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Bernays, Edward L. impact -public relations in America

Straussianism offers more questions than answers

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Has powerful public relations machines turned U$ into a nation of consumer slaves?
How has television given corporate America a showroom in every home ?

An interview with Stuart Ewen author of -PR- 00.000.1940 BUCK ACT - to CREATE a FEDERAL AEREA.htm our country? Do

most people


the extremely powerful role

public relations

has played

in 00.000.1940 BUCK ACT - to CREATE a FEDERAL AEREA.htm>our country?

I think


most people

are aware


they are

continual targets


hidden persuaders.

It's hard to be awake

and not know that.






on a




as a kind of

gnawing paranoia.

This is evident in the popular folklore

that surrounds so-called "subliminal advertising."

Whether or not


is actually hidden in the ice cubes in liquor ads,

the fact that

people believe it's there

testifies to the sense we have

that there are folks out there

whose goal is

to manipulate



shape our behavior.

Alongside this anxious sensibility,


few people are aware

of the actual

practices of public relations





of the history

that led to the development

of these practices.

What is public relations?

Public relations professionals are hired

by a client

to build

a psychological environment

that will engineer

public perceptions

in order to benefit

that client.

Most PR people


behind the scenes,

some are

applied social scientists

(like the pollsters who perpetually monitor public feeling

for the purpose of influencing it),

others are experts

at staging media and

public events

that are intended

to adjust

the mental scenery

from which the public mind

derives its

sense of reality


its opinions.

In today's world,


every aspect of the political,

economic and cultural world

is massaged by these

"compliance professionals."

How did Edward L. Bernays impact public relations in America?

Do you think he was a dangerous man?

Bernays's impact on PR in America,

and globally,

was enormous.


public relations men were at work




were simply


journalists who pumped out press releases

on behalf of their clients.


Bernays entered the scene during the

First World War,

he did so

as a

farsighted architect


modern propaganda


who helped

to consolidate

a fateful marriage


theories of mass psychology and

schemes of corporate and

political persuasion.

With Bernays,

factual argument was replaced by

the chronic appeals to irrational life

that mark our culture.

Dangerous ?

Yes and no.

His,Bernays, influence on Nazi propaganda minister,

Goebbels, Josef

can not be ignored.

On the other hand,

Bernays was

a simply man of his time.

Leaders were looking at ways

to employ social psychology

for manipulating the mass mind,

and they were moving in that direction

even before Bernays's appearance

on the historical stage.

Was public relations basically a way for the elite to keep the masses in check

as they saw that in a democratic society the masses were getting too much power?

In large part, yes.

In a democratic society,

the interests of power


the interests of the public

are often at odds.

The rise of public relations is testimony

to the ways

that institutions of vested power,

over the course of the twentieth century,

have been compelled to justify and

package their interests

in order to make them appear compatible

with the common good.

Why is there so little opposition to public relations?

I think that there's a great deal of opposition to public relations.

People rightfully feel used.

The problem is that

most of us don't have the tools

to counteract public relations.



don't provide us

with an in-depth picture

of the PR apparatus and

how it works,


does it

teach us

to use the tools

that are necessary

for engaging in public

discussion and debate

in today's world.






are employed

to petition our affections

at every turn

often visually + without a word

educational curriculum

must encourage


development of techniques





The development of curricula in media and

visual literacy

would not only sharpen young people's ability

to make sense of the world around them,

it would

—over time—

contribute to a more inclusive public sphere.

Literacy is never just about reading,

it's is also about writing.

Just as

early campaigns for universal print literacy

were concerned with democratizing the tools of public expression

—the written and spoken word—

upcoming struggles

for a more meaningful democracy


strive to empower people with


implements of public discourse:


graphic arts,


computer assisted journalism and layout,

interactive multi-media,


More customary mainstays of public expression

—expository writing and public speaking—

must be resuscitated and

nourished as well.

Is public relations in our country so calculated that

we have no idea that it is even happening?

A lot of hype can be sniffed out in a minute.

Good hype,


is fairly invisible.

It masquerades,


as current events.

How did muckrakers,

or progressive journalists,

help the common man

in the United States

gain power?

How did this care

the corporate and political elite?

The Progressives

brilliantly used publicity techniques

to shine a spotlight

on many of the political corruptions and

economic abuses

that oppressed ordinary Americans

at the turn of the century.

As a result of their efforts,

the demand for reform

reverberated throughout the land,

freaking out the powers

that be.

It was the muckrakers use of publicity,

in large measure,

that convinced corporate leaders

to start using PR techniques

to try to cajole the public

into siding with business.

How did the French psychologist,

Gustave Le Bon,

who wrote a book entitled,

"The Crowd"

A Study of the Popular Mind,"

dramatically impact the development of PR?


and others

who followed his lead,

were the fathers of a decidedly modern science:

social psychology,

which studies group attitudes and behaviors

with an eye toward the unconscious motivations

that prompt public feeling.

From the period of the

First World War onward,

this cabalistic

social science

became the underpinning for

modern strategies of persuasion,

and had a profound effect

on the thinking of

American public relations pioneers like

Edward L. Bernays,

Ivy Lee +

America's foremost student of "public opinion,"

Walter Lippmann.

Are we really a democratic society

—with justice for all—

when PR dictates our agenda?

You've answered your own question.

Democracy and dictatorship cannot coexist.

How did PR turn America into a country of hungry consumers—

a country

where people associate

their deepest democratic values

with corporate America?

Very difficult question to respond to briefly.

I could write a book about that.

In fact, I did.

I'd suggest that those among your readers

who are interested in pursuing this important question

make the time to read it.

How is demographics a powerful tool of "divide and Rule?"

Could PR account for the continued racial problems

in our country

and the slow demise of civil rights?

Why would corporate America want to create a poorer class of people?

Why would public relations want to exacerbate hostilities between groups

and heighten prejudices

in certain sectors

of the population?

Demographics is the applied use of social psychology,

to break the society down

into those categories

which will best allow


marketers and others

to predict

how each in a category

will think or


The use of demographics,

for example,

allows a PR expert

to tailor a message

to a particular ethnic group,


to those with a particular sexual orientation.

The problem here is that

rather than encouraging people

to identify with one another,

regardless of their demographic category,

the technique reinforces and dramatizes

the notion of


In politics

—as seen in the infamous Willie Horton ads—

appealing to one group of Americans

is often achieved

at the expense of another.

In terms of your second question,

racial problems in America

go back much further than public relations does.

One could say that

it was imported to these shores,

along with human chattels,

on slave ships.

There is no question, however,

that the demographic splintering

of social,

economic and

political dialog

in this country


has helped

to short-circuit a civil rights movement

that was built on the premise

that all people, regardless of category,

could participate in the American Dream.

As to

why corporate leaders would want

to create a poorer class of people,

it's not so much that poverty is their goal.

Rather it is an effect

of the merciless desire

to amass the lion's share of society's wealth

and resources

for themselves.

By upholding corporate values as American values,

the continuation of widespread social misery

will be


In terms of your last question,

regarding the the uses of PR

to promote hostilities

between groups

of Americans,

this is

a way of ensuring

that social anger

will not be

directed upward.

If a population

of ordinary


fights over crumbs,

they are less likely

to notice



are gorging on cake.

How has the National Association of Manufacturers

greatly impacted our country?

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)

has been around for

about a hundred years,

and for much of that time

it has been the most powerful organization

representing the interests of giant business enterprise

in America.

Though few Americans are aware of it,

and it operates mostly behind-the-scenes,

the NAM


to profoundly affect

public agendas in the United States

One of the most colorful pieces of NAM history,

one that I discuss at length in my book,


during the Great Depression of the 1930s,

when many business leaders felt that


and his New Deal programs

were turning American minds away

from a pro-business point of view.

In response,


(in league with the

U. S. Chamber of Commerce)

launched a massive and multi-leveled PR effort


"The American Way" campaign.

The point of the campaign was

to create a mental association

between the idea of "The American Way," and

the idea of a totally unregulated business system.

Though billboards and other media

broadcast this message throughout the nation

it had little effect in a society

where there was massive unemployment,

even among the formerly middle class.

After World War II,


in a period of economic boom,

The American Way campaign gained legs.

With the help of McCarthyism,

New Deal ideas,

such as guaranteed national health insurance,

fell victim to the propaganda.

Ronald Reagan,


was a participant in NAM publicity efforts.

The rest is history.

How did television give corporate America a showroom in every home?

We take TV for granted,


in the forties

—when it was being developed as a consumer product—

publicists and marketers

saw TV as

a kind of

metaphysical utility,

like electricity or gas.

To them,

TV was a amazing image-faucet,

one that could pump

lifelike renditions of reality

into people's homes

as never before.

From the late forties onward,

the field of PR became


to this development.

How can we not be so ruled and influenced by public relations?

How can we protect ourselves from it?

Two things need to take place.


present inequities


who has a say?

who will be heard?

need to be corrected.

The avenues of public communication

need to be rescued

from the corporate monopoly

that currently controls them.

If only wealthy commercial interests

have access to the airwaves,

cable systems,

and other precious public properties,

than only wealthy commercial interests

will be heard from.


the capacity

to make such a change happen

is within sight.


the enormous authority

of a business-centered worldview

is derived from the fact

that large corporations

have been permitted

to occupy and


upon public properties—

such as the broadcast spectrum—

without paying

any significant rent to the public

that "owns" them.

For a minimal license fee,

corporations harvest

an unimaginable windfall

of public influence.

If this practice was to change—

if a fund to support public communication,

for example,

regularly received a fair rent

from those

who were permitted to exploit

public properties


—funding for noncommercial venues of expression,

and for noncommercial arenas of public education

would be plentiful.

If 15 to 25 percent of all

advertising expenditures

in the United States

were applied this way,

the current crisis

in funding for public arts and

public education

would evaporate.

New visions would flourish.

Locally based communications centers

—equipped with up-to-date technologies and

opening new avenues for distribution—

would magnify the variety of voices heard.

Schools could more adequately

prepare our children

for the responsibilities

of democratic citizenship.

This last point,

regarding schools,

leads to the second thing

that needs to take place,

something that I mentioned earlier on

and won't go into again here.


our educational system

needs to take

the idea of democratic communication


and develop curricula

that aim at

empowering students to think critically and

express themselves eloquently.


must know

how to use

those media


at present


in the future,

are and will be

the meaningful arenas

of public expression.



visual literacy


democratic survival skills


citizens of the new millennium*)

Stuart Ewen *)author of „PR“