by Dr. Tim O’Shea
We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known. Not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased.
The doors of our perception are carefully and precisely regulated. Who cares, right?
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. In an effort to save time, I would like to provide just a little background on the handling of information in this country.
Once the basic principles are illustrated about how our current system of media control arose historically, the reader might be more apt to question any given story in today’s news.
If everybody believes something, it’s probably wrong. We call that Conventional Wisdom.
In America, conventional wisdom that has mass acceptance is usually contrived: somebody paid for it. Examples:
- Pharmaceuticals restore health
- Vaccination brings immunity
- The cure for cancer is just around the corner
- When a child is sick, he needs immediate antibiotics
- When a child has a fever he needs Tylenol
- Hospitals are safe and clean.
- America has the best health care in the world.
- And many many more
This is a list of illusions, that have cost billions and billions to conjure up. Did you ever wonder why you never see the President speaking publicly unless he is reading? Or why most people in this country think generally the same about most of the above issues?
How This Set-Up Got Started
In Trust Us We’re Experts, Stauber and Rampton pull together some compelling data describing the science of creating public opinion in America.
They trace modern public influence back to the early part of the last century, highlighting the work of guys like Edward L. Bernays, the Father of Spin. From his own amazing chronicle Propaganda, we learn how Edward L. Bernays took the ideas of his famous uncle Sigmund Freud himself, and applied them to the emerging science of mass persuasion.
The only difference was that instead of using these principles to uncover hidden themes in the human unconscious, the way Freudian psychology does, Bernays used these same ideas to mask agendas and to create illusions that deceive and misrepresent, for marketing purposes.
The Father Of Spin
Bernays dominated the PR industry until the 1940s, and was a significant force for another 40 years after that. (Tye) During all that time, Bernays took on hundreds of diverse assignments to create a public perception about some idea or product. A few examples:
As a neophyte with the Committee on Public Information, one of Bernays’ first assignments was to help sell the First World War to the American public with the idea to “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” (Ewen)
A few years later, Bernays set up a stunt to popularize the notion of women smoking cigarettes. In organizing the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City, Bernays showed himself as a force to be reckoned with.
He organized the Torches of Liberty Brigade in which suffragettes marched in the parade smoking cigarettes as a mark of women’s liberation. Such publicity followed from that one event that from then on women have felt secure about destroying their own lungs in public, the same way that men have always done.
Bernays popularized the idea of bacon for breakfast.
Not one to turn down a challenge, he set up the advertising format along with the AMA that lasted for nearly 50 years proving that cigarettes are beneficial to health. Just look at ads in issues of Life or Time from the 40s and 50s.
Smoke And Mirrors
Bernay’s job was to reframe an issue; to create a desired image that would put a particular product or concept in a desirable light. Bernays described the public as a ‘herd that needed to be led.’ And this herdlike thinking makes people “susceptible to leadership.”
Bernays never deviated from his fundamental axiom to “control the masses without their knowing it.” The best PR happens with the people unaware that they are being manipulated.
Stauber describes Bernays’ rationale like this:
“the scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in a democratic society.” Trust Us p 42
These early mass persuaders postured themselves as performing a moral service for humanity in general – democracy was too good for people; they needed to be told what to think, because they were incapable of rational thought by themselves. Here’s a paragraph from Bernays’ Propaganda:
“Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, 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 in this manner 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.”
Here Comes The Money
Once the possibilities of applying Freudian psychology to mass media were glimpsed, Bernays soon had more corporate clients than he could handle. Global corporations fell all over themselves courting the new Image Makers. There were dozens of goods and services and ideas to be sold to a susceptible public. Over the years, these players have had the money to make their images happen. A few examples:
|Philip Morris||Pfizer||Union Carbide|
|tobacco industry||Ciba Geigy||lead industry|
|Shell Oil||Standard Oil||Procter & Gamble|
|Boeing||General Motors||Dow Chemical|
Though world-famous within the PR industry, the companies have names we don’t know, and for good reason.
The best PR goes unnoticed.
For decades they have created the opinions that most of us were raised with, on virtually any issue which has the remotest commercial value, including:
|medicine as a profession||alternative medicine|
|fluoridation of city water||chlorine|
|household cleaning products||tobacco|
|leaded gasoline||cancer research and treatment|
|pollution of the oceans||forests and lumber|
|images of celebrities, including damage control||crisis and disaster management|
|genetically modified foods||aspartame|
|food additives; processed foods||dental amalgams|
Bernays learned early on that the most effective way to create credibility for a product or an image was by “independent third-party” endorsement.
For example, if General Motors were to come out and say that global warming is a hoax thought up by some liberal tree-huggers, people would suspect GM’s motives, since GM’s fortune is made by selling automobiles.
If however some independent research institute with a very credible sounding name like the Global Climate Coalition comes out with a scientific report that says global warming is really a fiction, people begin to get confused and to have doubts about the original issue.
So that’s exactly what Bernays did. With a policy inspired by genius, he set up “more institutes and foundations than Rockefeller and Carnegie combined.” (Stauber p 45)
Quietly financed by the industries whose products were being evaluated, these “independent” research agencies would churn out “scientific” studies and press materials that could create any image their handlers wanted. Such front groups are given high-sounding names like:
|Temperature Research Foundation||Manhattan Institute|
|International Food Information Council||Center for Produce Quality|
|Consumer Alert||Tobacco Institute Research Council|
|The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition||Cato Institute|
|Air Hygiene Foundation||American Council on Science and Health|
|Industrial Health Federation||Global Climate Coalition|
|International Food Information Council||Alliance for Better Foods|
Sound pretty legit don’t they?
Canned News Releases
As Stauber explains, these organizations and hundreds of others like them are front groups whose sole mission is to advance the image of the global corporations who fund them, like those listed on page 2 above.
This is accomplished in part by an endless stream of ‘press releases’ announcing “breakthrough” research to every radio station and newspaper in the country. (Robbins) Many of these canned reports read like straight news, and indeed are purposely molded in the news format.
This saves journalists the trouble of researching the subjects on their own, especially on topics about which they know very little. Entire sections of the release or in the case of video news releases, the whole thing can be just lifted intact, with no editing, given the byline of the reporter or newspaper or TV station – and voilá;! Instant news – copy and paste. Written by corporate PR firms.
Does this really happen? Every single day, since the 1920s when the idea of the News Release was first invented by Ivy Lee. (Stauber, p 22) Sometimes as many as half the stories appearing in an issue of the Wall St. Journal are based solely on such PR press releases.. (22)
These types of stories are mixed right in with legitimately researched stories. Unless you have done the research yourself, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
The Language Of Spin
As 1920s spin pioneers like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays gained more experience, they began to formulate rules and guidelines for creating public opinion. They learned quickly that mob psychology must focus on emotion, not facts. Since the mob is incapable of rational thought, motivation must be based not on logic but on presentation. Here are some of the axioms of the new science of PR:
- technology is a religion unto itself
- if people are incapable of rational thought, real democracy is dangerous
- important decisions should be left to experts
- when reframing issues, stay away from substance; create images
- never state a clearly demonstrable lie
Words are very carefully chosen for their emotional impact. Here’s an example. A front group called the International Food Information Council handles the public’s natural aversion to genetically modified foods.
Trigger words are repeated all through the text. Now in the case of GM foods, the public is instinctively afraid of these experimental new creations which have suddenly popped up on our grocery shelves which are said to have DNA alterations. The IFIC wants to reassure the public of the safety of GM foods, so it avoids words like:
Instead, good PR for GM foods contains words like:
It’s basic Freudian/Tony Robbins word association. The fact that GM foods are not hybrids that have been subjected to the slow and careful scientific methods of real crossbreeding doesn’t really matter. This is pseudoscience, not science. Form is everything and substance just a passing myth. (Trevanian)
Who do you think funds the International Food Information Council? Take a wild guess. Right – Monsanto, DuPont, Frito-Lay, Coca Cola, Nutrasweet – those in a position to make fortunes from GM foods. (Stauber p 20)
Characteristics Of Good Propaganda
As the science of mass control evolved, PR firms developed further guidelines for effective copy. Here are some of the gems:
- dehumanize the attacked party by labeling and name calling
- speak in glittering generalities using emotionally positive words
- when covering something up, don’t use plain English; stall for time; distract
- get endorsements from celebrities, churches, sports figures, street people – anyone who has no expertise in the subject at hand
- the ‘plain folks’ ruse: us billionaires are just like you
- when minimizing outrage, don’t say anything memorable, point out the benefits of what just happened, and avoid moral issues
Keep this list. Start watching for these techniques. Not hard to find – look at today’s paper or tonight’s TV news. See what they’re doing; these guys are good!