Blighted are the Shelf-Makers

I’m old enough to remember video tape with affection. My family acquired its first video cassette recorder around 1982 when the novelty was still vivid. It was VHS, front-loading, the size of a small family hatchback and by modern standards almost Heath-Robinson in it brute mechanical beauty.

It’s hard to explain why I feel such nostalgia for what objectively was a clumsy cacophony of rubber, metal, and plastic but I do. For the six year old me, it was irresistibly encrusted with buttons, knobs, sliders, and dials. The customary shopfront of its principal controls – play, rewind, and pause – were pleasure enough but other treasures were hidden beneath a hinged flap on the lower front and a detachable panel inset in the top. Beneath these glittered the more exotic controls like ‘tracking’ and ‘input,’ eight mechanical  tuning dials and the ‘AFT’ button.[i] When Channel Four was born in November 1982, my dad had to get on his hands and knees, pop the top panel and seek out primordial Countdown through the crashing surf of static.

I can remember pressing the Standby button, opening the door and seeing tantalising glimpses of the illuminated heads, capstans, and spindles within. I can hear in my head, as clearly as you can remember your favourite song, the refrain of its mechanism as I pressed a tape into the front door and watched as it was drawn inside the beast. Sometimes it was a video mechanism, other times its was the landing bay door of a secret base.

It even had a ‘remote’ control: play, pause, fwd, rew, and rec attached via a 3ft cable that plugged in at the back and, once passed over the machine, afforded one the luxury of operating the machine from about 18 inches away. I’m even fond of the problems that afflicted its dotage (and my teenage years when it became mine alone) – the way it would sometimes crimp the edge of the tape, irreparably knackering the sound on some of my favourite tapes.

These were the days when I had a library of blank cassettes, some labelled (most not) and packed with recordings of Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The E120, the workhorse E180, the mighty E240s. The Scotch ‘lifetime guarantee’ fronted by an amiable skeleton. The etheric and unrepeatable[ii] magic of TV, captured and tamed in a shiny box like a ghost trapped by Venkman, Stantz, Spengler, and Zeddemore.

I remember, into the 90s, the archaeological pleasure of watching old tapes, especially those borrowed from friends, through to the end. The first recording would finish, there’d be a wash of static, and then the fag end of the recording beneath would slide into view. Then another and another. I’d often watch tapes through right to the point when they’d click off and rewind. One minute, you’re watching ITV’s bowdlerised 90s cut of Heartbreak Ridge (complete with the minced oath, ‘maggot farmer’), then you’re transported into the technicolour fantasy of an 80s ad for Kellogg’s Fruit n Fibre (with one with Ross Kemp) or those weird 80s Weetabix commercials in which booted and braced skinhead biscuits of wheat would intimidate other cereals (and we accepted this as normal).

At the weekends, I was allowed to accompany my dad to the Six Hills Video Shop and choose a title from the seemingly enormous array of display cases that bejewelled its walls. Only from the Us and PGs, of course, although I was obviously far more enticed by the 15s and 18s, which all had far more exciting and stimulating covers (especially some on the top shelf in one corner) and were alluring because they were forbidden.

It’s all gone now. Funai Electric manufactured the last video recorder in July, 2016. While there is a small but enthusiastic market for old video tapes, particularly the more obscure horror movies, I doubt there’ll ever be a ferrous oxide resurgence to mimic that of vinyl. Yet, our language is an analogue recording of history. I still hear people talk about ‘taping’ and ‘rewinding’ and we’ll still be discussing the medium of film long after celluloid takes its place next to wax cylinders and daguerreotypes. One day film will exist only in films.

The big selling point of video recorders was convenience and, notably, control. Watch what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. Don’t be a slave to those damned TV channels but the master of your own viewing pleasures. As Troy McClure said to Delores Montenegro (in ‘Calling All Quakers’) ‘have it your way, baby.’

Fast forward thirty years and we’re now in another revolution of convenience and ‘control.’ The age of the DVD and the brief blu dawn are coming to an end and now we are dipping our toes in the Great Stream. We now watch even more of what we want to watch, when we want to watch, and without a chilly walk to the video shop or the need to endure the crunching, chattering rabble at the local flicks. We watch, listen, chat, and shop online. But how much of the new control is real?

It’s easy to focus on the petty irritations of the digital world. Netflix’s co-founder recently

adric 4

Silent credits attend the death of Adric in the 1982 Doctor Who story, Earthshock

declared their aspiration that one day it would ‘get so good at suggestions that we’re able to show you exactly the right film or TV show for your mood when you turn on Netflix.’[iii] But what if I aspire to read the credits uninterrupted? What if I think that the programme makers might sometimes use the credits for dramatic effect? Instead Netflix, like an overeager waiter, whips away the programme and algorithmically catapults me toward the next course. It’s not wholly new, of course; even on terrestrial TV credits have been squeezed for years by the cajolery of continuity chatterers. But it’s still annoying.

Trailers have always been part of home media. They were there in the VHS days but at least fast forwardable. Nevertheless, imagine visiting a Blockbuster and having a doorman compel you to watch one before you even reached the shelves. This is now what the Android Amazon Video app does at least once per day. Yes, one can stop it once it has started but one cannot stop it from starting. At least at the cinema people can use the adverts and even the trailers to have a conversation, check their phone, or return to the foyer to secure yet more food. Much as they do with the eventual film.

We tolerate behaviour online that we would likely never put up with in person and here I’m not discussing the hourly scorching belligerence of ‘social’ media so well summed up in this video. I mean the behaviour of companies online. Imagine for instance that, near the end of your weekly shop, a store assistant blocked your path and wouldn’t let you get to the checkout until you’d accepted or rejected a list of items in which she thought you might be interested. I think most people would find that hectoring and coercive yet it’s precisely what one has to accept in order to shop online with Sainsbury.

Worse still, imagine the indignity, the sense of violation you would feel if someone broke into your house and stole your CDs. Imagine then instead how much worse you’d feel, how much more soiled, degraded and sullied, if instead of perpetrating such a theft – or merely having a shit on your couch – they left you an album by U2.

Speaking of music, some of you who’ve used the Amazon Music Player might have noticed that it has a subsidiary function, carefully hidden, of allowing you to actually play the music you’ve purchased. Its core function, of course,  is to pelt you with inducements to buy more music, preferably via a subscription. This is quite reasonable since, putting chummy marketing aside, Amazon’s sole objective is to persuade you to take money out of your account and put it in theirs. The product itself  is a mechanism for selling you more products (again, not new but accelerated online). Helping you to actually listen to your music is very much a secondary concern in what should really be called the Amazon Music Seller. Apps are less like faithful servants and more like pestering children.

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1) Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2) Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3) Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Douglas Adams –The Salmon of Doubt.

 

Lest I simply sound like a grumpy old man adumbrating a litany of my peeves, let me make clear that there’s a political edge to my grousing; namely increased control masquerading as choice. The range of baubles for us to play with has increased but the price is that our leisure time – socialisation, entertainment, education and consumption – occurs conveniently on something else’s property. We’re shopping, playing, watching, chatting and searching by their rules. We’re steered where they allow us to go, finding what they want us to find, knowing what they want us to know. Our physical space has already been colonised – what isn’t owned by government is owned by private capital, public town squares have already become private malls. Now cyberspace is heading the same way (and with a massive in-built head start). Sound overblown and conspiratorial? Perhaps today -but tomorrow?

One of the great sleights of hand in recent years, for instance, has been the promotion of ‘the cloud’ – with all the connotations of ownerless neutrality this inspired piece of thought-steering conjures. After all, nobody owns a cloud; it must just float above us like some beneficent 21st century commons. In fact, the cloud is a network of servers belonging to commercial companies ranging from relatively modest independents to the GAFA behemoths of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Of course, invitations to store one’s data in ‘the cloud’ sound much more  benign that ‘on our servers.’

Well, OK, storing one’s property on someone else’s turf isn’t necessarily a one way ticket to Oceania, is it? After all, people dump their shit in Big Yellow Storage all the time without having to affirm that they love Big Brother. Except that it’s no longer your property. No, that film you bought last night from Amazon isn’t yours. In fact, you’ve merely leased it for an indefinite period. Now, you might argue that it was never really yours before. The contents of DVDs, books, CDs, and VHS were all copyrighted – yours to own but subject to strict conditions – so what’s really changed? Well, check Amazon’s T&Cs – they can remove your purchase at any time. Unless you download it to your own storage, you don’t have the unconditional possession that you had over an Amaray-enclosed disc. You’re not purchasing anymore. You’re renting -on a very long term, granted – but you’re renting. Soon, there’ll be no more borrowing a DVD or a book from a friend and you won’t be taking yours  down your favourite charity shop when you’re done, either. Like the message, the medium is now theirs. Your shelves of DVDs, CDs, and books  will evaporate into a cloud library hosted (held) within someone else’s property. One day, all visitors will have to judge you by will be some misguided ornaments and your personality.

And the capacity to monitor our viewing habits has also increased. The obvious concomitant of Netflix being able to suggest what we might want to watch is that it knows what we have watched. For most people this is no real practical concern but it’s another piece of infrastructure for a surveillance state, another category of data to add to all the others potentially allowing for a detailed picture of us to be constructed and – ask any lecturer wanting to talk about Brexit – some people are just itching to know as much about us as possible. The next time you binge-watch The Handmaid’s Tale remember that you might be munching Doritos in the prologue.

And what happens when Amazon goes bust? Where will your prized collection go when the company no longer exists? True, other companies might buy out the rights and the infrastructure but they don’t have to and won’t if they don’t think there’s money in it for them. Amazon use a proprietary format for Kindle, for example, so there’s no guarantee you’d be left with anything other than what’s stored on your hardware. And when that dies?

Video tapes, CDs, and even books are standards based. So long as your equipment complies with those standards you can read the content. A CD manufactured to the Red Book standard should play on any CD player. Region codes aside, a DVD of The Force Awakens will play on any machine. The latest Dan Brown novel is accessible to anyone who can read, although obviously appreciated to its fullest extent by those who cannot. Streaming and download services rely heavily on proprietary file formats to ensure that material isn’t shareable. There are presently exceptions but how long will they last? Look at the stranglehold (now slipping) that Microsoft has had on word-processing by making sure its file .doc and .docx formats are as opaque as possible.

Digital content such as films, audio files and eBooks are effectively software with all the (potential for) control and restriction that implies. The apps on a smart TV can be withdrawn during forced ‘upgrades’ when licensing deals expire. So, that £700 set you bought with iPlayer and YouTube built in could be without both one day and there won’t be anything you can do except buy a new TV. And this isn’t a hypothetical -it already happens. Let’s not be in any doubt what this is – the company from whom you think you’ve bought something has taken it back from you. Of course, this may be because of genuinely unavoidable incompatibility but it’s hard to believe that this isn’t also another mechanism for enforced functional obsolescence.

Holodeck-800x420There’s no easy answer to this. The technology isn’t inherently wrong but it is massively corruptible. Nor is it going to go away: people will always be lulled by convenience. Alternatives to digital online consumption as part of our increasingly shut-in economy will wither unless we take positive action to keep them alive. They’ll be seen as troublesome, archaic eccentricities, like wanting to travel around New York without a car or live near an A&E.  Being offline and off social media will never be forbidden, merely absurdly inconvenient. You’ll always be allowed to walk off the holodeck but why would you want to when beyond lies only isolation, and dark, dark silence?

 

Notes

__________

[i] ‘Automatic Fine Tuning.’

[ii] Well, repeated a lot less in those days.

[iii] Unknown author, Streaming on screens near you. Can Netflix stay atop the new, broadband-based television ecosystem it helped create?’ The Economist https://www.economist.com/news/business/21705353-can-netflix-stay-atop-new-broadband-based-television-ecosystem-it-helped-create-streaming

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Costly Delusions

Last Friday’s failed ‘bucket bomb’ has produced yet more one-eyed coverage of Islamic terrorism and roiled the cauldron of social media. Islam, the crazed 7th Century death cult bent on universal domination,™ has struck again. Now, I carry no more brief for the fairy tales of Mohammed than I do for those of the followers of the Carpenter of Nazareth. Nevertheless, I don’t accept the general charge that Islam is a religion evil above all others. Nor, despite my own atheism, can I join wholeheartedly in the savaging of Islam by ministers of the ‘new atheism’ – such as Sam Harris – who appear to have given up worshipping every god save the Holy American Empire. I also reject the widespread charge, expressed by David Cameron a few years ago, that ‘Isis is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.’[1] Certainly, I repudiate the accusation that Islam by itself is a sufficient condition to give rise to terrorism.

Simple arithmetic ought to be enough to illustrate the point. The Global Terrorism Database compiled by the  National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) offers itself as the most comprehensive non-classified database of terrorist attacks in the world. It holds details of approximately 170,000 terrorist attacks carried out globally between 1970 and 2016 by all affiliations and creeds (excluding states but that’s a different discussion). During the same period the global Muslim population increased from approximately 700 million to 1.8 billion.[2] I don’t have the demographic skills or inclination to estimate how many unique Muslims have been alive for each year of that period but to round to 1bn seems a reasonable approximation. Let’s assume – wrongly – that each one of those 170,000 terrorist attacks was carried out by a different Muslim, so there have been at 170,000 Muslim terrorists. Dividing those fictional 170,000 Muslim terrorists into our one billion Muslims would mean they comprised just 0.00017% of all Muslims. Put another way, about one in every 5883 Muslims would have committed a terrorist attack. Of course, this calculation wildly exaggerates the number of Islamic terrorists in the world but, even after so doing, the idea that Islam itself causes terrorism is revealed as absurd. If Islam causes terrorism why hasn’t  it turned the other 999,830,000 Muslims into terrorists as well?

Deaths by terrorism in Europe

According to Europol, there were 142 failed, foiled, or completed terror attacks reported in the EU 2016 (in six states). This was down from 211 in 2015 and 226 in 2014. Of those 142 attacks in 2016 99 were carried out by ethno-nationalist and separatist groups. Left-wing extremists carried out 27 attacks, there was one right-wing attack, and two could not be attributed. This means that just 13 were carried out by jihadists (six of which were attributed to Islamic State).[3] These 13 attacks were also the only attacks with a religious motive -90% were secular. It is true that Islamist attacks caused most of the casualties that year but it is still the case that less than 10% of terrorist attacks in the EU in 2016 were carried out by Islamists. This assessment also generalises for previous years – the majority of terrorist attacks have been carried out by ethno-nationalist groups and not by adherents of any religion.[4] On these figures, Islam – and religion generally – are a very poor predictor of terrorism. Perhaps a better predictor of Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe can be deduced from the graph above.

Deaths from terrorism in the US

The most recent whole year figure for terrorist attacks in the US is for 2015 and is calculated by START.[5] There were 61 attacks in the US during that year of which nine (or just under 15%) were committed by Islamic extremists. Another study in 2016 looked at 201 terrorist incidents recorded since 2008, finding that while 63 incidents involved perpetrators ‘espousing a theocratic ideology’ 115 incidents were down to right-wing extremists. In other words, right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many terrorist incidents as were associated with Islamists. The Islamists caused 90 deaths while the right-wing extremists killed 79.[6]

To put these deaths in perspective, in 2015 91 Americans died in accidents involving lawnmowers.[7]  In the same year 44,193 killed themselves.[8] Between 2005 and 2015 the number of Americans killed by gun violence was 301,797.[9] Excluding disease, it is Americans who constitute by far the greatest threat to Americans.

There are, of course, hotspots elsewhere in the globe where nearly every terrorist attack is carried out by a Muslim. Perhaps not coincidentally, these often are places like Afghanistan and Iraq – made warzones by the US and UK – where they are fighting occupation.

Well, all suicide bombers are Muslims, aren’t they?

Again, no. In fact, between 1980 and 2004, the world leader in suicide attacks was the Tamil Tigers, a secular Hindu group. Moreover, at least a third of the suicide attacks in predominantly Muslim countries were carried out by secular groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.[10] The leading authorities in this field, Robert Pape and James K Feldman, studied every one of the 2178 reported suicide attack between 1980 and 2009. They find that,

“Islamic fundamentalism cannot account for the steep upward trajectory of the annual rates of suicide terrorism— from an average of three attacks per year in the 1980s to over 500 in 2007—since it is implausible… that the number of Islamic fundamentalists around the globe rose by a similar astronomical rate (over 16,000%). Further, the geographic concentration also casts doubt on the causal force of Islamic fundamentalism. If religious fanaticism or any ideology was driving the threat, we would expect a spread of more or less proportionately scattered attacks around the globe or, in the case of Islamic fundamentalism, at least spread randomly across the 1.4 billion Muslims who live in nearly every country in the world. However, we are observing nearly the opposite of random, scattered attacks that would fit the pattern of a “global jihad,” but instead tightly focused campaigns of suicide terrorism that are limited in space and time and so would appear related to specific circumstances.”[11]

Pape and Feldman also note that Islam cannot explain why important suicide terrorist campaigns in recent years have ended. For example, since Israeli combat forces left Lebanon in 2000 there had not been a single Lebanese suicide terrorist attack by the time Pape and Feldman published in 2010; not evening during Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006. Yet Hezbollah remained an Islamic fundamentalist group throughout that decade.[12] The bottom line, as they put it, is that it is military occupation, not Islam, that drives suicide bombing.

Well, even if Muslims aren’t all terrorists, they certainly all support terrorists, don’t they?

No.

Some of the most detailed and reliable work on opinion polling is done by the US-based Pew Research Centre. They found in 2013 that ‘Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam.’ Roughly 75% of Muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians. And in most countries the prevailing view is that such acts are never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies.[13]

In the US, a 2011 survey found that 86% of Muslims say such tactics are rarely or never justified. An additional 7% say suicide bombings are sometimes justified and just 1% say they are often justified.[14] A 2009 study by the WorldPublicOpinion.org Network of public opinion in predominantly Muslim countries reported that ‘very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals’. This was despite respondents supporting the goal of groups like al Qaeda to expel US forces from all Muslim countries and approving of attacks on US troops in Muslim countries.[15] Of course, there are Muslims with reprehensible views and there is stronger support in some countries for terrorism including against civilians (40% in Palestine and 39% in Afghanistan according to the Pew study) but several Muslim nations have been under western attack for decades. A hardening of attitudes should be expected. What matters is that being of the Islamic faith is not, by itself, a reliable predictor of attitudes to – or participation in – terrorist acts. So long as we continue to delude ourselves as to the complexity of the reasons behind terrorism, we are throwing more bodies on the pyre.

Notes.

_________

 

[1] David Cameron  “Threat level from international terrorism raised: PM press statement,” 29th August 2014, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/threat-level-from-international-terrorism-raised-pm-press-conference

[2] To derive this figure, I have taken two estimates from H. Kettani, “World Muslim Population: 1950 – 2020,” International Journal of Environmental Science and Development (IJESD), Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2010 ( http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=300C9E31537245BA23E3D381C6B7C642?doi=10.1.1.180.3753&rep=rep1&type=pdf )and http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/

[3] Europol “EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2017”, pp. 11 & 49. The report notes that completely accurate figures are difficult to establish as the UK does not provide disaggregated data.

[4] Europol “TE-SAT 2014: EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” available at https://www.europol.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/europol_te_sat_2014_reflowable_v150%20%281%29.epub

[5] American Deaths in Terrorist Attacks, 2016 http://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_AmericanTerrorismDeaths_FactSheet_Sept2016.pdf

[6] Mythili Sampathkumar “Majority of terrorists who have attacked America are not Muslim, new study finds,” Independent 23rd June 2017, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/terrorism-right-wing-america-muslims-islam-white-supremacists-study-a7805831.html

[7]  Deaths in 2015 with ICD10 code W28 (Contact with powered lawnmower). Data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2015 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December, 2016. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2015, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html

[8] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

[9] Linda Qiu “Fact-checking a comparison of gun deaths and terrorism deaths,” 5th October 2015, available at   http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/oct/05/viral-image/fact-checking-comparison-gun-deaths-and-terrorism-/

[10] Robert A. Pape, James K. Feldman (2010) “Cutting the Fuse, The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It,” p. 20. See also Pape’s 2004 study, “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”

[11] Ibid. pp. 38-39.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Pew Research Centre “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” 30th April 2013, available at  http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-overview/#extremism-widely-rejected

[14] Ibid. “Appendix A: U.S. Muslims — Views on Religion and Society in a Global Context,” available at  http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-app-a/

[15] WorldPublicOpinion.org “Muslim Publics Oppose Al Qaeda’s Terrorism, But Agree With Its Goal of Driving US Forces Out,” 24th February 2009, available from http://worldpublicopinion.net/muslim-publics-oppose-al-qaedas-terrorism-but-agree-with-its-goal-of-driving-us-forces-out/  Two polls conducted in 2006 by Pew and Terror Free Tomorrow reported that ‘Strong opposition to terrorism was found among Muslims in seven out of ten countries polled by Pew. This is especially true in the Muslim populations of Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey, where six in ten or more say that “suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets” are “never justified.” The TFT poll of Indonesia and Pakistan found even bigger numbers rejecting all attacks on civilians. Pew also found complete rejection of terrorism among very large majorities of Muslims living in Germany, Britain, Spain and France. Trend line data available for some countries also show a significant increase in those taking this position in Indonesia and a remarkable 23 point increase in Pakistan. Only Turkey showed a slight downward movement.’ (WorldPublicOpinion.org “Large and Growing Numbers of Muslims Reject Terrorism, Bin Laden,” 30th June 2006, available at http://worldpublicopinion.net/large-and-growing-numbers-of-muslims-reject-terrorism-bin-laden/ )

Let Truth and Falsehood Grapple

In my previous article on Public Relations, I mentioned the social justification often touted as the rationale for the trade; namely to ‘ethically and effectively plead the cause of a client or organization in the freewheeling forum of public debate.’[1] As one former head of the Institute of Public Relations argued, PR professionals see themselves as paid advocates, representing the interests of their principal.[2] Indeed, Edward Bernays spoke of the PR counsellor pleading his client’s case before the ‘court of public opinion’ and, with characteristic outrecuidance, coined the term ‘Public Relations Counsellor.’[3] Such legalistic allusions pepper his writings and the PR literature generally.

A second purported purpose for PR, which Bernays and others have claimed, is that it lubricates the cogs of democracy. Lesly’s Handbook argues that PR is an ‘essential element in the communications system that informs individuals on many aspects of subjects that affect their lives’ and a ‘safety valve for freedom.’[4] Not only that but it ‘provides a means by which the public communicates its desires and interests to the institutions in our society. It interprets and speaks for the public to otherwise unresponsive organizations, while also speaking for those organizations to the public.’[5] I shan’t belabour the question of what happens when the public tries to communicate desires and interests that don’t involve purchasing decisions.

The problem with democracy, as Robert Dahl argued, is complexity. Simply put, the general public cannot have a competent grasp of the intricacies of every issue of concern. All that is practicable is a passing acquaintance with the majority of policy issues and a somewhat deeper understanding of perhaps a handful. The formal remedy to this problem is for the electorate to set broad parameters of both ends and means, which are gradually refined, at each stage, by legislatures, policy committees, and administrative bodies.[6] This democratic gearing mechanism is embraced and developed in some of the PR literature. Bernays, for instance, believed that society needed people like him to sort through ideas and reduce the otherwise baffling plethora of options to a manageable choice.[7] Therefore, we consent to let an ‘invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions.’[8]

Society, then, is a courtroom in which competing ideas, programmes, and interests are debated in the cause of The Greater Good with PR practitioners on every side looking to persuade we, the jury, to find in their favour. As John Milton said of ‘Truth’, ‘let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?’[9] There are of course many instances when PR is in Truth’s corner, for instance last year when Pepsi and New Balance found themselves sparring with both pro- and anti-Trump news sites.[10] Unfortunately, when the encounters are so often neither free nor open, Truth takes a beating.

I’m going to discuss two sides to this problem. Firstly, the disparity between corporate PR and its opponents; secondly, the disadvantage the public finds itself at when trying to decide between competing ideas.

smoke-screen-camelsTo anyone who’s read my previous posts on the great US campaigns of the 20th century, the power and technique of corporate PR will be no surprise. Recall the Committee on Public Information’s 75,000,000 publications and more than $30m of advertising in service of selling the Great War or, later, the National Association of Manufacturing’s ‘almost overwhelming propaganda of doctrine’ to sell the American Dream. Nor is mere marketing communication the only tool in the PR locker. Take for example Edelman’s advice to TransCanada in 2014 that they launch a ‘perpetual campaign to protect and enhance the value of the Energy East Pipeline and to help inoculate TransCanada from potential attacks in any arena’. This plan, in service of the then stalled[11] Keystone XL pipeline, was to be an ‘aggressive’ campaign to ‘add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.’ The targets of this ‘pressure’ campaign, which would include detailed investigation and background research, would be opposition groups, such as the Council of Canadians and the David Suzuki Foundation, as well as a ‘small community group in Ottawa that usually fights for more bike lanes and park enhancements.’[12] This case is quite typical of the mobilisation of resources involved in large scale corporate PR when public opposition is anticipated.[13]

Big business has more money, more time, more persistence, more connections, more experience and more resources that private citizens. The residents opposed to a local fracking application or an incinerator or a new road will have limited funds, either their own or donated. They will have their own lives, families, and jobs. Where big business can lobby government, individuals can only petition. Over time, a war of attrition can erode their finances, their commitment, their relationships, and their health. Not always. But often.[14] Legal remedies often provide at best pyrrhic victories with fines that aren’t large enough to effectively constrain behaviour making prosecutions merely an annoyance. Note the remarkable elision here, for instance, in a discussion of PR best practice in Managing Activism:

‘Through its experiences, this company has learnt that openness is a must. Because it operates in a ‘heavy industry’, it is occasionally prosecuted.’[15]

The other key way in which PR nobbles the jury is through its liberal use of what is known as the Third Party Technique, which has been described as ‘the heart of public relations’ and was pioneered during the promotion of tobacco.[16] Edelman, for instance,  told TransCanada that it would ‘work with third parties and arm them with the information they need to pressure opponents and distract them from their mission . . . . Third-party voices must be identified, recruited and heard to build an echo chamber of aligned voices.’[17] The Third Party Technique can involve suborning individuals thought to have authority or credibility with an audience or manufacturing ‘front groups’ or fake grassroots groups (a practice known as ‘astroturfing’),

Thus, if Burger King were to report that a Whopper is nutritious, informed consumers would probably shrug in disbelief…. And if the NutraSweet Company were to insist that the artificial sweetener aspartame has no side effects, consumers might not be inclined to believe them, either…. But if the ‘American Council on Science and Health’ and its panel of 200 ‘expert’ scientists reported that Whoppers were not so bad, consumers might actually listen…. And if the ‘Calorie Control Council’ reported that aspartame is not really dangerous, weight-conscious consumers might continue dumping the artificial sweetener in their coffee every morning without concerns.[18]

As a Communications Services manager for Burson-Marsteller told an advertising conference in 1995, third party support is essential for the ‘basic risk messages of the corporation’ and this support should ‘ideally come from medical authorities, political leaders, union officials, relevant academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators.’[19]

In 1993, for instance, Mothers Opposing Pollution (MOP), launched a highly publicised campaign in Australia against plastic milk bottles; alleging their carcinogenic properties, difficulty of disposal, and the deleterious effects of sunlight upon milk.  Their lead spokeswoman, ‘Alana Maloney’ was later revealed to be Janet Rundle, head of PR company J. R. and Associates and business partner of Trevor Munnery. Munnery owned Unlimited Public Relations, which just happened to hold the account of the Association of Liquidpaperboard Carton Manufacturers (ALC). MOP was later exposed as a front group created to disparage plastic milk bottles in order to boost ALC sales.[20]

In 2016, the Canadian comedian Cathy Jones and Dr. Vivien Brown (assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto) fronted a campaign to get women to start talking about post-menopause female sexual health and vaginal atrophy. What people would not have known, were it not for a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) investigation, was that the project was initiated and funded by Novo Nordisk Canada Inc., which makes a vaginal hormone pill.

No parties including GCI want any mention of the drug or drug company,” CBC was told. “It’s an unbranded campaign.[21]

Pharmaceutical companies employ a similar strategy, known as ‘selling in’. PR firms pay medical journalists to write articles favourable to a product in return for conferences junkets, a fee, or other incentives. Crucially, the articles are most effective when the remuneration given to the writer remains undisclosed. A similar practice occurs in the travel section of newspapers, however, in this instance it is generally made clear if a journalist has received free flights or accommodation.[22]

A further example of the believability of ‘independent experts’ can be seen in the proliferation of ‘independent’ think-tanks whose spokespeople appear in the media. Generally speaking, the political allegiance and commercial backing of these organisations is not revealed. For example, in 2001 a fellow of the right wing Institute for Economic Affairs, the philosopher Roger Scruton, wrote a pamphlet attacking the World Health Organisation − without revealing that, at the time, he was in the pay of Japan Tobacco.[23] In 2006, it was revealed that the world-renowned epidemiologist, Sir Richard Doll, had spent 20 years in the pay of Monsanto. During that time, he had written to a royal Australian commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties of Agent Orange, made by Monsanto, averring that there was no evidence it was carcinogenic.[24]

The problem here is honesty. MOP might have been right about plastic bottles, Roger Scruton and Sir Richard Doll might have been sincere in everything they said, and Cathy Jones might be struggling every day against vaginal atrophy. The ethical problem, in each case, lay in the failure to disclose that they were representing an interest. Without this honesty, to return to the legal metaphor, the jury cannot know how much credibility to give the witness on the stand.

Add to this the problems of an enfeebled press watchdog that I discussed here and one can see how unconstrained by countervailing power corporate PR frequently is. PR professionals fancy that they contribute to the marketplace of ideas but too often they belong to its dark corners with the hustlers and the card sharps. Persuasion becomes propaganda when motives are disguised and words are put in other people’s mouths. Of course, it’s impracticable for the individual to investigate every story they hear but one should always treat purportedly ‘neutral’ expertise with scepticism and ask the basic questions: Who does this ‘expert’ work for? Who commissioned this research or survey? And, most importantly, who benefits from me believing this claim?

__________

Notes

[1] Scott M. Cutlip (1994) “The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History,” p. xii.

[2] Simon Lewis, quoted in Carol Midgley, “All that spin makes many feel queasy” in The Times, 14th November 1997.

[3] Edward Bernays (1928) “Propaganda” p. 45.

[4] Philip Lesly (1998) “Lesly’s Handbook of Public Relations And Communications,” p. 7.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert Dahl (1989) “Democracy and its Critics,” It is this arrangement that Dahl calls ‘a process of successive approximation’ (pp. 336-338).

[7] Larry Tye (1998) “The Father of Spin. Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations,” p. 92

[8] Edward Bernays (1928) “Propaganda” pp. 10-11.

[9] John Milton (1644) “Aeropagitica”.

[10] Pro-Trump websites misquoted Indra Nooyi (Pepsi’s CEO) suggesting Trump supporters ‘take their business elsewhere.’ The sports shoe manufacturer, New Balance was forced to respond when its vice president of public affairs was misquoted by an anti-Trump website as saying that New Balance was the ‘official brand of the Trump revolution.’ (Ilyse Liffreing “So your brand is the victim of fake news. Now what?” PR Week 21st November 2016 available at http://www.prweek.com/article/1416264/so-brand-victim-fake-news-what )

[11] The proposed pipeline, no longer quite so stalled thanks to the intercession of President Trump, would span the 1,179 miles between the oil sands of Alberta, Canada and Steele City in Nebraska.

[12] Ian Austin “P.R. Firm Urges TransCanada to Target Opponents of Its Energy East Pipeline,” New York Times 17th November 2014, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/business/pr-firm-urges-transcanada-to-target-opponents-of-its-energy-east-pipeline.html See also Lisa Graves “Edelman TransCanada Leak: Aggressive PR for Keystone Alt,” PR Watch 18th November 2014.

[13] For more detailed discussions of specific cases, see John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton (1995) “Toxic Sludge is Good for You”; Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (2001) “Trust Us, We’re Experts!”; Nicky Hager and Bob Burton (2000) “Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign”; Robert Jackall and Janice Hirota (2000) “Image Makers, Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy”; Sharon Beder (1990) “Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism”; or Sharon Beder (2006) “Free Market Missionaries: The Corporate Manipulation of Community Values”.

[14] As Stauber and Rampton (1995, p. 14) put it twenty years ago, ‘[r]aw money enables the PR industry to mobilize private detectives, attorneys, broadcast faxes, satellite feeds, sophisticated information systems and other expensive, high tech resources to out manoeuvre, overpower and outlast true citizen reformers.’

[15] Denise Deegan (2001) “Managing Activism: A Practical Guide for Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups,” p. 102.

[16] The [a]rt of public relations is to have the appearance of disinterestedness. It stands to reason that the facts regarding the merits of any company or product are more readily believed if they are put forward with apparent spontaneity by a person or body not directly concerned with increasing its sales ( Jim Dunn (1999) “Public Relations Techniques that Work”, p. 7.) One leading PR firm employed by Monsanto, the Bivings Group, used to have an article on its website, entitled which warned that, ‘…there are some campaigns where it would be undesirable or even disastrous to let the audience know that your organization is directly involved … it simply is not an intelligent PR move. In cases such as this, it is important to first “listen” to what is being said online … Once you are plugged into this world, it is possible to make postings to these outlets that present your position as an uninvolved third party. … Perhaps the greatest advantage of viral marketing is that your message is placed into a context where it is more likely to be considered seriously’ (George Monbiot “The Fake Persuaders,” Guardian 14th May 2002 available at http://www.monbiot.com/2002/05/14/the-fake-persuaders/  )

[17] Austin, op. cit.; Graves op. cit.

[18] M. Megali and A Friedman (1991) “Masks of Deception: Corporate Front Group in America,” p. 3.

[19] No author “Third Party Techniques,” available at http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php?title=Third_Party_Techniques

[20] Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (2001) “Trust Us, We’re Experts!” p. 16.

[21]  My emphasis added. Kelly Crowe “Ads disguised as news: A drug company’s stealth marketing campaign exposed,” 5th October 2016 available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/vaginal-atrophy-analysis-1.3786547

[22] Nic Paton “When is a story not a story?” Guardian 22nd October 2001 available at https://www.theguardian.com/media/2001/oct/22/mondaymediasection5

[23] Helena Paul, Richarda Steinbrecher, Devlin Kuyek, Lucy Michaels (2003) “Hungry Corporations,” p. 66.

[24] Sarah Boseley “Renowned cancer scientist was paid by chemical firm for 20 years,” Guardian 8th December 2006 available at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2006/dec/08/smoking.frontpagenews

In Flight from Peace

It’s an unspoken assumption of mainstream political commentary in the US and UK that ‘we’ mean well. We might be naïve, idealistic, bungling, or occasionally foolish but, a few rotten apples aside, the ‘we’ nations are fundamentally benign. Official enemies, on the other hand, are always up to something, have selfish, ulterior motives and are generally bad eggs.

These two assumptions frame intellectual and media debate. When ‘enemy’ states act, such as Russia in Syria, their public statements are evaluated according to their actions and their blandishments about freedom, democracy, self-defence, and bringing stability are not taken at face value. Strategic interests are evaluated and motives deduced. This is as it should be. When the US and UK ‘intervene’ the blandishments are taken at face value, strategic interests are absent (or couched in simple terms of defence) and our actions are interpreted and, if necessary, sifted to fit with the blandishments. Words are the sole prerequisite for demonstrating intent. Imagine for a moment a BBC journalist reporting that the British or American government’s real motive in a given conflict was to exacerbate it for selfish reasons. It’s almost inconceivable. We are assumed always to desire peace and stability and toseek strenuously to avoid conflict.

I’d like to illustrate the falsity of this assumption with a handful of examples of Anglo-American interventions in the past thirty years: Iraq in 1990, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq (again) in 2002, and North Korea today. I hope these examples will demonstrate that the US and its lackey, far from being in pursuit of peace, often make strenuous attempts to avoid it.

On 2nd August 1990, long-standing US and UK ally, Saddam Hussein, ordered Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Within two days Iraq had fully annexed the small country and the world was in uproar. When Saddam realised his miscalculation, that the US would not permit the annexation, he made several attempts at a negotiated withdrawal. Ten days after the invasion, he proposed a settlement linking Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait to withdrawals from other illegally occupied Arab lands: Syria from Lebanon and Israel from the territories it conquered in 1967.[1] As the New York Times reported,

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq suggested that he might withdraw his forces from Kuwait if Israel first withdrew from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and if Syria pulled its soldiers out of Lebanon. Washington and Israel dismissed such a deal.[2]

A few days later Iraq made another offer, described by one official who specialised in Middle East affairs as ‘serious’ and ‘negotiable’, to withdraw from Kuwait and allow foreigners to return in exchange for sanctions being lifted, guaranteed access to the Persian Gulf, and sole control of the Rumailah oil field, which extends two miles under Kuwait. Significantly, it made no mention of the previous precondition that the US pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia.[3] The proposal again received little response.

In December that year, Iraq made another proposal to exit Kuwait in exchange for a US commitment not to attack its soldiers as they withdrew. They also asked for foreign troops to leave the region, for an agreement on the Palestinian issue, and a ban on all WMD in the region (a goal formally adopted a year later in Security Council Resolution 687). US officials described the offer as ‘interesting’ and signalling ‘Iraqi interest in a negotiated settlement.’ A State Department Mideast expert described the proposal as a ‘serious prenegotiation position.’ The demand for an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories was dropped and it was made clear that a deal over Palestine was not a precondition for Iraq’s withdrawal. The White House, as Newsday reported, ‘immediately dismissed the proposal’.[4]

Were the offers genuine? Was it justifiable to give Iraq any sort of concession for withdrawing? We’ll never have an answer to the first question but, for the second, it seems clear that while Saddam was looking for a way to withdraw while saving face, the US appeared bent on backing him into a corner. One might argue that invaders should not be negotiated with, that they should never gain one iota from their criminality but that was not the US (or Israeli) position, then or now.

Iraq’s peaceful withdrawal might well have happened without a further shot being fired. It seems, however, that the US Government was intent on making war happen, presumably seeing the crisis as an opportunity to consolidate its hold on the region. Why else did Pentagon officials claim, in an allegation later disproved but never retracted, that satellite images (which were never provided) showed Iraq had massed 250,000 troops and 1,500 tanks on the Saudi border?[5] A diplomatic solution, particularly with UN involvement, would have undercut US prestige and delegitimised future US military interventionism. Instead rejectionism and falsification to fight peace.

In 1999, at the Rambouillet Conference, the US again acted to forestall the possibility of a peaceful resolution; this time to the Kosovo War. It did so by adding conditions to the text of the  proposed Rambouillet Agreement that were calculated to be unacceptable to the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Annex B of the proposed ‘peace treaty’ included a Status of Forces Agreement, which required that NATO forces ‘under all circumstances and at all times, shall be immune from the Parties’ [i.e. FRY], jurisdiction in respect of any civil, administrative, criminal, or disciplinary offenses which may be committed by them in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ and would ‘enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout the FRY including associated airspace and territorial waters.’[6] Note that this applied not merely to Kosovo but that NATO was demanding absolute, unfettered reign in the entirety of the FRY.[7]

In other extraordinary provisions, NATO insisted that ‘the economy of Kosovo shall function on free market principles’ and that state assets be privatised. No less extraordinary, when this was reported by the Australian journalist, John Pilger, the Guardian’s diplomatic Editor, Ian Black, went so far as to flatly deny that this first passage existed at all.[8] The reader may verify this for themselves.[9] As Michael Parenti put it, the ‘agreement’ was not an agreement at all but an ‘ultimatum for unconditional surrender’.[10] This was conceded later by the second most senior British defence minister during the conflict, Lord Gilbert, in testimony to Parliament:

I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time. I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable: how could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate.[11]

Henry Kissinger – never one to let a war go unmongered – judged that the Rambouillet text was ‘a provocation, an excuse to start bombing,’ while James Rubin (then Assistant US Secretary of State for Public Affairs) conceded in 2000 that the US’s ‘internal goal was not to get a peace agreement at Rambouillet.’[12]  The combination of the unacceptable demands of access and immunity coupled with the remarkable inclusion, in a supposed peace treaty, of US demands about how the Kosovan economy was to operate, is perhaps best explained by John Norris, former communications director for the then US deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott:

It was Yugoslavia’s resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform – not the plight of the Kosovar Albanians – that best explains NATO’s war.[13]

The US justified their invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 on the grounds that the Taliban had refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, whom they suspected of involvement in the September 11th atrocity.  Yet in fact the Taliban made several offers to extradite bin Laden; their mistake was to ask the US to provide evidence. The Independent reported at the time,

[Afghanistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Haji Abdul Kabir] said: “If America were to step back from the current policy, then we could negotiate.” Mr bin Laden could be handed over to a third country for trial, he said. “We could discuss which third country.”

But… Washington rejected the Taliban offer out of hand. “When I said no negotiations I meant no negotiations,” Mr Bush said. “We know he’s guilty. Turn him over. There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt.”[14]

In fact, the US had demanded bin Laden’s extradition for several years but had always refused to provide evidence -generally held to be a normal component of an extradition request. The offers culminated in a proposal in October 2001, reported by the Daily Telegraph, when a delegation from Pakistan, led by Qazi Hussain Ahmadn (leader of Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami party) went to Afghanistan to negotiate with the head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar:

Omar agreed that bin Laden should be taken to Pakistan, where he would be held under house arrest in Peshawar. The proposal, which had bin Laden’s approval, was that within the framework of Islamic shar’ia law evidence of his alleged involvement in the American attacks would be placed before an international tribunal.

The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America.[15]

This deal was reportedly blocked by the then dictator of Pakistan (and off-and-on US client) General Pervez Musharraf. One doesn’t need to read between the lines much:

Gen Musharraf and Wendy Chamberlain, America’s ambassador to Pakistan, were told of the mission in advance and yesterday Qazi met the Pakistani president to relay the proposal.

“He was told that, while he backed the idea, the stumbling block was that he could not guarantee bin Laden’s safety”…’.[16]

Could the Taliban have been trusted? Would they have handed bin Laden over? We can’t know for certain because the avenue was closed off. Even if one does accept (and I do not) the proposition that it is acceptable to bomb a country when its government refuses to hand over a suspect, it is even more outlandish to suggest that no evidence need be laid as part of a strenuous effort to avoid violence. The US made no such effort.  As with Iraq in 2003, war was not ‘the last resort’.[17]

I won’t unearth the complex tale of US and UK machinations that led in 2003 to our second major attack on Iraq. The inspections were a failed attempt to give the imprimatur of due process to a calculated act of aggression, betrayed by the obvious frustration shown by US and UK officials every time inspectors failed to find any proscribed weapons. Nor is there space to discuss in detail Iraq’s last minute, desperate offers to avert an invasion, which included allowing in thousands of US troops to look for weapons and an offer to hold internationally-monitored elections.[18] It’s enough to draw attention to three matters to further illustrate my argument.

Firstly, during 2002 – before the invasion-proper – the US and UK intensified their decade-long bombing of Iraq, in order to ‘put pressure on the regime’ and provoke the Iraqi government into action that would justify war. Regime change being a crime in international law it was necessary to do something that would ‘create the conditions in which [Britain] could legally support military action.’ [19]

Secondly, in March 2003, as a supposed compromise, the British attack dog proposed six requirements that Iraq would have to satisfy in order to avert war.  One was to commit to ‘surrender all mobile bio-production laboratories for destruction’ – a demand with which Iraq could never have complied because it never had any. Another demand, which was either inexcusably inept or monstrously cynical was,

A public statement by Saddam Hussein, broadcast in Iraq, admitting possession of weapons of mass destruction, stating his regime has decided to give them up and pledging to cooperate with UN weapon inspectors.[20]

Of course, there are some who say that the invasion was never about WMD (they are correct) but instead was about removing Saddam Hussein (they are wrong). On the eve of the invasion the BBC reported,

President George W Bush’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said allied troops were going to enter Iraq “no matter what”.

“If Saddam were to leave, American forces, coalition forces, would still enter Iraq – hopefully they would then be able to enter peacefully because the Iraqi army would not have been given orders to fire on them, and then they could carry out the disarmament of Iraq,”[21]

Iraq was to be invaded one way or another. If a direct casus belli could not be manufactured through bombing then one of several pretexts would do. And obviously cynical attempts at ‘compromise’ -with demands so unreasonable only trained journalists could take them seriously – would be used to provide a veneer of reasonability.

Fast forward to today and the US is threatening North Korea and demanding an end to its nuclear programme but refusing to explore what might be the most straightforward route to achieving this: to accept North Korea’s offer to freeze its nuclear programme. As the New York Times reported only in June,

The Trump administration has come under growing pressure to open negotiations on a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in return for reducing the American military footprint in the Korean Peninsula, according to American officials and foreign diplomats.

Versions of the proposal, floated by Beijing for several months… But White House officials say they are not interested in any proposal that would require the United States to lift military or economic pressure on the North, even in return for a moratorium on tests.[22]

A similar offer, made to the Obama Administration in 2016, was rebuffed on the grounds that it was insincere; the North Koreans would ‘have to do better than that.’[23]

The relationship between the US and N. Korea has always been riddled with mistrust and the latter’s record of compliance has been far from spotless. As Robert Carlin and John W Lewis noted in 2007, the underlying perception in the US has long been, ‘you can’t deal with them’. Yet, as they observed, this neglects a long history of cooperation. ‘Forgotten in the reality that from 1993 to 2000, the U. S. Government had twenty or more issues under discussion with the DPRK in a wide variety of settings. A large percentage of those talks ended in agreements or made substantial progress.’[24]

Yet, on occasions when an agreement has been reached, the US has done something to blow it and the media has compliantly blamed DPRK.  Significant progress in denuclearizing N. Korea had been made by 2005 when the incoming Bush Administration wrecked the deal. As Bruce Cumings recorded in Le Monde Diplomatique,

On September 19, 2005, the United States and the DPRK agreed on certain principles leading to denuclearization, including the US commitment not to attack North Korea. Three days later, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the DPRK, which it accused of engaging in illegal activities with Banco Delta Asia in Macau, China, Cutting the country from the international financial system. It is now known that very few incriminating evidence was included in the US Treasury file, which was intended to torpedo the September negotiations.[25]

There’s a recurring patter to the US and UK’s ‘search for peace’ in the world. Arrogant ultimatums, a refusal to compromise, unreasonable demands calculated to be rejected, and attempts to manufacture justifications. All the while, instead of benevolence, a cynical opportunism that sees every crisis as an opportunity to extend and entrench power. In each case, the only peace sought is that found while strolling through a graveyard of one’s enemies.

________________

Notes.

[1] Editorial, “The issue is still Kuwait,” Financial Times (London), August 13, 1990, p. 12

[2] Michael R. Gordon “Confrontation in the Gulf; Bush orders navy to halt all shipments of Iraq’s oil and almost all its imports,” New York Times 13th August 1990 available at http://www.nytimes.com/1990/08/13/world/confrontation-gulf-bush-orders-navy-halt-all-shipments-iraq-s-oil-almost-all-its.html?pagewanted=all

[3] Knut Royce “Middle East Crisis Secret Offer Iraq Sent Pullout Deal to U.S.; [ALL EDITIONS]” Newsday 29th August 1990, archived copy available at https://www.scribd.com/document/38969813/MIDDLE-EAST-CRISIS-Secret-Offer-Iraq-Sent-Pullout-Deal-to-U-S-ALL-EDITIONS

[4] Knut Royce “Iraq Offers Deal to Quit Kuwait U.S. rejects it, but stays `interested’” 3rd January 1991, archived copy available at https://www.scribd.com/document/38969954/Iraq-Offers-Deal-to-Quit-Kuwait-U-S-rejects-it-but-stays-interested-NASSAU-AND-SUFFOLK-Edition See also PATRICK E. TYLER “Confrontation in the Gulf; Arafat Eases Stand on Kuwait-Palestine Link,” New York Times 3rd January 1991, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1991/01/03/world/confrontation-in-the-gulf-arafat-eases-stand-on-kuwait-palestine-link.html

[5] Scott Peterson “In war, some facts less factual,” Christian Science Monitor 6th September 2002. See also John MacArthur (1992) “Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War,” pp. 173.

[6] See “Text of Military Annex to Draft Rambouillet Accords” paras. 6a,b,c, 8 and 9 available at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmdfence/347/34726.htm

[7] In fact, the text does contain a qualified promise to abide by FRY law in para. 2, which states that ‘…all NATO personnel shall respect the laws applicable in the FRY, whether Federal, Republic, Kosovo, or other, insofar as compliance with those laws is compatible with the entrusted tasks/mandate and shall refrain from activities not compatible with the nature of the Operation.’ However, since the clause begins by stating that this is  ‘without prejudice to their privileges and immunities under this Appendix,’ the promise is almost meaningless.

[8] Ian Black rubbished Pilger’s claims, stating: “In an earlier version of his thesis, billed without irony as ‘amazing’ in last week’s New Statesman, Pilger provided more detail. He quoted (correctly) from section 11 of appendix B, about NATO’s use of airports, roads, rails and ports. Inexplicably, he then added the sentence: ‘The economy shall function in accordance with free market principles.’

“Damning stuff that. Proof that Nato really is the military arm of unreconstructed international vampire capitalism. But that sentence does not exist.” (Ian Black “Bad News” Guardian 19th May 1999, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/may/19/balkans9 emphasis mine)

[9] http://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/990123_RambouilletAccord.pdf The relevant passage is Chapter 4, paragraph 1 on page 46.

[10] Michael Parenti (2002) “To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” p. 112.

[11] Gilbert quoted in Patrick Wintour “War Strategy Ridiculed” Guardian, 21st July 2000 available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/jul/21/balkans1

[12] Henry Kissinger quoted in Ian Bancroft “Serbia’s anniversary is a timely reminder” Guardian 24th March 2009, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/mar/24/serbia-kosovo ; James Rubin on the Charlie Rose Show 18th April 2000, transcript and video available at https://charlierose.com/videos/28943

[13] John Norris ( 2005) “Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo” p. xxiii. As this is a central contention of the book for which Talbot himself wrote the foreward, I think it’s reasonable to assume it has Talbot’s support.

[14] Andrew Buncombe “Bush rejects Taliban offer to surrender bin Laden,” Independent 14th October 2001 available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/bush-rejects-taliban-offer-to-surrender-bin-laden-9143208.html

[15] Patrick Bishop “Pakistan blocks bin Laden trial,” Daily Telegraph 4th October 2001 available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/1358464/Pakistan-blocks-bin-Laden-trial.html

[16] Ibid.

[17] Sir John Chilcot’s damning conclusion at the end of his inquiry was that ‘the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.’ http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-inquiry/sir-john-chilcots-public-statement/

[18] Julian Borger, Brian Whitaker and Vikram Dodd “Saddam’s desperate offers to stave off war” Guardian 7th November 2003, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/nov/07/iraq.brianwhitaker

[19] Michael Smith “The War Before the War” New Statesman 30th May 2005 available at http://www.newstatesman.com/node/195307 Smith article quotes the infamous ‘Downing Street Memo,’ written by civil servant Matthew Rycroft in July 2002, which was minutes of a meeting of  senior British government, defence and intelligence personnel including the head of MI6. The full text can be read here: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB328/II-Doc14.pdf

[20] Staff and Agencies “Straw spells out key tests for Saddam,” Guardian 12th March 2003 available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/mar/12/iraq.uk1 1

[21] BBC News “Saddam rejects Bush ultimatum” 18th March 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2861029.stm

[22] David E. Sanger and  Gardiner Harris  “U.S. Pressed to Pursue Deal to Freeze North Korea Missile Tests,” New York Times 21st June 2017 available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/world/asia/north-korea-missle-tests.html

[23] Associated Press “Obama rejects North Korea’s nuclear offer: ‘You’ll have to do better than that’” Guardian 24th April 2016 available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/obama-response-north-korea-nuclear-tests-deal

[24] Robert Carlin and John W Lewis (2008) “Negotiating with North Korea 1992-2007” available at http://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/Negotiating_with_North_Korea_1992-2007.pdf

[25] Bruce Cumings “Et la Corée du Nord redevint fréquentable” Le Monde Diplomate October 2007, available at https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2007/10/CUMINGS/15210 I have relied on Google Translate for the English version.

The Timorous Watchdog

The history of Public Relations did not end in the 1950s although, for the time being, my history of it does. It suffices to say that, while the past 70 years have seen its fortunes rise and fall, the trend has always been upward.

In 2015, the top five largest PR firms globally (Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Fleischman Hillard, Ketcham, Burson Marstelller, and MSL Group) had combined revenues of $3.7bn. All but MSL are American. The largest British firm was Brunswick (twelfth on the list), with revenues in 2015 of $220m.[1] It’s perhaps a portent that ninth on the list, BlueFocus, is Chinese.

The industry today has resources, reach, and techniques that would doubtless dazzle pioneers like Ivy Lee, George Creel, and Edward Bernays but, beneath the 21st Century lustre, they’d recognise the same driving purpose. While still deployed to sugar the pill of bigotry, mendacity, and atrocity we call ‘war,’ PR has long been used mainly to further private interests: businesses, charities, public institutions, and so forth. In short, to sell.

The social justification for public relations in a free society, Scott Cutlip argues, is to ‘ethically and effectively plead the cause of a client or organization in the freewheeling forum of public debate. It is a basic democratic right that every idea, individual, and institution shall have a full and fair hearing in the public forum  that their merit ultimately must be determined by their ability to be accepted in the marketplace.’[2] I’ll examine the practice of this theory next week. Right now, however, I’ll concern myself with what should be a bulwark against the hucksters, the flimflam, and the snake oil: the free press.

In terms of boots on the ground, journalists in the US have long been outnumbered by PR battalions. According to US Bureau of Labor statistics, as of May 2016 there were 40,090 reporters and correspondents compared with 226,940 PR specialists; a ratio of 5.6 to 1 in PR’s favour.[3] In the UK, matters are rather different. The most recent Labour Force Survey estimates that, in 2016, there were 84,000 journalists and 49,000 PR professionals but this does encompass an unexplained single year increase of 20,000. Most of that increase is accounted for by those describing themselves as self-employed or freelance. With those excluded entirely, the overall number of journalists drops to 47,000.[4]

The relationship between journalism and PR has traditionally been held to be uneasy at best.  In 2011, for instance, a YouGov survey of journalists found that just one percent of respondents trusted PR agencies ‘a great deal’ and sixty-one percent did not trust them ‘very much’ or ‘at all’.[5] The Senior Principal at Flatiron Communications, Peter Himler, writes of the ‘historical love-hate relationship between journalists and PR professionals,’ which results not merely from mistrust but also competing priorities and pressure of work (for instance, PR professionals using electronic systems to deluge journalists’ inboxes with ‘greater volumes of misguided or inane story pitches’).[6] The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade describes journalists as the people with the  ‘requisite scepticism about PR blurbs and supposed knowledge of the topic to provide readers/consumers with an analysis that will allow them to make an informed decision/choice.’[7]

The conflict model, however, has recently been recast as a “trading” relationship in which journalists, working in under-resourced and under-staffed newsrooms, increasingly rely on PR sources for editorial copy in return for access to editorial columns for PR stories. In Flat Earth News, Nick Davies paints a fascinating picture of an emaciated and timorous watchdog: starved of time and money, in thrall to the powerful, and forced to run cheap, safe stories to attract new readers and affirm the prejudices of those they already have,

The overt links to the media and the whole well-worn idea of ‘spin’ scarcely begin to capture the breadth and ingenuity of the tactics which are now used by the global industry of public relations. And it is this huge industry of manipulation – targeted at a structurally vulnerable media –  which feeds falsehood and distortion directly into our news channels , without the old-fashioned need to use proprietors or advertisers as levers.[8]

The advent of audience analytics means that for many major news retailers content is no longer driven by journalists’ intuition but a data-driven assessment of consumer preferences.[9] A recent survey of British journalists argues that it ‘remains unclear to what extent they feel bullied by this into the clickbait game, rather than feeling that they can use the data to make better, independent decisions about how to provide a service the audience values.’[10] Journalists at the large UK regional news publisher Trinity Mirror, for instance, have reportedly been told to ‘focus relentlessly on the content that we know gives us the most return for our effort… and [be] ruthless about content that doesn’t,’ with regular performance assessments ‘taking into account audience traffic’ to their content.[11]

In fact, this is merely the latest development in a much longer trend. As far back as 1955, the then Daily Herald (now The S*n) used market research to review its content before deciding to ‘devote less space to political and industrial coverage and more to human interest stories, photos, and strip cartoons.’[12] This was identified as the best way to rebuild circulation and attract women who were ‘vital to the advertising department.’[13] Newspapers have also long been divided into sections to facilitate advertisers targeting of specific audiences.

Without time to check details, to go out into the world and make contacts, reporters are reduced to ‘churnalism,’ to the ‘passive processing of material which overwhelmingly tends to be supplied for them by outsiders, particularly wire agencies and PR.’[14] One source reported this month in the Press Gazette ‘painted a picture of a working life where journalists do little other than rejig the work of others, adding pictures, headlines and adjusting the copy to avoid falling foul of copyright laws.’[15] A survey in 2015 found a large majority believe time for researching stories has decreased and the influence of profit-making pressures, PR activity, and advertising considerations has strengthened.[16] An ironic consequence of this is that at least one national newspaper website is haemorrhaging its graduate trainees – to PR and marketing roles. 

Writers such as John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton and Jeff & Marie Blyskal have attested over the past thirty years to a similar picture in the US with genuinely independent journalism gutted as a handful a mega corporations have swallowed thousands of titles. Today, ninety percent of US media companies are owned by six corporations.[17] Thousands of local  newspapers have been asset-stripped until only small, demoralised workforces remain; incapable of investigative journalism. Instead, ‘news’papers become merely avenues for marketing material, celebrity gossip, and anything else thought to increase circulation and, therefore, the available acreage of  ‘brain space.’[18] As PR Week recently said of the US scene, hacks ‘cover larger beats, produce more stories, and generate more page views than ever before.’[19]

The increase in the media’s reliance of PR material is deeply concerning given that it began from an already high base. One British study in 2006 found that almost twenty percent of newspaper stories and seventeen percent of broadcast stories in their sample were ‘verifiably derived mainly or wholly from PR material or activity.’[20] In a further eleven percent of press, and fourteen percent of broadcast stories, PR had an ‘agenda setting role’. Interestingly, for broadcast media, stories presented by news anchors alone tended to be sourced ‘mainly or wholly’ from PR material. Making journalists reliant on PR material means that PR sets the agenda. Financial Times journalist and Director of Journalism at Reuters Oxford International Institute for Journalism John Lloyd concurs,

The normal journalistic approach to PRs i.e. dogs and lampposts is grossly self-serving from the point of view of journalists. It glosses over, ignores or even denies the fact that much of current journalism both broadcast and press is public relations in the sense that stories, ideas, features and interviews are either suggested, or in the extreme actually written by public relations people. Until that becomes open and debated between PR people and journalists, we will continue to have this artificially wide gulf where journalists pose as fearless seekers of truth and PRs are slimy creatures trying to put one over on us. It is not remotely like that.[21]

And PR isn’t just about promoting stories, it’s also about suppressing them. PR agencies can threaten to cut off the drip feed of stories on which harried journalists are dependent or they can offer ‘better’ stories in exchange for silence. Or they use stronger measures, as when Ketchum put pressure on US TV stations not to promote David Steinman’s Diet for a Poisoned Planet.

Ketchum obtained details of the book tour and TV and radio appearances that Steinman had planned. They called each media outlet and hassled them to drop the interview or to allow an industry spokesman on the show to present a balanced case. Through the American Council on Science and Health, an industry front group and client of Ketchum, they lobbied the US government to work against the book. Dr William Marcus, a senior science advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency, who had written the book’s foreword was pressured to withdraw it. He refused and was later fired from the EPA.[22]

It’s perhaps unreasonable to expect the corporate press to hold PR to account. They are, after all, merely subdivisions of the same business architecture, both intended to make a profit and dependent on the corporate capitalist structure to exist. PR is concerned with selling a product, the corporate media is concerned with selling an audience to advertisers. But there are still decent journalists trying to work within the corporate structure whose ability to do what should be their job is undercut by every new round of ‘rationalisation.’

The more the press is denuded of its muscle the more ‘source-based’ journalism -printing what people want you to know – will consume investigative journalism -printing what people don’t want you to know. And news, as Randolph Hearst said, ‘is what someone does not want you to print – the rest is advertising.’

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Notes

[1] Figures sourced from The Holmes Report “Global Top 250 PR Agency Ranking 2016,” available at https://www.holmesreport.com/ranking-and-data/global-communications-report/2016-pr-agency-rankings/top-250 Note that six firms are listed as Burson Marsteller and MSL Group were joint fifth.

[2] Scott M. Cutlip (1994) “The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History,” p. xii.

[3] US Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics   https://www.bls.gov/oes/#data

[4] Office for National Statistics (August 2016) “EMP04: Employment by occupation,” available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/employmentbyoccupationemp04

[5] Unknown Author (2011) “Over 60 per cent of journalists think PR agencies cannot be trusted,” in PR Moment, available at

http://www.prmoment.com/category/pr-research/over-60-per-cent-of-journalists-think-pr-agencies-cannot-be-trusted

[6] Peter Himler “The Journalist And The PR Pro: A Broken Marriage?” Forbes 14th March 2014, available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhimler/2013/03/14/the-journalist-the-pr-pro-a-broken-marriage/#51da87a33a41

[7] Roy Greenslade “More PRs and fewer journalists threatens democracy,” The Guardian Online Thursday 4 October 2012 available at https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2012/oct/04/marketingandpr-pressandpublishing

[8] Nick Davies (2008) “Flat Earth News,” p. 167.

[9] The shift from print to online readers, along with software such as  Chartbeat, NewsWhip, and Parse.ly, generates huge amounts of data on what is read and shared and by whom. This information is increasingly being used to prioritise stories (Neil Thurman, Alessio Cornia, and Jessica Kunert (2016) “Journalists in the UK” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, p. 36 available at https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Journalists%20in%20the%20UK.pdf )

[10] Thurman et. al. (2016) p. 4.

[11] Dominic Ponsford “Journalists to be given personal online audience growth targets after job cuts at Trinity Mirror Midlands” Press Gazette 9th June 2015, available at http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/journalists-be-given-personal-online-audience-growth-targets-after-job-cuts-trinity-mirror-midlands/

[12] James Curran and June Seaton (2010) “Power Without Responsibility. Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain,” p. 85.

[13] ‘Daily Herald reader interest surveys recommendations,’ p. 8 quoted in Curran and Seaton (2010), p. 85.

[14] Davies (2008) p.73.

[15] Dominic Ponsford “Source: ‘Ripping culture’ at national newspaper website prompts most graduate trainees to leave journalism for PR,” Press Gazette, 3rd August 2017, available at http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/source-ripping-culture-at-national-newspaper-website-prompts-most-graduate-trainees-to-leave-journalism-for-pr/

[16] Thurman et. al. (2016) p. 7.

[17] See John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton (1995) “Toxic Sludge is Good for You!” or Jeff and Marie Blyskal (1987) “PR: How the Public Relations Industry Writes the News”. See also Michael Corcoran “Democracy in Peril: Twenty Years of Media Consolidation Under the Telecommunications Act,” Truthout 11th February 2016 available at http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/34789-democracy-in-peril-twenty-years-of-media-consolidation-under-the-telecommunications-act

[18] Patrick LeLay, the head of the French media giant, TF1, described the purpose of his company thus ‘There are many ways of talking about television. But from a business perspective, let’s be realistic: fundamentally speaking, the job of TF1 is to help Coca-Cola to sell its product … If an advertising message is to register, the viewer’s brain needs to be made available.’ The same reasoning applies to print media.

[19] Dylan Tweney (2017) “What Responsibility Does PR Have to the Dying Media?” PR Week, 28th February 2017, available at http://www.prweek.com/article/1425774/responsibility-does-pr-dying-media

[20] Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams Bob Franklin (2008): A Compromised Fourth Estate?, Journalism Studies, 9:1, 1-20.

[21] Quoted in Lewis et al. (2008).

[22] Corporate Watch “Public relations and lobbying industry an overview,” April 2003, available at https://corporatewatch.org/content/corporate-watch-pr-industry-pr-and-media

 

 

I Will Not ‘Move On.’

Tony Blair almost makes this atheist wish for a hell. Today’s ruling by the High Court is reasonable in its own terms. There is no crime of aggression in British law and, even were we to enact one tomorrow, it would be questionable to apply it retroactively. With the International Criminal Court unable to act on the events of 2003, it seems all legal routes are closed. There is no justice. Just us.

This is our shame as a nation. Britain, which postures and swaggers at summits and conferences and brandishes its ‘democracy’ and its ‘rule of law’ literally has no mechanism for laying a million skulls at Blair’s feet and demanding a reckoning.

I’m not going to rehearse the arguments of 2003 here. I’m done with that. As the invasion loomed, I spent months in fruitless debate with journalists and message board posters arguing the toss over every issue, supplying reams of citations and hoping to hammer home to each interlocutor the savage injustice of the attack. On some level, I was doubtless assuaging my own guilt, hoping that one more pointless victory online would somehow be the toothpick that stopped the monster’s jaws from snapping shut. I literally pleaded with some journalists to expose the lies, which were so easily refuted if one had the will to do so, to stop the tanks in their tracks. I hoped to the last that by forcing Britain from the train the whole murderous campaign could be derailed. Even afterward, I continued the arguments; as if any of them would restore a son to his mother or arms to a body.

The lies and hypocrisy still burn today. No, there were no weapons of mass destruction, save for the decayed remnants we already knew to be there. No, Saddam was not working with terrorists. No, he didn’t hate America. The WMD pretext in ashes, Blair now argues that it was ‘still right to remove Saddam’ -eliding the truth that the US announced it would invade even if Saddam and his family went into exile. Now it’s portrayed as a great humanitarian enterprise gone awry -our noble vision to bring democracy brought low by our own naivete and Arab scheming. We didn’t wage a war – we didn’t go out of our way to provoke a war – no, we were ‘sucked into’ the war. We were the victims. Iraq was wearing a short skirt, your honour.

No, I will not forget. We weren’t asked to help the Iraqis. We weren’t asked what could be done to free them from their dictator. That would have delivered the wrong answer. That would have led us to first stop doing what were doing to keep him in power. We’d been keeping him in power since the 1970s, even after the first Gulf War when the US had actively stopped Iraqis overthrowing Saddam in order to maintain the ‘regional balance’ (in US favour).

We were told that they were a threat; a danger so great that we had no choice to begin killing them. Imagine the media coverage if we had journalists who had the guts to say that. We’re not ‘commencing operations,’ we beginning to kill. “We started killing at 1am and my sources tell me they will go on killing Iraqis until they stop fighting back.”

The invasion was not a British decision but enabling it was. The attack was inevitable and the inspections just adding to the torture. Every time Blair went through the motions of responding to Hans Blix he knew that it was a charade, that it was a side show while troops were massed and armour transported. Did he give ordinary Iraqis hope? Did any of them genuinely pray for inspections for be a success, hoping that the nice Mr Blair, who looked so honest, so trustworthy, so reasonable, was telling the truth? Iraq in 2003 was a nation of 26 million people, half of whom were under 15. In the final weeks, the price of Valium skyrocketed because Iraqi parents were trying desperately to get their kids to sleep. Blair knowingly have them false hope: that maybe, just maybe, the bombs wouldn’t fall.

And how I loathe the journalists who affect world-weary cynicism but trot after ‘statesmen’ like puppies, tails all waggy. How I loathe their plastic compassion and the pompous declamations that ‘something must be done,’ that they ‘can’t stand idly by’. Their tears fall and dry to order, always on tap to grease the wheels of the war machine. Iraq, Libya, Syria, soon Iran or N. Korea or Venezuela; they care as long as it’s convenient to their masters. Vapid hacks who were musing on their favourite Starbucks last week are pontificating on international politics the next. Simpering New Labour apparatchiks tutting at me for not considering Tony Blair’s ‘legacy’ in the round – as if Sure Start and the Minimum fucking Wage can be put on a set of scales drenched in blood.

NSAnd how I resent being told to ‘get over it’; as if rage over Iraq were some hang-up, some teenage obsession and that caring about all those poor little brown people is just so passé. We live in a country that can’t stop commemorating World War One and Two. We’re constantly being told how grateful we should be to The Fallen, how we owe them our freedom. Even today, on the state-sanctioned commemoration of Passchendaele, the New Statesman retweeted their article telling us to ‘move on’. Yet our press pilloried Jeremy Corbyn for not bowing deeply enough at the Cenotaph -when it’s our dead ‘moving on’ is forbidden. We know the names of our dead. I’ve lost count of the number of articles about the ‘costs’ of Iraq that number our dead but can’t even be bothered to give the weight in tons of the Iraqis we’ve murdered.

If we had justice, Tony Blair would be sent to Iraq. He’d be locked in one of Saddam’s old palaces with a hammer and a chisel. And every day he’d be visited by Iraqis who’d hand him small slips of paper, each one bearing the name of one of the dead. And he’d have to carve every one of those names into the walls until nobody was left uncommemorated. Only then, would be allowed to ‘move on’.

I will not get over it. I will not forgive. I will not forget. And until there is justice I will not move on.

Selling America to the Americans

Last week, I sketched the outlines of Public Relations’s development during the period from World War One through to the beginning of the next global conflict, World War Two. Rapid economic growth during the 1920s saw PR flourish. Business, seeing the importance of thought control in formally democratic societies, drew upon and expanded the techniques developed by the American and British propagandists who marketed the ‘Great’ War. Then, when the US economy collapsed in 1929, PR was deployed in order to maintain popular consent for the corporate capitalist system and forestall the perceived threat of revolution.

This project was still in motion when World War II came. As the nation pulled together pressure for social and economic reform faded behind ‘national’ priorities. ‘War and war only,’ wrote the philosopher Walter Benjamin, ‘can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system.’[i] For business, the fortunes of war were mixed. The wartime ‘miracle of production’ ‘symbolized one of the finest hours of the free enterprise system’, restoring to it a measure of prestige.[ii] Profits rose, business control over the economy broadened, and the Marshall Plan opened European markets and was a lever against left-leaning governments.[iii] Nonetheless, business fretted that the ‘miracle’ came at a price.

Since the government had regulated so much wartime production, business feared that success had strengthened relations between government and labour unions and promoted continued interventionism. They also feared that the American public was once again prey to ‘strange and bewildering doctrines’ about mutualism, cooperation, and industrial democracy. Surveys conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation and the Psychological Corporation found that people neither ‘feared nor understood State Socialism’ and neither craved nor understood the system business likes to call ‘free enterprise’. One prominent captain of industry of the time, W. W. Suitt stated publicly that,

the thinking of the general public must turn from acceptance of controls, restrictions and regulations placed as a war-time exigency on business as well as individuals, to a demand on the part of the voter for a return to a system where a work economy can function –– where business can seek its own level in a free competitive enterprise.[iv]

this-is-americaAs the President of Sun Oil, J. Howard Pew put it at the time, business must not ‘let the praise now being showered on industry blind us to the fact that our American way of life barely survived the onslaught against it in the thirties’.[v] Nor had the danger passed as, emboldened, the working class  might extend its influence beyond pay and conditions to assail the sacred domains of pricing and investment.[vi] Note that, once again, the ‘American way of life’ was under potential threat from the American people.

These fears of business highlight one of the late Alex Carey’s most telling insights: because modern wars require broad-based support, wartime propaganda has little choice but to valorise the ‘humane, egalitarian, democratic character of the home society in a way that no elite or business interest has any intention of allowing actually to come about.’[vii] The proposition has become only more absurd in the present day, when humanitarianism and ‘bringing democracy to the world’ can be taken seriously only when facts are scratched from the page.  Back in 1946, the hollow promise of a ‘world made safe for democracy’ would be followed by a PR campaign to ensure that such elevated notions never penetrated those realms properly reserved to the Captains of Industry. A year before war’s end, business began to prepare for the next war, its gaze fixed once more on the enduring foe.

When international hostilities closed, business assessed that its position had indeed declined. Following the rash of strikes during 1945-46, business writer Whiting Williams warned of industrial unrest that threatened ‘nothing less than a catastrophic civil war.’[viii]  According to the sociologist, Robert Lynd, the ‘old liberal enterprise system’ had to ‘fight for its life’. PR firms eagerly stoked these anxieties – one grim prognosis giving the  ‘present economic system, and the men who run it… three years — maybe five at the outside — to resell our so-far preferred way of life as against competing systems…’[ix] Business would have to act quickly, while the afterglow of the war remained. As the War Advertising Council concluded, because the nation’s wartime information mechanism had been ‘powered almost entirely by American business’, with the war over ‘business could ill-afford to abandon the powerful advantage spawned by the image of this “unselfish” contribution to the war effort.’[x]

9eced8de366d0cd8ab3dc94e073bc17b--free-poster-team-usaTo achieve the required reconversion of thought, business found itself with remarkable new resources. To manage war-time PR, Roosevelt had created the Office of War Information (OWI), a less innovative scion of the CPI. In peacetime this released 100,000 cutting-edge practitioners into Civvy Street. A new generation of firms emerged, including modern day giants Edelman and Burson-Marsteller. PR technique was being studied on campuses throughout the nation and the number of academic articles and professional journals increased markedly.[xi] By 1949, there were 500 independent PR firms, many with annual turnovers exceeding half a million dollars as well as 4,000 corporations with dedicated departments.[xii] The foundation, in 1948, of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) symbolized this growth.[xiii]

Likewise, the means of propagating the faith were improving. Radio continued as one of the best carriers of the corporate message with the 1940 census revealing that it reached almost 83% of American families.[xiv] In 1954, Herbert Muschel introduced the first PR newswire service, providing the beginnings of a news service that gave PR offices access to newsrooms across the globe.[xv]

Then there was the medium of the 20th Century, which with ‘skilful use’ could reach into the ‘hearts and minds of… 134,000,000 people…’[xvi] In the early fifties, business began to shift its institutional advertising out of radio and into television. The importance of advertising to American television should not be understated. As Michael Dawson argues,

In reality, television in America has always been permitted to operate as a subsidiary institution of modern corporate marketing. Marketers pay for the lion’s share of the U.S. television system, which is devoted almost entirely to transmitting sales communications. Under such arrangements, as every television veteran knows, the programs are merely lead-ins to the advertisements, which are the raison d’etre for the whole institution.[xvii]

Or, as a French TV executive put it in 2005, the function of television is to sell ‘human brain time’ to advertisers.[xviii]

More than ever, corporate PR after World War II drove at a broadly political object, rather than the narrow commercial considerations of shilling for this or that product or company.[xix] The prominent businessman, Vernon Scott spoke of ‘the greatest ideological war of all times,’ against government economic planning. General Floods’ PR supremo amplified this, warning that if PR did not win over ‘men’s minds and men’s loyalties’ people would continue to expect government to ‘keep an eye on business’.[xx] The Psychological Corporation’s Henry C. Link restated the familiar strategy that business should downplay ‘free enterprise’ in favour of the ‘freedom of all individuals under free enterprise; from capitalism to the much broader concept: Americanism.’[xxi]  PRSA President Howard Chase urged business to identify with simple goals, such as better education, health and nutrition, housing, and social security. Likewise, Edward Bernays pressed business to lead ‘the fields of racial relations, housing, and education’ and the head of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson held that business must develop a ‘permanent and complete social policy’.[xxii] Absent from this was the citizen in a democracy, only the consumer in the market.

In sum, businessmen[xxiii] and their PR swamis advocated using corporate propaganda to push welfare capitalism in order to forestall a welfare state. Taking a lead in social policy would challenge what one Fortune editorial consultant called ‘the curious assumption’ that it should rest with government. Government’s accretion of competence in social policy severely compromised the rights of private business and so the ‘principle of private initiative in social matters’ should be reaffirmed.[xxiv]

Business, Opinion Research Inc. counselled, should also roll back the grassroots ‘collectivist and authoritarian ideology’ of government as a necessary safeguard against miscreant business. [xxv] For example, in 1947 business lobbying managed to pass the Taft-Hartley Act, which significantly reversed the business regulation introduced by the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935. The act, passed over President Truman’s veto, was itself drafted by corporate lobbyists.[xxvi] I won’t belabour the obvious parallel with Brexit, the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, and the malign caperings of Liam Fox. Suffice to say, business seizes any opportunity to free itself of red tape, even when that tape is fire retardant.

The rollback required a dual PR strategy. Firstly, it had to undermine New Deal interventionist assumptions and welfare state programmes. Corporations instructed  America that ‘prosperity could only be achieved through reliance on individual initiative, the protection of personal liberty, and increasing productivity.’ Radio programmes, for instance, editorialized on the importance of profits in the ‘American Free Enterprise System’ and the  threats to ‘our’ ‘American Way of Life’ and the ‘freedom of the individual’ augured by a  ‘Welfare State’. [xxvii]  Business spent $100m a year on an ‘almost overwhelming propaganda of doctrine’, which saturated the media with ‘advertising calculated to sell ideas rather than merchandise’.[xxviii] By the mid-50s, 20 years of institutional broadcasting and associated PR combined with other PR activities helped business achieve the status of a respected institution in American society.

marrycommy1The strategy’s second component boosted corporate social policies as an alternative to the New Deal. This was helped by international politics. The rise of the Soviet Union and the second ‘Red Scare’ – personified by the incendiary scheming of J. Edgar Hoover[xxix] – allowed a pogrom against ‘New Deal liberals’ and collectivists. Hoover, a 20th Century Matthew Hopkins, even managed in 1953 to secure the ‘burning of all books in American Information Service libraries throughout the world that were offensive to him; from books suspected of being “soft” on communism to detective stories by pro-communist authors’.[xxx] Such was the appetite for expunging  ‘communist fellow travellers’ business also used the ‘Red Menace’ to lobby for a ‘war economy’ and the massive funding of the new ‘military industrial complex’ ­– an analysis echoed in government planning documents of the time.[xxxi] This had the advantage of maintaining state intervention but ensuring that it intervened in favour of business.[xxxii] Corporate PR, therefore, portrayed massive corporate welfare as a patriotic, necessary defence and decried New Deal programmes – social welfare ­– as communism cloaked.[xxxiii] Again, how little has changed. The 2008 financial crisis (widely and wrongly referred to as a ‘recession’) shows how much business welcomes state intervention in its favour.

The corporate assault on ‘communist’ social Keynesianism in favour of military or commercial Keynesianism continued throughout the 1950s. The New Deal was significantly reversed, mostly notably price controls, health insurance legislation, and government house-building.[xxxiv] While the economy grew, this welfare capitalism model reigned unchallenged.[xxxv] Business advertised itself as reformed, with class divisions finally healed. In 1951, Fortune celebrated a ‘permanent revolution’ in capital-labour relations, with ‘left-wing ideologies’ routed.[xxxvi] It was finally ‘the end of history’.

Next week. PR, marketing, and democracy in the modern era.

______________

Notes

[i] Walter Benjamin (1936) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” available at https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

[ii] Seymour Melman (1974) “The Permanent War Economy, American Capitalism in Decline,” p 15.

[iii] Meyer Weinberg (2003) “A Short History of American Capitalism,” p. 245. One of the conditions of the Economic Recovery Plan was the exclusion of left-leaning elements from the governments of recipient nations and the introduction of capitalist policies.

[iv] W. W. Suitt, quoted in Stuart Ewen (1996) “PR! A Social History of Spin”, p. 345. The scale of federal wartime expenditures had been immense and far exceeded total spending on all New Deal programs of the 1930s. Between 1939 and mid-1945, the size of the armed forces, as measured by active-duty personnel, grew more than 36 times and annual military spending grew almost 60 times The U.S. Treasury became the dominant source of capital investment during the war and, between 1940 and 1943, supplied almost 70%  of industrial investment, in contrast to 5% in 1940. None of this diminished the economic power of private industry, which in 1945 controlled 66.5% of all industrial assets as compared to 65.4% in 1939 (Robert Higgs, “Private Profit, Public Risk: Institutional Antecedents of the Modern Military Procurement System in the Rearmament Program of 1940-41,” p. 188 quoted in Weinberg 2003, p 229).

[v] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 342.

[vi] Elizabeth Fones-Wolf  (1992) “Selling Free Enterprise: the Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-1960,” p. 2.

[vii] Alex Carey (1995) “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty,” p. 137.

[viii] Quoted in Fones-Wolf (1992), pp. 16, 32.

[ix] Fones-Wolf (1992) p. 37.

[x] War Advertising Council, quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 346. 1942 also saw the formation of the War Advertising Council, which used domestic PR to combat absenteeism, promote rationing, sell war bonds and so forth (Scott Cutlip (1994) “The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History,”  p. 528).

[xi] Cutlip (1994) p. 528; Larry Tye (1998) “The Father of Spin. Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Spin,” p. 103. In 1946, there were only 26 institutions in the in the whole of the US that offered courses on PR. By 1964, there were 300, with 14 offering bachelor degrees (Cutlip 1994, p. 529).

[xii] Fortune (May 1949), pp. 68-69, quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 356.

[xiii] Cutlip (1994) pp. 528-29

[xiv] Elizabeth Fones-Wolf ‘Creating a Favorable Business Climate: Corporations and radio broadcasting, 1934 to 1954,’ in Harvard Business History Review Vol. 73, No. 2; Pg. 221-255 Summer 1999.

[xv] Cutlip (1994), p. 529.

[xvi] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 386.

[xvii] Michael Dawson (2003) “The Consumer Trap”, p. 103.  Dawson was writing before the advent of pay television services such as Netflix but his point still stands for broadcast media.

[xviii] Patrick LeLay, the head of the French media giant, TF1, described the purpose of his company thus ‘There are many ways of talking about television. But from a business perspective, let’s be realistic: fundamentally speaking, the job of TF1 is to help Coca-Cola to sell its product … If an advertising message is to register, the viewer’s brain needs to be made available.’

The object of our programmes is to make it available: that is to say to entertain the viewer, to relax him and prepare him between the adverts. What we sell to Coca-Cola is an availability of human brain time.’ Cited in Ignacio Ramonet, ‘Final edition for the press’, in  Le Monde Diplomatique (English Edition), January 2005  available at  http://mondediplo.com/2005/01/16press

[xix] A parenthetical note of caution here. While the 20th Century saw large-scale, explicitly political campaigns by business to shore up the stability of the corporate system, one should be wary of reading a political intent into everyday advertising. This is where I would agree with Dawson argue that writers like Stuart Ewen (and before him Herbert Marcuse) over-egg the pudding: ‘While most owners and managers of big businesses are undoubtedly opposed to the growth of coherent class struggle from below and often take or condone strong action to prevent and combat it, while ads do generally reinforce market values and can and perhaps should be read politically, and while advertising and marketing certainly have tremendous political side effects and implications, the truth remains that the vast majority of corporate advertisements are neither intentionally motivated by politics nor dedicated to directly political ends’ (2003, p. 98). Individual adverts are, 999 times out of a thousand, simply small acts of class coercion designed to affect our private behaviour.

[xx] Ewen (1996) pp. 357-58.

[xxi] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 360.

[xxii] Ewen (1996), p. 362.

[xxiii] And in those days it was men.

[xxiv] Russell Davenport, quoted in Ewen (1996) p. 363.

[xxv] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 359. Meanwhile, business was also setting about the dismantling the governmental infrastructure that allowed it to regulate ‘miscreant business’.

[xxvi] John B. Judis (2000) “The Paradox of American Democracy, Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust,” p. 11.

[xxvii] Fones-Wolf (1999).

[xxviii] $100 million figure from MacDougall 1952, quoted in Carey; Key, V. O. (1961) “Public Opinion and American Democracy,” pp. 106-7.

[xxix] Aided by the House Un-American Activities Committee  and the less notorious Senate Internal Security Committee.

[xxx] Ewen (1996) p. 365; Carey (1995), pp. 64-74.

[xxxi] According to Seymour Melman (1974 p. 16.) from the onset of the Cold War ‘methods of military containment, nuclear and nonnuclear, were given high priority by American planners. The concept of a “permanent war economy” formulated in 1944 was soon made a reality.’   The principal government planning document of the time, widely regarded to have shaped American post-war planning for decades was National Security Council Memorandum 68 (April 14th 1950, declassified in 1975), ‘United States Objectives and Programs for National Security’ (NSC 68), written by an ad hoc committee under the direction of Paul Nitze (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Vol. I, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977, pp. 234-292; the basic concept of the military industrial complex was developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower (then only  a General) in a 1946 memo to War Department. In the memo he argued that WWII had ‘demonstrated more convincingly than ever before the strength our nation can best derive from the integration of all our national resources in time of war’ and that ‘civilian resources which by conversion or redirection constitute our main support in time of emergency be associated closely with the activities of the Army in time of peace.’ (quoted in Melman (1970) “Pentagon Capitalism,”, p. 231); As President, Eisenhower later coined the term in his ‘Farewell Address’ on January 17, 1961 . Perhaps contritely, Eisenhower warned that, ‘Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defence; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.… We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.’ (reproduced in Melman 1970 pp. 235-239, my emphasis); During this period, US military spending rose enormously. According to Hogan (1998) during the first two decades of the Cold War the US federal government funnelled $776bn into national defence, approximately 60% of the entire federal budget.

[xxxii] Melman (1974, p 16) ‘The ideological consensus that evolved from World War II transformed the justification for military spending from a time-limited economic effort to achieve a political goal (winning World War II) to a sustaining means for governmental control of the economy.’

[xxxiii] Melman (1974, p. 17), for example, notes that the war economy required the support of the American people and that, by the 1950s a ‘cross-society political consensus had developed… Businessmen, industrial workers, engineers, government employees, intellectuals all joined in the confident assessment that war economy on a sustained basis was not only viable but economically desirable.’

[xxxiv] Carey (1994), p. 34; Ewen (1996) pp. 366-369.

[xxxv] As Meyer Weinberg (2003 p. 247) describes, ‘Rearmament was welcomed by many large enterprises… Many lucrative contracts were awarded without bidding. There being no civilian market for most defence goods, defence producers did not constitute competition to non-defence producers. Political connections were critical…Increasing federal support for research and development (R & D) contained commercial subsidies in disguise… whether financed by government or business. In one way or another, federal patronage through research subventions or outright purchase proved decisive to the future of numerous critical products. This was especially the case in the electronic revolution after World War II.’

[xxxvi] Fones-Wolf (1994, p. 68) observes that many historians have accepted that the introduction of welfare capitalism ended the conflict between capital and labour. However, as she observes, while unions made concessions, especially in the area of managerial prerogatives, ‘the fight for economic security  continued to galvanize workers for serious struggle’ and only the ‘threat of strong union action brought increased wages and benefits’.

The Science of Persuasion

Last week, I discussed WWI as the great testbed for the techniques of manipulation. It was, at that point, the most successful use of propaganda in history, using forms of deception still effective a century later when, in September 2002, the US and UK prepared the ground to seize Iraq with a $200m ‘PR blitz’ of domestic and foreign audiences; particularly ‘sceptical Arab populations.’[1] In this article, I’ll cover the post-war rise of PR through to the beginnings of the WWII.

Modern Public Relations rose like a poppy from the battlefields of the Great War. George Creel’s vast programme ‘released into the American private sector a demobbed army of public relations experts’ and, by the end of the war, companies such as AT&T, Swift, Bethlehem Steel, and Du Pont, as well as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), had established PR operations. Business, conscious of being ‘a small minority highly vulnerable to political attack’, valued the practical application of scientific persuasion and ‘regimenting the public mind’.[2] WWI had demonstrated that,

…wars are fought with words and ideas as well as with arms and bullets. Businessmen, private institutions, great universities –– all kinds of groups –– became conditioned to the fact that they needed the public; that the great public could now perhaps be harnessed to their cause as it had been harnessed during the war to the national cause, and that the same methods could do the job.[3]

The techniques for which the war provided such a splendid test bed were refined as PR professionals became students of the psyche, particularly Freudian psychology. In so doing, they largely abandoned the Progressives’ original belief in a reasonable public and instead aimed their efforts at manipulating the ‘crowd’. In this they followed the French philosopher and polymath, Gustave Le Bon, who argued that, while an individual person might be civilised, educated, and reasonable in isolation, in a crowd they become an unreasoning barbarian.[4] Danny Baker, for instance, supports Millwall.

 

180px-bernays1920s

Edward Bernays

Symbolic imagery became the currency of a new form of communication that appealed to the psyche, emotions, and instincts. The ‘Father of Public Relations,’ Edward Bernays, was moulded by his experiences in the Creel Committee and also by his heritage: he was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Yet while Freud ‘sought to liberate people from their subconscious drives and desires,’ Bernays wanted only to exploit them for his clients.[5] Nor was Bernays shy; speaking and writing with his characteristic brio of the need to ‘manipulate the public mind’ and using, with almost gleeful abandon, a word that among intellectuals had become virtually profane, ‘propaganda’.

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.[6]

this_is_america_poster

NAM ‘This is America’ poster, circa. 1925

As the Twenties began to roar, the PR industry grew in size, if not stature. The war vastlyexpanded America’s productive base and created a demand for consumer goods after several years of relative austerity. In the afterglow of its recent triumph, PR shared the general economic trajectory, supplying experts in advertising, marketing, fundraising, and boosting generally. While most PR still boosted individual products and companies, post-war corporate propaganda began the process of fusing business values with ‘traditional’ American values –  transmuting ‘private advantage into the public good.’[7] PR trumpeted the abstract tenets of the ‘American Way’ – individualism, independence, freedom, and social harmony – and made fashionable consumption, the crucial economic motor, their durable incarnation.[8]

The effect on public opinion was substantial. ‘So profoundly pro-business was the national temper and so successful were business efforts in keeping the favor of the public,’ that no other group could withstand them.[9] The ‘business of the United States is business’ proclaimed President Coolidge joyously. Jeremiads on the stump against ‘industrial feudalism’ by firebrands likes Upton Sinclair seemed distant indeed, as the major presidential candidates proclaimed ‘their faith [in] Wall Street and the self-regulating economy’ to maintain good times for all.[10] This was in 1927.

stockmarket-crash-1929

The Great Crash

The Wall Street crash in November 1929, and the Great Depression that followed, shattered the American economy. Between 1929 and 1933 US Gross National Product (GNP) fell from $103.1bn to $55.6bn. 100,000 businesses failed and there were 23,000 suicides during a single year.[11] For a time, capitalism itself was thrown into question.[12] Popular discontent was high and a ‘series of coordinated actions took place on a nationwide basis’ lead by political radicals including the Communist and Socialist Parties.[13] Despite repression and concerted state violence, however, for a remarkable period advocacy of  government ownership, socialism, and even communism became respectable in mainstream American discourse.[14] When Franklin Roosevelt entered office  in 1933, one of his closest advisors warned that they faced either an ‘orderly revolution’ – the New Deal – or the ‘violent and disorderly overthrow of the whole capitalist structure.’[15]

The New Deal heralded a move from 1920s laissez faire economics to increased government intervention, and modernization, curbing some of the Depression’s triggers, notably currency speculation.[16] Facing trenchant business animosity, Roosevelt’s publicity team introduced many of the modern techniques of political PR.[17] In doing so they deployed publicity against the failed ‘religion of private enterprise’.[18]

b-w_living

NAM billboard, circa. 1937

The business press reported this with characteristic candour and, by 1934, the captains of industry realized the renewed threat to their estate. Several organisations, including the NAM[19] set their muscle to the task of disseminating ‘sound American doctrines to the public’.[20] The PR industry counselled them to sell ‘the American way of life to the American people’; a statement that is intelligible only when one interprets the ‘American way of life’ as business’s way of life.[21]

During the next thirteen years, the NAM spent more than $15 million on leaflets, school films, article reprints and short movies seen by millionin order to fight  the ‘newly realized political power of the masses’ and their ‘many strange and bewildering doctrines’ that were such a ‘hazard to industrialists’. In the words of the NAM’s president, they blanketed every media in order to ‘[pound their] message home with relentless determination’: the centrality of business to American life and the ‘unabashed assertion of the profit motive in U.S. Civilization.’[22]

Major concerns, such as Ford, Du Pont, and General Motors (GM), sponsored network radio programmes with messages designed to improve their image. Radio had begun operating in the 1920s with a mix of profit and non-profit broadcasters but, by the end of the decade, two major networks – National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBC) – had begun operations, and radio commercialized rapidly. The number of homes with radios reached 30% by 1928, doubling between 1930 and 1940.

NAMThe use of radio was extensive and effective. The NAM’ radio series, ‘The American Family Robinson’ – described by Variety as a ‘thinly veiled attack on the policies of the Roosevelt administration’ was being broadcast by 207 stations within 6 months of its inception and, by the late 30s almost 300 small non-network stations carried it. According to the NAM’s PR director, the programme was ‘industry’s effective answer to the Utopian promises of theorists and demagogues at present reaching such vast audiences via the radio.’ To take another example, from 1934 to 1936, a group of conservative business leaders calling themselves the  ‘Crusaders’ fought the New Deal on a programme broadcast on 79 CBS stations. This was backed by the executives of General Foods, Du Pont, General Motors, Nabisco, Heinz, Sun Oil, Weirton Steel, and Standard Oil of Indiana.

In 1939, the US Senate’s  La Follette Commission reviewed business’s assault on popular opinion. It condemned the activities of the NAM in particular as a ‘propaganda which in technique has relied upon indirection of meaning, and in presentation of secrecy and deception.’[23]  1939 marked a major moment in the history of PR. Though it had decried Roosevelt’s plans as but a shade off communism and  fascism, business still recognised the authentic face of tyranny, and so it called a brief ceasefire in its war on the American public, in order to direct its might against the Axis Powers.[24] Next week, this story of PR comes to World War II.

__________

Notes.

[1] Tim Reid, ‘America Plans PR Blitz on Saddam,’ in the Times (London), September 17th 2002. They chose September because, as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card put it, in marketing ‘you don’t introduce new products in August’ (quoted in William Schneider ‘Marketing Iraq: Why now?’ Cable News Network, 12th September 2002, available at http://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/09/12/schneider.iraq/ ).

[2] The description of business is from V. O. Key (1964) “Politics, Parties & Pressure Groups,” p. 91.

[3] Edward Bernays (1952) “Public Relations,” p. 78.

[4] Gustave Le Bon (1895) “The Crowd. A Study of the Popular Mind”.

[5] Larry Tye (1998) “The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations,” p. 97 and Chapter Nine.

[6] Edward Bernays (1928) “Propaganda”, p. 9.

[7] Borrowing a phrase from V.O. Key.

[8] Elizabeth Fones-Wolf (1994) “Selling Free Enterprise,” p 16.

[9] Cochrane and Miller, (1961) “The Age of Enterprise: A Social History of Industrial America”, pp. 343-44.

[10] Quoted in Fones-Wolf (1994), p 16.

[11] Ewen 1996, p. 233; C N Trueman “Wall Street Crash of 1929 and its aftermath,” The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015, available at http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/america-1918-1939/wall-street-crash-of-1929-and-its-aftermath/

[12] Eric Hobsbawn in “The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991” (1994 p. 87) observed that, while economies have always had their heady ups and chilly downs, the crash was genuinely ‘system-endangering’. The reaction to the crash was all the more intense because the Soviet Union, derided and vilified for its decision to break free from capitalism [at least western capitalism], appeared utterly immune from the slump.

[13] The Communists organized Unemployed councils and, in Chicago in March 1930 alone, they distributed 200,000 leaflets, 50,000 stickers, and 50,000 shop papers (Meyer Weinberg (2003) “A Short History of American Capitalism” p. 219).

[14] During one demonstration in 1930 in New York City, ‘Hundreds of policemen and detectives, swinging nightsticks, blackjacks and bare fists, rushed into the crowd, hitting… all with whom they came in contact. … A score of men with bloody heads and faces sprawled over the square with police pummelling them.’ At Ford plants in Highland Park and Dearborn, near Detroit, Communists led 3,000-strong march of unemployed people. Police responded with tear gas and machine guns against the unarmed marchers (who responded by throwing stones), killing four and wounding many more. According to the executive committee of the Detroit American Civil Liberties League, ‘most of the injuries received by the paraders consisted of gunshot wounds in their sides and backs.’ (Weinberg, p. 219-220). Alex Carey (1995) “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, p. 24.

[15] Rexford G. Tugwell, quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 237. The New Deal was praised by many as a return to Progressivism and the re-emergence of a ‘disinterested’ class. The Supreme Court judge, Felix Frankfurter, for example, wrote that it had put ‘more intelligent and more purposeful and more disinterested men in the service of government than there has been for at least half a century’ (quoted in Judis (2000) “The Paradox of American Democracy, Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust,” p. 17).

[16] Stuart Ewen (1996), “PR! A Social History of Spin,” pp 238-239.

[17] Scott M. Cutlip (1994) “The Unseen Power,”p. 526.

[18] Ewen (1996), p. 246.

[19] National Association of Manufacturers.

[20] ‘NAM Historical Highlights’ available at http://www.nam.org/About/History-of-the-NAM/

[21] Fones-Wolf (1999).

[22] Cutlip (1994): 107; Fones-Wolf (1999). ‘Many strange and bewildering doctrines’ was the phrase used by the DuPont family to described the various socialistic and radical ideologies being expressed (Ibid). To ‘blanket’ the media and ‘pound home’ the message are the words of  President of the NAM, speaking to a meeting of business leaders in 1935 (Rippa, 1958, p. 60, quoted in Carey, p. 24). Jackall & Hirota (2000) “Image Makers,” p. 47.

[23] US Congress 1939, p. 218, quoted in Carey, p. 24.

[24] Carey, p. 27.

Regimenting the Public Mind

Last week, I made a sketch of one of the dominant strains of establishment intellectual thought: disdain for the masses and, by extension, genuine democracy. ‘The scholar,’ wrote the noted American economist Edwin Seligman, ‘must possess priestly qualities and fulfil priestly functions, including political activity’ in order that the people learn their true needs and the means of their satisfaction.’[1]

Democracy is, of course, notoriously difficult to define and I’m not going to take Dahl, Beetham, and Sartori from the shelf now. It’s enough to say that by democracy I mean a thing deeper than merely the occasional popular ratification of political decisions made by elites in a political sphere kept carefully separate from its economic foundations (largely the system we have today). I mean genuine popular participation in the formulation as well as the contestation of policy.

Business has done its best to keep democracy in its place by using two principal tools. First, by lobbying for and buying legislation at source and, secondly, by attempting to control popular opinion. It’s the control of opinion that concerns me here. The problem of business manipulating public opinion was predicted long ago. In 1909 Graham Wallas, professor of economics at the London School of Economics, warned of the consequences should business feel its position threatened by a surfeit of democracy,

Popular election may work fairly well as long as those questions are not raised which cause the holders of wealth of and industrial power to make full use of their opportunities… If they did so there is so much skill to be bought, and the art of using skill for the production of emotion and opinion has so far advanced, that the whole condition of political contests would be changed for the future.[2]

Business’s interest in public opinion arose from the drubbing it took during the Progressive Era (circa. 1890-1920) when ‘muckraking’ journalism had enjoyed a golden age. A succession of often sensational newspaper and magazine articles revealed gouging, quackery, mountebankery, vice, corruption, and criminality. Meanwhile, anti-trust laws challenged property rights and virtually every populist politician made play of their opposition to ‘industrial feudalism’ and the ‘conspirators of Wall Street.’[3] Yet while the middle and intellectual classes had initially been behind using the ‘great moral disinfectant’ of publicity, they soon came to revile it. The Progressives wanted greater social equity but they did not want revolution. Muckraking  – to the Progressive eye – soon went beyond smoothing the rough edges from corporate industrialism to having the potential to punch a bloody hole through the capitalist machine and undermine belief in the equity of the business system itself. ‘There is in America to-day,’ wrote Walter Lippmann in 1914, ‘a distinct prejudice in favor of those who make the accusations.’ He continued,

“Big Business,” and its ruthless tentacles, have become the material for the feverish fantasy of illiterate thousands thrown out of kilter by the rack and strain of modern life… all the frictions of life are readily ascribed to a deliberate evil intelligence… that ten minutes of cold sanity would reduce to a barbarous myth.[4]

As Fortune magazine recorded years later, ‘business did not discover… until its reputation had been all but destroyed… that in a democracy nothing is more important than [public opinion].’ Alex Carey argues that, with the extension of the franchise impossible to reverse, business aimed to ‘corrupt’ the electorate by manipulating public opinion. So, business became determined to fight ‘words with words’ and hired former newspapermen to act as publicity advisors. America’s first publicity firm, The Publicity Bureau, was founded in 1900 and over the years that followed a number of larger companies created their own in-house PR departments.

The techniques of early PR were comparatively crude, with unsophisticated dishonesty and whitewash commonplace. Despite the immaturity of the profession, it nevertheless fulfilled Abraham Lincoln’s prediction, that big business would try to ‘prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people…’[5] As it developed in the first decade of the 20th Century, PR also took the first steps to moving beyond the simple ‘fact-based’ press agentry approach of the Progressive journalists, to develop a more symbol-orientated approach that would eventually become known by scholars of the field as the two-way asymmetric model or ‘scientific persuasion’.[6]

BruteIt was World War One that is arguably the single most important event in the development of modern PR, as it marked the formation of the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The US Government was keen to participate in the War, as it and American liberal intellectuals generally had been successfully propagandized by the British. The details of this effort are too extensive to go into here but for years the British Establishment had been drumming into the British people (and American intellectuals) the absolute and unconditional evil of the German people. Sir Norman Angell wrote of a ‘propaganda which did not even pretend to tell the truth since its object was to make us hate the enemy and want to go on fighting him,’ which span fables of Germans ‘boiling down the dead for glycerine and of cutting off babies’ hands for amusement’.

I turn over my note-book to find similar signs that will record the time when men, educated men, took leave of sense and reason. Here are the papers printing long letters protesting violently against giving Christian burial to the Germans brought down in a destroyed Zeppelin… Half a page devoted to a debate in Parliament about leaving an elderly German archaeologist in charge of ancient documents in a museum. There is a great slaughter, it appears, of dachshunds, though one correspondent with qualms wants to be quite sure that the dogs really did originally come from  Germany. The Evening News prints lists of those who had undertaken to help feed the children of interned Germans, harrying with headlines (“ Hun-coddlers” was the invention for the occasion) Quakers and others who had been guilty of, explains the Evening News, “ feeding the tiger’s cubs with bits of cake.[7]

Though there was a kernel of truth, presumably, to some accounts of atrocities, the bulk was lies and exaggeration. Little has changed in the hundred years passed: the swindle of Iraqi soldiers ripping Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on cold floors during the first Gulf War in 1990; the myth of Saddam’s human shredders in 2003; and the tall stories of an impending massacre in Benghazi that were without foundation are but three examples. The bitter rhyme of this unreason, of course, was that the public scepticismroads_bprop_1 of government pronouncements WWI propaganda engendered  burned into the late 1930s when stories of real Nazi atrocities reached our shores.

Whatever the long term folly of the British propaganda, it secured US elite opinion. In the country at large, however, the war was unpopular. Indeed, Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on the platforms ‘He kept us out of the war’ and ‘Peace Without Victory.’[8] The working classes, particularly socialists and trade unionists, saw the war as a ‘rich man’s conflict’ and had no yearning – to borrow trades unionist Eugene Debbs’ phrase – to ‘furnish their corpses’ for other people’s property. Similarly, large parts of middle class America were still strongly isolationist and wanted to hold Wilson to his slogans. While privately he had said I will be with you, whatever, a considerable effort was still needed to instil in a timorous America the necessary ‘blazing passion of retaliation.’[9] How time turns the tables.

In April 1917, Wilson put newspaperman George Creel in charge of the newly-formed Committee for Public Information and charged it with securing popular support for the war. Creel had himself urged Wilson to create an agency to coordinate ‘[n]ot propaganda as the Germans defined it, but propaganda in the true sense of the word, meaning the ‘propagation of faith.’’[10] This was to be an effort on many fronts, to reach ‘every community in the United States by written or spoken word or motion picture; until every individual, native, naturalized, or alien, has it seared into his consciousness that this war is a war of self-defence, and that it has got to be master of his every thought and action.’[11]

The CPI’s task was ‘so distinctively in the nature of an advertising campaign’ that they turned almost instinctively the advertisers and the fledgling PR industry.[12] By this time, the advertising industry was moving from simply describing goods and services towards using symbolism and psychology. Rather than merely informing consumers of their wares, advertisers pioneered a  ‘seductive mix of words and images’, which they attempted to associate with the public’s ‘emotional lives’, ‘needs, cravings, aspirations, and fears…’

The advertising industry furnished many willing servants who had boasted for some time that, since their techniques moved recalcitrant consumers to buy their clients’ products, they could also sell ideas. The CPI, with half a million dollars, 250 employees, 5,000 volunteers, and 75,000 speakers, supplied articles to 30,000 newspapers, produced 75,000,000 books and pamphlets, and secured $30m of free advertising.  Creel’s committee sustained a ‘general climate of thought control,’ facilitated by espionage, censorship, and Sedition Acts under which critics were rounded up and tried.[13] As the President warned his people, ‘conformity will be the only virtue and any man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.’[14]

The catalogue of malign idiocies that ensued almost defeats comprehension. 14 states passed laws forbidding the teaching of the German language; Iowa and South Dakota outlawed the use of German in public or on the telephone; German-language books were ceremonially burned;  the Philadelphia Symphony orchestra and the New York Metropolitan Opera Company were refused permission to perform Beethoven, Wagner, and other German composers; German Shepherd dogs were renamed Alsatians; and Sauerkraut became known as ‘Liberty Cabbage.’

And if the intervening century stales some of the poison in that, recall that after the French insisted on more time for UN weapons inspections in 2003, French Fries were renamed Freedom Fries, alleged appeasers were addressed as ‘Monsieur,’ and Country band The Dixie Chicks had their ‘treachery’ punished with ‘possibly the biggest black balling in the history of American music.’[15] Educated people may still be induced to ‘take leave of sense and reason.’

The techniques of the CPI were so successful that Hitler later credited them as a key factor in Germany’s defeat; praising the ‘amazing skill’ and ‘really brilliant calculation’ that achieved such ‘immense results.’[16] Though much of the Committee’s output, following the British model, was later found to be distortion, exaggeration, and lies, at the time it did the job: the beat of propaganda summoned up the blood and drove the nation to war. As Voltaire is generally held to have said, ‘anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities.’

As the ‘Father of Public Relations,’ Edward Bernays, later said, ‘it was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind’.[17] And it is to that I will turn next week.

Notes

[1] Quoted in Fink (1993) “Major Problems in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Documents and Essays,”

[2] Quoted in Alex Carey (1995), “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy,” pp. 134

[3] Thomas Frank (2001) “One Market Under God. Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy,” p. 37.

[4] Walter Lippmann (1914) “Drift and Mastery,”p. 23-24.

[5] Quoted in David Korten (1995) “When Corporations Rule the World,”) p. 58.

[6] Grunig and Hunt (1984) “Managing Public Relations,” p. 35.

[7] Norman Angell (1926) “The Public Mind its disorders: its exploitation,” p. 31

[8] Larry Tye, L. (1998) “The Father of Spin. Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Spin,”  p. 18.

[9] Norman Angell’s description of the similar fury ignited by propaganda in Britain.

[10] Quoted in Jackall & Hirota (2000) “Image Makers, Advertising, Public Relations, and the Ethos of Advocacy,” p. 13. Creel was referring back to the origins if the word ‘propaganda,’ which stem from the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, a committee established by the Vatican in 1622 to propagate Roman Catholicism

[11] War Information Series, No. 17 (February 1918) excerpted in Delorme & McInnis (1969) “Antidemocratic Trends in Twentieth-Century America,” pp. 66-77

[12] Quoted in Stuart Ewen (1996) “PR! A Secret History of Spin,” p. 113.

[13] Ewen (1996) p. 121.

[14] Z, Mickey (2002) ‘Convincing the Skeptics,’ (https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/convincing-the-skeptics-by-mickey-z/ ).

[15] The Chicks had the temerity to tell a British audience  “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” In return, a full-on boycott of their music was called for by pro-war groups. ‘Radio stations who played any Dixie Chicks songs were immediately bombarded with phone calls and emails blasting the station and threats of boycotts if they continued… Dixie Chicks CD’s were rounded up, and in one famous incident were run over by a bulldozer… The Dixie Chicks lost their sponsor Lipton, and The Red Cross denied a million dollar endorsement from the band, fearing it would draw the ire of the boycott. The Dixie Chicks also received hundreds of death threats from the incident.’ http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/destroying-the-dixie-chicks-ten-years-after/ and https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/nov/19/the-dixie-chicks-tour-is-country-music-ready-to-forgive

[16] Quoted in Pratkanis & Aronson (2001) “Age of Propaganda. The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion,” p. 317

[17] Edward Bernays (1928) “Propaganda” available at http://www.historyisaweapon.org/defcon1/bernprop.html

The Voters Have Spoken – the Bastards.

I voted Remain and, like Corbyn, I’m a 7/10er. I think there is much to criticise about the EU, which is an undemocratic, business-dominated behemoth but, on balance, I think that we are now, if not heading off a cliff, certainly rattling down a steep hill in a tin bath. But that was the verdict of the referendum and, flawed as it was, I think there’s no alternative but to respect it. Not everyone agrees with me and, if you’ve spent any time on social media or reading the press in the last year, you’ll know that opposition ranges from ‘call another referendum’ to ‘It. Never. Happened’.

I’m not going to waste time surveying the case for opposing the referendum result here. If you’re reading this, you’ll know the outlines:

A) the campaign was riddled with lies, distortion, and scaremongering.

B) the majority wasn’t big enough.

C) the referendum was only ‘advisory’.

D) the result was wrong. Idiots.

As it happens, in my opinion, all four points are correct although C is specious. It’s also the case that A might well be true but we still have no way of knowing that, had the campaign been of unimpeachable honesty and clarity, the result would have been any different. Had the vote gone the other way by the same margin, the first three of these points would still be correct and D would be correct for almost as many people as it is now, just different people. And the victorious Remainers would be making none of them – while sneering at Leavers who did. A. C. Grayling stood for the rest when he wrote,

But MPs live with a fetish: the fetish of the plurality in a ballot… The structures of representative democracy exist to provide a filter against mob rule moods and errors. In that respect MPs have the kind of responsibility that we are all pleased to think airline pilots feel for their passengers. In a case like the madness of Brexit, we want them to exercise it.[i]

So there you have it, the public are passengers – a mob – who need to be protected when their betters judge that they’ve made a mistake. This recalls 2004 when the people of the Irish Republic rejected the Nice Treaty on EU enlargement and were castigated by the British press for their ‘civic infantilism.’[ii] New Labour’s Peter Hain, then UK Minister for Europe, was reported as saying that the Irish hadn’t really rejected the Nice Treaty, as they couldn’t have ‘known what they were voting about… because if they had, they would have voted in favour of it.’[iii] Doubtless Grayling would have agreed with the deputy head of the German Social Democrats’ Party who observed that sometimes ‘the electorate has to be protected from making the wrong decisions.’[iv]

Strangely, voter ignorance about the Treaty was only a problem after the ‘no’ vote, despite pre-referendum polls indicating that 50% of the electorate ‘did not understand it, or know even vaguely what it was about.’[v] Nor did the Irish Government seem eager to encourage careful deliberation for the rerun in October 2002; deciding on a 30 day campaign despite evidence that just 16% ‘felt they understood the issues’.[vi] This second referendum was duly won, allowing EU enlargement to proceed unhindered by popular interference. Indeed, it brought the added benefit of endorsing a provision to keep the public out of future decisions.[vii]

Intellectual disdain for democracy is nothing new. The US, for instance, is pleased to present itself as the pinnacle of democracy with a constitution that is venerated as a model for all other societies. Yet, as Gordon Wood noted, the Constitution was ‘intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period’ that would bestow power upon the better people and exclude ‘those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power.’[viii] James Madison himself, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, said,

In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, them property of landed proprietors would be insecure…Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.[ix]

The fear of the rabble is aggravated in particular during periods of wider social discontent when demands from below risk jeopardising the position of those above. Historically, the upper middle classes have always walked a tightrope between wanting more rights and liberties and a fairer society for themselves but not wanting this to spill over and allow the lower classes to get out of hand. The ruling class, of course, uses this fear to maintain control.

The current period of economic upheaval, popular unrest, and right and left populist leaders like Trump, Sanders, Le Pen, Mélenchon, Farage, and Corbyn is reminiscent of late 19th Century America when there were similar popular anxieties; particularly a widespread mistrust of big business, anger about egregious inequality, and fear of immigration. A Dickens of his day, Upton Sinclair summed up late 19th and early 20th Century America:

See, we are just like Rome. Our legislatures are corrupt; our politicians are unprincipled; our rich men are ambitious and unscrupulous. Our newspapers have been purchased and gagged; our colleges have been bribed; our churches have been cowed.[x]

I won’t belabour the obvious parallels with today’s conflict between The Many and The Few.

Intellectuals recognise the reality of popular sovereignty but, as the noted American intellectual Walter Lippmann put it in 1925 in The Phantom Public, it must be ‘put in its place, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.’[xi] For Lippmann, democracy was merely a ‘pacific substitute for civil war in which opposing armies are counted and the victory is awarded to the larger before any blood is shed.’ In Britain, Sir Norman Angell’s treatise on the ‘disorders’ and ‘exploitation’ of the public mind maintained that the ‘hope of democracy’ lies in ‘fully realising the truth that the voice of the people is usually the voice of Satan.’ Furthermore, Angell held that, while there was ‘no alternative to popular judgement as the basis of government, ’ it was necessary to ‘correct and guide the [public’s] natural tendencies…’ with ‘the right social disciplines and educational processes…’[xii]

One of the most eminent American political scientists of the 20th Century, Harold D. Lasswell,  was similarly contemptuous of ‘democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests’. Education’s failure to eradicate ‘ignorance and superstition’ necessitated propaganda as ‘the one means of mass mobilization which is cheaper than violence, bribery or other possible control techniques…’[xiii] ‘If the mass will be free of chains of iron,’ Lasswell declaimed, ‘it must accept its chains of silver. If it will not love, honour and obey, it must not expect to escape seduction.’[xiv]

In essence, Lippmann, Lasswell et. al. advocated a theory of ‘democratic elitism’ in which rival elites would define policy and compete for the public’s approval – expressed through electoral ratification. This doctrine relies on a ‘division of labour’ between pilots and passengers and the idea that, once installed, elites should be left to carry out policy free from interference from the ‘bewildered herd’.

In the 1960s, there was much academic literature on the so-called ‘crisis of democracy’ or the ‘overload’ thesis, which was a response to another period of political and social turbulence, particularly in the US and Western Europe. A variety of movements emerged – student rights, environmentalism, anti-nuclear, regionalist, and feminist, for example; all of which challenged the existing social order and demanded new forms of participation.  Michael Crozier, considering the ‘crisis’ within Europe, noted that the ‘superiority’ of European democracies had been built on a ‘subtle screening of participants and demands’. The ‘overload thesis’, however, held that the ‘information explosion’ was eroding the ‘traditional distance’ deemed necessary to govern.[xv]

Britain, the leading political scientist Anthony King concurred, was once thought an ‘unusually easy country to govern, its politicians wise, its parties responsible, its administration efficient, its people docile’. Yet things had now ‘gone wrong’. Modern problems were ever more intractable and the people had become ‘increasingly bloody-minded.’ Increased complexity, diminished government capacity, and increased public expectations had combined to create ‘mass dissatisfaction’ that threatened to jeopardize ‘political arrangements’.[xvi] What were those ‘arrangements? The noted British politician, Norman St. John-Stevas, succinctly characterised them as policy ‘defined by the executive and made acceptable to the man in the street through propaganda and advertisement.’[xvii]

In 2003, New Labour launched its ‘Big Conversation’, touted as a massive consultation exercise in which the Blair Government would listen to its electorate. This exercise in ‘conspicuous listening’ was lauded by the former Deputy Leader of the Party, Roy Hattersley, as ‘clearly bogus – and greatly to be welcomed.’ The dialogue, wrote Hattersley cheerfully, was really ‘a monologue in disguise’ but this did not obscure the welcome fact that ‘[a]n obeisance is being made in the direction of the humble and the meek.’[xviii] And the scraps of New Labour still apparently retain the same inclusive attitude. ‘In the unlikely event Corbyn wins,’ stated John McTernan in 2015, something would have to be done “swiftly and quickly to restore the party to its sense… who cares about the grassroots? if you get a strong leader, it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say.’[xix] Well, of course squire, we’re only passengers.

This has been a necessarily short survey of a recurrent theme in the thought of the priests of our day. I’ve not even touched on the attitude of our ruling class to whether the bewildered herds of other countries be allowed to rule over themselves.

Next week, I’m going to continue with this theme by looking at business’s response to democracy during the past century.

_______________

Note: The title to this piece is a quote generally attributed to the American politician Morris Udall after he failed, in 1976, to secure the Democratic Presidential nomination.

[i] AC Grayling, “Article 50 ruling: the EU referendum was only ever “advisory” (3/11/16) http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/11/article-50-ruling-eu-referendum-was-only-ever-advisory

[ii] John Plender, “From disenchantment back to democracy…,” Financial Times June 22nd, 2001

[iii] “Fortress Europe”, Telegraph 17 Jun 2001 ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/4263094/Fortress-Europe.html )

[iv] Quoted in Tony Paterson ‘Change law to give us vote on EU, say Germans. Schroeder comes under growing pressure to hold referendum on new constitution,’ Sunday Telegraph, August 1st 2004.

[v] Quentin Peel, ‘An Upset for Europe…’ in the Financial Times, June 11th 2001.

[vi] John Murray Brown And George Parker, ‘Ireland fixes date for re-run of referendum Nice Treaty Yes Vote Urged To Pave Way For Enlargement,’ in the Financial Times, September 20th 2002.

[vii] The second referendum also asked for approval for future moves on EU integration to be put to a parliamentary vote instead of a referendum. Leader, ‘EU Gets The Vote It Wanted,’ in The Scotsman, October 21st 2002.

[viii] Gordon Wood (1972) ‘The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787’pp. 513-14

[ix]  James Madison (1787) Term of the Senate, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0044

[x] Quoted in Stuart Ewen (1996) “PR! A Social History of Spin”, p. 49.

[xi] Lippmann (1925), ‘The Phantom Public’, quoted in Rossiter & Lare (1963) “The Essential Lippmann: A Political Philosophy for Liberal Democracy”, p. 91

[xii] Angell (1926), “The Public Mind its disorders: its exploitation,”  pp. 175, 177.

[xiii] Lasswell (1933) ‘Propaganda,’ in Edwin R.A. Seligman, (ed.) Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, New York: Macmillan, 1933, Vol. 12 (reprinted in 1954 edition), pp. 527, 523-526

[xiv] Ewen (1996) p. 175; Alex Carey (1995) “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy,” p. 23.

[xv] Crozier (1975), pp. 12-14.

[xvi] King, A. ‘Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970s,’ in Political Studies vol. 23 (1975): 284-96.

[xvii] St. John-Stevas in King, A. (Ed.) (1976) ‘Why is Britain Becoming Harder to Govern?,’ London: BBC Publishing.

[xviii] Roy Hattersley, ‘A confidence trick in a good cause Labour’s exercise in listening is bogus – but to be welcomed’, in The Guardian, December 1st 2003.

[xix] Sebastian Payne, “John McTernan: if Corbyn wins the Labour leadership, he should be deposed immediately,” The Spectator July 2015 https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/07/john-mcternan-on-labour-leader-who-cares-about-the-grassroots/