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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

is because

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.

Its propagandists,

in the service of business leaders,

have perfected the art of media-transmitted mind control.


have honed




mass brainwashing techniques

first devised

by Bernays, Edward L.




Freud, Sigmund

nearly a century ago.

Not many people have ever heard of Bernays,


within the glass-and-marble towers



Hill & Knowlton,


and other big

PR agencies,

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

to popularize




enter the war




coined the slogan

"Let's Make the World Safe for Democracy," and

was credited

with changing public sentiment

from anti-war

to pro-war,

almost overnight.

In the




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

to organize

what he called


Easter parade in New York,

in 1929,

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,

of course,

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.

This campaign,

which featured pro-smoking messages

from physicians

as well as movie stars

and other celebrities,

saturated magazine,

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



launched his

bacon-for-breakfast blitz.

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.

Josef Goebbels,

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

was unobtrusive:

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,



who manipulate

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

is organized.

Vast numbers of human beings

must cooperate

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."

Of course,


was himself


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

that now

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.

But occasionally

the screen

is pulled away

and the puppeteers revealed,

as in the books written by former PR whiz

John Stauber and his colleague,

Sheldon Rampton.

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

Taken from The CCPA Monitor, November 2001

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