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;.

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