What’s truth gotta do with it? – A response to The Economist article “Public Relations: Rise of the image men”

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Public relations is a shady career reserved for those whose integrity has a price. The irony of an industry that capitalizes on public image adjustments of companies, individuals and countries, and yet they cannot seem to improve upon their own. I guess that is a price they must pay for being reputation custodians… The article in The Economist takes the reader through the history and making of the PR man, beginning with Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, the grandfathers of mass manipulation. Both became very influential in ending democracy as we once knew it. Bernays believed that democracy would function smoother through the “engineering of consent”. The core of his values and strategies rests in his belief that the masses lack of informed judgment and vulnerability to information must be harnessed as a tool to internalize democracy and spread it. He adapted his uncle, Sigmund Freud’s, theories about the human subconscious and the power of the irrational and abstract in influencing potentially dangerous human behavior, to manipulating people into becoming passive consumers. Thus, PR men must tap into people’s deepest desires and biggest fears to sway and control their opinion in a manner where people unknowingly surrender control. Democracy began as a power shift from the government to its people, in which the society was structured to allow all (first class) citizens to have an equal voice in political decisions by voting. After the introduction of PR in society, what is left of this definition of democracy in the US is merely the appearance of it.noam

Just as Bernays and Lee found a way to apply wartime propaganda tactics to times of peace, PR found a way to serve humanity and be charitable—meaning it does not only promote capitalism and consumerism, it also aids anti-corporate organizations and other non-profits to create awareness about charitable opportunities or inform citizens about some kind of injustice. But in the grander scheme of things, it is still difficult to get past the fact that this industry serves the very ugly purpose of swaying public perspective to support their client, often at the expense of truth. As the article states, there are laws prohibiting PR men to lie for their clients, but let’s be honest, who wants a moral PR representative? That is what PR people and Lawyers have in common, the more unscrupulous and corrupt – the more valuable they are.

Our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.-Ivy Lee, responding to journalist’s questioning the integrity of his practices

For example, Lee coined the name “Poison Ivy” because of the deceitful stories he spun to the media regarding the Ludlow Massacre, sweeping Rockefeller clean of any involvement with the 19-25 striking coal miners burned to death, with completely fabricated lies.  When having to testify in court for his string of lies, he gave his personal definition of accuracy-

What is a fact? The effort to state an absolute fact in simply an attempt to give you my interpretation of the facts.

This only testifies to the PR industry being a dubious and obscured manufacturer of confusion. Lee managed to literally spin the truth and paradoxically this statement was a moment of honesty for him.

I return to my main concern, which is that this industry has manifested into the current Bernaysian democracy we live in. We can only hope that the internet and social media will ride in on its white horse and save us when PR spins us out of control. But it has become quite the two-faced friend by nature, hence the point of confusion. It is a tool we can use to be informed and respond to a public injustice or scandal, yet that same tool is being used and manipulated by PR people to flood our minds with red harrings and their “interpretation of the facts”. PR and propaganda has matured close to perfection in the department of unconscious persuasion as it has expanded in purpose and became more relevant. Was Bernays so wrong to say the alternative to manipulation is chaos? Has unconscious persuasion and modern propaganda kept our inner animal dormant? Or has it just made us submissive consumers? If only Chomsky and Bernays could come together to hash that out…

“Rise of the Image Men.” Editorial. The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 16 Dec. 2010. Web. <http://www.economist.com/node/17722733&gt;.

Libertarian Cyber Take-Over? – A Response to Peter James Saalfield’s Article “Is the Internet Making us More Libertarian?”

Ideologically and in practice, perhaps American republican political adviser, Karl Rove, is partially correct in that people have become more independent with access to the information enriching possibilities of the internet, but it is not necessarily converting users into Libertarians as Saafield argues. Rove’s evidence of such a movement truly falls short of the truth when he claims that republicans are more internet savvy than democrats during the campaign process because a Pew analysis said so. In that case, how does Pew explain this contradiction?:

His argument does not get better when he uses the high number of libertarian techies as evidence of the web turning users into libertarians. It would make complete sense that the few thousand techies in Silicon Valley are cyber libertarians (meaning-they believe the web should be a free space for personal expression with no government control or restrictions), but that in no way reflects the transition of political values of the grander population who do not work in information technology. I agree with Saafield that Rove’s statements clearly demonstrate that he misunderstands the magnitude of purpose the web offers, and how it is not a means to an end of the government as we know it, rather it has given citizens the tool to mobilize thoughts and directly influence political matters to make changes. The internet has simply diminished the need for journalists to mediate discussions between citizens and the state, thus the people feel more in control or active in political decisions. So, as Saafield stated that–

To get lost in an argument over whether the Internet has a partisan bias is to miss the point. The potential of digital technology is to give people of all points of view a platform for their views, a place to find community, and a tool to influence the future of the country.

His final point in the article was that the internet may have the potential to unify a population’s political beliefs, and I would take that argument further and say that it has the potential to diminish next generations appeal to tradition (conservatism) all together and continue to further globalize thought towards embracing modernity and social unity. Being a student studying abroad in a very international environment, I find more and more students who have begun losing their religious faith/association (even to the point of atheism) because they have an endless source of diverse information on any subject like religion providing them the power of knowledge and a tool to build a greater sense of individuality. I use this example because my generation sparked a positive trend (among the educated). We are beginning to disassociate ourselves with groups like religion, political parties, even nationality because of globalization influencing the need to break down walls which divide humanity and create friction between rival groups. Citizens now have the power to become stronger individuals with a louder voice, and my concluding hypothesis may seem farfetched, but the more populated the web becomes through the involvement of future generations and the more accessible it is to third world countries, I am positive that an alien invasion is no longer the only possible situation where the world will unify in name of humanity thanks to the growing global public sphere we call the internet.

Saalfield, Peter J. “Is the Internet Making Us More Libertarian?” Is the Internet Making Us More Libertarian? Big Think, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. <http://bigthink.com/think-tank/is-the-internet-making-us-more-libertarian?page=all&gt;.

Owyang, Jeremiah. “Snapshot of Presidential Candidate Social Networking Stats: Nov 3, 2008.” Web Strategy LLC, 3 Nov. 2008. Web. <http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2008/11/03/snapshot-of-presidential-candidate-social-networking-stats-nov-2-2008/&gt;.

“Je m’en fous!”- A response to “French Shrug as Petraeus’ Adultery” by Matthew Fraser

Nearing the conclusion to my roughly three year student status in Paris, France, I return to the US with the appropriated attitude of “vivre et laisser vivre” along with the all-encompassing belief that existence precedes essence. Thus, I return with growing disappointment in the largely trivial dialogue between the media and the American public. To be clear, I am not claiming that the French state-owned media model is ethically superior to the American “fourth estate” model; they both are flawed in their own ways. One significant difference between the content choices of the French and US media is that French law restricts the unauthorized publishing of photos and information about someone’s private affairs, consequently cutting out a lot of the juicy fat that American’s love to sink their teeth into. This sort of reflects the existential values of the French people versus the spectator nature of the American population who are completely immersed in tabloid culture. A current example of such boundary-less media coverage is the extra-marital affair of former hero and former head of the CIA, David Petraeus, which resulted in grave consequences on his public image and personal life. Matthew Fraser describes the French attitude towards this front page scandal and many alike it as “never shocked or titillated by the rich complexity of life’s temptations” (1), meaning the French do not even engage in such personally irrelevant discussions.
Contrary to Fraser’s opinion that Patraeus’ resignation was “unexpected”, I believe America has the historical trend of condemning or disempowering political figures for subjectively immoral sexual behavior, therefore his decision to resign came as no surprise given the level of social pressure he endured from the media. His heroic service to the US military and continued commitment to national security in the CIA was tainted or even forgotten by the stench of his dirty laundry being tossed around the media. To the French, this only highlights America’s hypocritically self-righteous entitlement to devastate a man’s career for committing the very human act of adultery (after all we are not essentially monogamous creatures, but in the US possession is 9/10th of the law!). Statistics for the US alone estimates that 30-60% of married individuals will commit adultery at least once during their partnership, and it is clear that the French have accepted this reality as a conflict between nature versus nurture, culture versus instinct, private versus public. The sad truth is that too many Americans apportion authority to nurture and culture over nature and instinct which detracts from their understanding and connection with humanity at its core.
As a result, a man once praised for his patriotic commitment to national security is professionally (and socially) discredited solely for his failed marital commitment. Ironically the country he served turned on him for reasons that never interfered with his ability to protect the nation, which goes to show how disembodied and irrational American’s have become given the media is utterly saturated in tabloid news. The only thing America loves more than a hero is a hero-gone-wrong.
Having the privilege to live outside of the US in a country like France, I no longer feel victim to media manipulation and distractions. The moment I heard about Patraeus’ infidelity, I wondered if my feeling of indifference would be otherwise if I did not have the opportunity to gain a foreign perspective. Would I still be an American tabloid induced zombie? All that is certain is my adopted “Je m’en fous” attitude towards trifling media gossip has grounded me from great heights, giving me more mental time to work on myself as an individual and less time contributing to the destruction of another humans life.

“Truth About Deception.” Facts and Statistics About Infidelity. N.p., 2012. Web. .

Fraser, Matthew. “French Shrug at Petraeus’ Adultery.” CNN. Cable News Network, 13 Nov. 2012. Web.