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If you have "no place to go," come here!

Wouldn't be great to have a free press?

Instead of Pravda and Izvestia? Instead of "access journalism"? Good questions, Yves!

Or "access blogging"? (hat tip, selise)

UPDATE See James Kwak's comment on Yves post, as well.

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BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

not Kwok. And he and Yves are both right.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Yves writes of the comments of two friends, about what they were observing in the American press in 1999 and 2000. James Kwak says he first became aware of the power of PR during the internet boom, that would have been in the late '90s.

Yves recommends the Adam Curtis documentary The Century of the Self. She writes:

The creator of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, was the nephew of Freud and set about to use the subconscious to shape public opinion. His books included This Business of Propaganda and Manipulating Public Opinion. But it doesn’t fit our self image of being masters of our own view to recognize that we might be swayed.

Actually, I think much of Curtis' discussion of Bernays comes from Herman and Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent which was published in 1988. Here's Chomsky in writing in 1997:

How did all this evolve? It has an interesting history. A lot of it comes out of the first World War, which is a big turning point. It changed the position of the United States in the world considerably...

The first World War was the first time there was highly organized state propaganda. The British had a Ministry of Information, and they really needed it because they had to get the U.S. into the war or else they were in bad trouble. The Ministry of Information was mainly geared to sending propaganda, including huge fabrications about "Hun" atrocities, and so on. They were targeting American intellectuals on the reasonable assumption that these are the people who are most gullible and most likely to believe propaganda. They are also the ones that disseminate it through their own system. So it was mostly geared to American intellectuals and it worked very well...

The [general public in the United States] was very much opposed to the first World War and Wilson was, in fact, elected on an anti-war position. "Peace without victory" was the slogan. But he was intending to go to war. So the question was, how do you get the pacifist population to become raving anti-German lunatics so they want to go kill all the Germans?...

[O]bviously, you have to control what people think...The leading figures were people in the Creel Commission. In fact, the main one, Edward Bernays, comes right out of the Creel Commission. He has a book that came out right afterwards called Propaganda...

His major coup, the one that really propelled him into fame in the late 1920s, was getting women to smoke. Women didn’t smoke in those days and he ran huge campaigns for Chesterfield. You know all the techniques—models and movie stars with cigarettes coming out of their mouths and that kind of thing. He got enormous praise for that. So he became a leading figure of the industry, and his book was the real manual.

Another member of the Creel Commission was Walter Lippmann, the most respected figure in American journalism for about half a century (I mean serious American journalism, serious think pieces). He also wrote what are called progressive essays on democracy, regarded as progressive back in the 1920s. He was, again, applying the lessons of the work on propaganda very explicitly. He says there is a new art in democracy called manufacture of consent. That is his phrase...

So what's my point? I think a lot of us believe that there's been a sea change in the way the corporate press has influenced politics since Bush 43 took office, or back as Clinton was taking office.

However, again, Manufacturing Consent came out in 1988. Therein the lefty authors spent a lot of time (IIRC) discussing a widely circulated, unchallenged bogus report from a couple of years before that the Soviets had deployed Mig fighter planes to Nicaragua -- a phantom deployment of weapons which were, dontcha know, a grave threat to U.S. security.

All this calls to mind a Leo Strauss favorite, Plato's allegory of the cave. This propagandizing of the public has been going on for quite a while -- particularly in matters of foreign policy and yet most progressives are sure that not so long ago they, themselves, had been a force that really did make things happen and that they were on the brink of doing so again after November 2006, and, when that didn't pan out, then later during campaign 2008. Obama was such a wonder, they reasoned, that he was able to win over even the business elite at the General Electric Company and its NBC subsidiary and line up those movers and shakers behind an agenda for sweeping change.

On a side note, I think all this Public Relations history has long been available in Business School marketing texts. And students of American history at the college level have read about the Creel Commission for fifty, if not ninety, years. But for some reason this history seems to escape the notice of Poli-Sci majors and the general public. It's as if they believe the logic of their arguments and the righteousness of their cause must carry the day. If there's one thing that Hollywood teaches us when we are growing up, it is that the good guys and gals prevail in the end.