
in the 1920s
was the tobacco industry.
His first task was
to popularize smoking by women,
which he did
by equating smoking with women's liberation.
If you were a woman who believed in equal rights with men,
he told them,
you should have the same right as men to smoke
--even in public.
One of his major stunts was
what he called
Easter parade in New York,
in which thousands of marching women
all smoked cigarettes
as their symbol of women's liberation
--their "torches of liberty."
The sale of cigarettes to women increased phenomenally
in the years that followed.
Tobacco's detrimental effects on human lungs and heart
were unknown at the time,
so Bernays was able to set up an advertising campaign
jointly with the American Medical Association
to "prove" that smoking was actually beneficial to people's health.
which featured pro-smoking messages
as well as movie stars
and other celebrities,
radio and TV advertising
for nearly 50 years.
was also the PR genius
who popularized bacon
as a breakfast food.
Nobody had thought of eating these fatty pork strips first thing in the morning
During the next few decades,
his growing number of PR colleagues
developed the principles and methods
by which masses of people
could be brainwashed
through messages repeated over and over in the media.
And it wasn't just products that could be sold in this way--
it was also ideas and concepts,
no matter how abhorrent.
Hitler's minister of propaganda,
studied and adopted Bernays's techniques
when he was asked to convince the German people
that they were members of a superior race that needed to be purified.
held the masses in contempt.
He once described the public as
"a herd that needs to be led,"
adding that this herd instinct made people
"susceptible to leadership."
But he always maintained
that the best kind of leadership
that the masses could best be led and manipulated
if they weren't aware
of the processes used to control them.
didn't believe that true democracy was a workable system,
because in his view
most people couldn't think rationally
and thus needed to be told what to think.
Here's a paragraph from
Bernays's remarkably candid book,
the unseen mechanism of society
an invisible government
which is the true ruling power.
We are governed,
our minds moulded,
our tastes formed,
our ideas suggested
largely by men
we have never heard of.
This is a logical result
of the way
in which our democratic society
Vast numbers of human beings
if they are to live together
as a smoothly functioning society.
In almost every act of our lives,
whether in the sphere of politics or business,
in our social conduct or our ethical thinking,
we are dominated
by the relatively small number of persons
who understand the mental processes
and social patterns of the masses.
It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind."
among the select few
entrusted with this task of moulding public opinion
on behalf of the world's rich and powerful elites.
The big PR firms
create the desired benevolent image
for business leaders and their products
are the modern practitioners of Bernays's methods.
machinations of these thought-control experts,
as Bernays cautioned,
are carefully concealed from public view.
is pulled away
and the puppeteers revealed,
as in the books written by former PR whiz
John Stauber and his colleague,
A few years ago,
in Toxic Sludge Is Good For You,
they exposed the antics of the PR firms
employed to present a favourable image
of the industries
with the worst pollution records.
Now they've followed up with another book,
„Trust Us, We're Experts,“
in which they explain how the media is used to instill and perpetuate a favourable public perception of the transnational corporations.
According to Tim O'Shea, in his review of the latest Stauber-Rampton book, "we are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known. Not only are our thoughts and attitudes constantly being shaped and moulded, but our very awareness [of this process] is subtly erased...It is an exhausting and endless task to keep explaining to people how most issues of conventional wisdom are scientifically implanted in the public consciousness by a thousand media clips per day...If everybody believes something--if it is part of conventional wisdom--it's probably wrong."
Some current examples of such conventional wisdom in the field of health care: Pharmaceuticals restore health. Chemotherapy and radiation are effective cures for cancer. Hospitals are safe and clean. All drugs are thoroughly tested before they go on the market. You never outgrow your need for milk. The cure for cancer is just around the corner. All are illusions created by the corporate spin doctors through billions of dollars in advertising and public relations.
The mind-control methods devised by Bernays are evident in the current successful efforts to promote free trade, privatization, deregulation + tax cuts + to belittle or deny the damage done to the environment by industrial pollution and the burning of fossil fuels.
The lessons Bernays taught to his PR specialists include the selective use of language, the value of "independent third-party" endorsements, the distribution of canned news releases + the hiring of compliant scientists and experts.
Stauber and Rampton give examples of these lessons.
Language spin: When shaping or reshaping a corporate image, stay away from substance; create images instead. Tell people that complex issues can only be decided by "experts." Focus on emotions, not facts. Put the desired spin on issues, but never state a clearly demonstrable lie. (Which is why we're no longer told that cigarettes are good for us.) Speak and write in generalities, using emotionally positive words (like "free" and "trade.") Invent colourful phrases to attack corporate critics, like "tree-huggers," "scaremongerers," "luddites," "junk scientists," "nanny-staters," "special interest groups."
"Independent" third parties: If an oil company were to deny that burning oil or gas contributes to global warming, its motives might be questioned. But if an "independent" research institute with a credible-sounding name like the Global Climate Coalition says global warming is a myth, people are more inclined to believe it. So the corporations, following Bernays's advice, have funded the establishment of dozens of institutes and foundations (like the Fraser and C.D. Howe Institutes in Canada) that are little more than mouthpieces or front groups for big business. They include the Tobacco Institute Research Council, the American Council on Science and Health, the Alliance for Better Foods, the International Food Information Council + the Industrial Health Federation. They all churn out "scientific" studies that "prove" whatever their corporate backers want.
Canned news releases: The corporations and their front groups send the media hundreds of "press releases" every week promoting new "breakthrough" products or defending firms from attacks by NGOs or consumer organizations. Such releases, including radio and TV clips, save journalists the trouble of doing their own investigative work + often are reported word for word from the release: instant "news" written by corporate PR people. On some days, according to Stauber and Rampton, as many as half the articles in the major newspapers and half the items on a TV newscast are based solely on such PR releases.
Science for hire: Prominent scientists can sometimes be induced (even bribed) to endorse or support "research" findings by the corporations' front organizations. Their names in a press release can often guarantee publication of something that is pseudo-science at best, or even a blatant PR fabrication. Back in the 1920s, for example, as O'Shea relates, General Motors discovered that adding lead to gasoline gave cars more horsepower. To overcome concerns about the danger to public health, GM paid the Bureau of Mines to do some fake "testing" and publish findings that "proved" the inhalation of lead was harmless. This spurious study was then backed up by the world-famous Sloan-Kettering Memorial Institute for Medical Research, founded by Charles Kettering, who also (by a sheer coincidence, of course) happened to be an executive with General Motors. All anti-lead research was then effectively discouraged for the next 60 years + it wasn't until the 1980s, after the belated revelation that lead was indeed a major carcinogen, that leaded gas was gradually phased out. By that time, many millions of tons of lead vapour had been released into the atmosphere.
* * *
Those of us who are striving every day to "de-brainwash" the victims of corporate propaganda obviously face an immensely strong, generously financed, exceptionally skilled + basically unprincipled adversary. It's a one-sided contest. We lack the resources and the media access enjoyed by the disciples of Edward Bernays.
Still, it's by no means a hopeless struggle. We have a few advantages. One is that the excesses of our corporate rulers--socially, economically and environmentally--are becoming so glaringly evident that even the most cunning spin-doctors are having trouble concealing or whitewashing them. The war of words over genetically modified foods is a good example. Despite the most intensive PR efforts to justify the genetic engineering of food products, most people (in Canada as well as Europe) remain opposed, according to a recent Ekos poll. Maybe, in part, it's because we've coined one of our most effective counter-terms: frankenfoods.
The other advantage we now have is the Internet, which (as yet) has not fallen under corporate control and is thus providing us with a powerful medium for exposing corporate rule and building resistance to it.
It is not overly optimistic, in fact, to foresee a time when the "masses," so easily misled and manipulated by Bernays and his modern PR practitioners, will stop believing everything they're told through the corporate media--that they will open their minds to more equitable, more humane, more socially constructive and more environmentally friendly alternatives. Bernays's human "herd" may even turn around and stampede against their corporate herders.
Ed Finn can be reached at email@example.com
Taken from The CCPA Monitor, November 2001