Sunday, March 28, 2010

Toxic Sludge is Good for You!

My favorite librarian recommended I read John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton's Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry for my "Getting a Clue" project. The book exposes the deceptive practices PR representatives use while representing their clients i.e. corporations, the US Government and foreign regimes. After reading, I am convinced this book was the perfect introduction to manipulative schemes. While advertising messages are known to be propaganda, the messages received from public relation campaigns are often disguised as information and are much more dangerous.

Public relations specialists are hired to create a particular image for their clients. They do this by working behind the scenes employing tactics to ensure their clients agenda becomes popular opinion. They do this by:

Censoring information. They keep damaging books off of bookshelves and dissenters from being heard.

They use opinion polls and focus groups to gather information about us. They use this information to spin their message to resonate with our beliefs.

They infiltrate grass root citizen campaigns on behalf of their corporate clients.

They create media. The corporations and their front groups send the media hundreds of "press releases" every week promoting new products or defending firms from attacks by consumer organizations. Nearly 40% of these “press releases” are published with no changes whatsoever.

They front organizations. Prominent scientists can sometimes be induced and even bribed into endorsing or supporting research findings by the corporations' front organizations. Their names in a press release can often guarantee publication.

Even country’s that torture and murder their citizens, mount public relations campaigns to convince American legislators that there is nothing the United States government should worry about.

There are so many lies, deceptions and mixed messages out there how are we to know who or what to believe?

Stauber and Sheldon write:
Ultimately, the power of PR is limited. It can often redirect public anger and insulate individual corporations or politicians from the consequences of their actions, but as Abraham Lincoln observed, “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

The solutions we do possess are partial: first, learn to recognize the influence in your life; second, seek our alternative sources of information; third, become personally involved in local efforts to directly address important issues at the community level.
Final thoughts:
Although some of the examples in the book are a bit dated, the book’s message remains relevant and the techniques used by the public relations industry continue to be valid. Anyone who is interested in becoming more informed about PR industry tactics should consider reading this book.

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