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How industry manipulates public opinion

Why you believe what you believe

PR (public relations) was created to manipulate public opinion. More and more of what we hear, see and read as "news" is actually PR content. On any given day much of what the media broadcasts or prints as news is provided by the PR industry.

Trust Us We're Experts a new book co-authored by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of the Center for Media and Democracy, shows how the world's richest and most powerful corporations do this.

Trust Us We're Experts exposes the shenanigans of the public relations industry, which pays, influences and even invents a surprising number of those experts.

trust us we're experts

There are two kinds of "experts" we're dealing with -- the PR spin doctors behind the scenes and the "independent" experts paraded before the public, scientists who have been hand-picked, cultivated, and paid handsomely to promote the views of corporations which are involved in controversial actions.

"Third parties" set PR apart from advertising. Stauber and Rampton describe how the tobacco industry first hired movie stars to promote cigarettes and then spent millions of dollars to counter findings that cigarettes cause cancer, a strategy based on testimonials and the so-called third-party technique.

"Trust Us We're Experts" also considers the effect big money has on universities and scientific journals, describing instances in which tobacco companies paid 13 scientists $156,000 to write letters to influential medical journals.

People don't realize how most issues of "conventional wisdom" are scientifically implanted in the public consciousness by a thousand media clips a day.

If everybody believes something, it's probably wrong. That's what we call "Conventional Wisdom".

In the U.S., conventional wisdom which has mass acceptance is usually contrived: somebody paid for it. For example:

  • "Hospitals are safe and clean"
  • "The cure for cancer is just around the corner"
  • "Pharmaceuticals restore health"
  • "America has the best health care in the world"
  • "Vaccination brings immunity"
  • "When a child is sick, he/she needs immediate antibiotics"
  • "When a child has a fever he/she needs Tylenol"
  • And many more

Public relations shaping public opinion

In "Trust Us We're Experts", Stauber and Rampton point to some compelling data describing the science of creating public opinion in the U.S. They trace modern public influence back to the early part of the 1900's, highlighting the work of people like Edward L. Bernays, the "Father of Spin".

Edward Bernays layed the groundwork for the fledgling public relations industry in the 1920s to the power it wields over public policy today.

In his book "Propaganda", Bernays argued that scientific manipulation of public opinion is key. "A relatively small number of persons," he wrote, "pull the wires which control the public mind."

Bernays believed that "somebody interested in leading the crowd needs to appeal not to logic but to unconscious motivation."

Bernays dominated the PR industry until the 1940s, and was a significant force for another 40 years following that. During that time, Bernays took on hundreds various assignments to create a public perception about some product or idea.

For example, as a new member on the Committee on Public Information, one of Bernays' first assignments was to help sell the First World War to the American public with the idea to "Make the World Safe for Democracy."

A few years later, Bernays helped popularize the notion of women smoking cigarettes. Not being one to turn down a challenge, Bernays set up the advertising format, along with the AMA, which lasted for almost 50 years proving that cigarettes are beneficial to health. It's interesting to look at ads in issues of "Life" or "Time" magazines from the 40s and 50s.

Bernays also popularized the idea of bacon for breakfast.

Bernay's job was to reframe an issue, to create a certain image which would put a particular concept or product in a desirable light. Bernays described the public as a 'herd that needed to be led.' And this herdlike thinking makes people "susceptible to leadership."

Bernays never strayed from his fundamental axiom to "control the masses without their knowing it." The best PR takes places when the people are unaware that they are being manipulated.

Stauber describes Bernays' rationale like this: "the scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in a democratic society." ("Trust Us We're Experts" p. 42)

Once the possibilities of applying Freudian psychology to mass media were uncovered, Bernays's list of corporate clients grew rapidly. Global corporations were eager to court the new Image Makers. There were hundreds of goods and services and ideas to be sold to the susceptible public. Over the years, these players have had the money to make their images happen. Some of those players are:

  • Monsanto
  • Philip Morris
  • DuPont
  • Pfizer
  • Dow Chemical
  • Union Carbide
  • tobacco industry Allstate
  • Eli Lillyt
  • Ciba
  • Geigy
  • Goodyear lead industry
  • Coors
  • Chlorox
    Shell Oil
  • Standard Oil
  • Procter & Gamble
    Boeing
  • General Motors
  • General Mills

 

The best PR is PR that goes unnoticed.

For decades these "players" have created the opinions most of us were raised with, on virtually any issue which has the remotest commercial value, including:

 

Bernays learned early on that the most effective way to create credibility for a product or idea is with "independent third-party" endorsement.

For example, if General Motors were to come out and say that "global warming" is a hoax invented by some liberal tree-huggers, the public would suspect GM's motives, since GM's fortune is made by selling cars.

If however some independent research institute with a very credible sounding name like the Global Climate Coalition comes out with a scientific report which says that global warming is really a fiction, the public begins to get confused and to have doubts about the issue.

So that's exactly what Bernays did. With a policy inspired by genius, he set up "more institutes and foundations than Rockefeller and Carnegie combined." ("Trust Us We're Experts" p 45)

Quietly financed by the industry giants whose products were being evaluated, these "independent" research agencies would churn out "scientific" studies and press releases which could create any public image their handlers wanted. Such front groups are given important-sounding names like:

  • Alliance for Better Foods
  • Temperature Research Foundation
  • Consumer Alert
  • Industrial Health Federation
  • Manhattan Institute
  • The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition
  • International Food Information Council
  • Center for Produce Quality
  • Tobacco Institute Research Council
  • Cato Institute
  • Air Hygiene Foundation
  • American Council on Science and Health
  • Global Climate Coalition
  • International Food Information Council

 

As Stauber explains in "Trust Us We're Experts", these organizations and hundreds of others like them are front-groups whose sole mission is to advance the image of the corporations which fund them.

 

Public relations and the media

The news media regularly fails to investigate so-called "independent experts" associated with industry front-groups. These front-groups all have important-sounding names like "Consumer Alert" and "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition," but they fail to reveal their corporate funding and their propaganda agenda.

The industries's front-groups promote their agenda in part by an endless stream of "press releases" announcing "breakthrough research" to every newspaper, radio and TV station in the country. Many of these press releases read like news, and indeed are purposely molded in the news format.

This saves journalists the trouble of researching the subjects on their own, especially for topics about which they know very little. Entire sections of the press releases can be just lifted intact, without any editing, given the byline of the reporter or newspaper or TV station - and voila! Instant news. Written by corporate PR firms.

Does this really happen? It happens every single day, since the 1920s when the idea of the Press Release was first invented by Ivy Lee. ("Trust Us We're Experts", p. 22)

These types of stories are mixed right in with legitimately researched news stories. Unless you have done the research yourself, you won't be able to tell the difference.

Words in press releases are very carefully chosen for their emotional impact. A front group called the International Food Information Council handles the public's natural aversion to genetically modified foods. Who do you think funds the International Food Information Council? Take a wild guess. Right - Monsanto, DuPont, Frito-Lay, Coca Cola, Nutrasweet - corporations in a position to make fortunes from GM foods. ("Trust Us We're Experts" p. 20)

Science For Hire

Stauber tells the amazing story of how leaded gas came to be. In 1922, General Motors discovered that adding lead to gasoline gave cars more horsepower.

When there was some concern about safety, GM paid the Bureau of Mines to do some fake "testing" and publish "research" that "proved" that inhalation of lead was harmless. This is where Charles Kettering comes in.

Founder of the world famous Sloan-Kettering Memorial Institute for medical research, Charles Kettering also happened to be an executive with General Motors.

By some strange coincidence, we soon have the Sloan Kettering Institute issuing scientific reports stating that lead occurs naturally in the body and that the body has a way of eliminating low level exposure.

Through its association with PR giant Hill & Knowlton and The Industrial Hygiene Foundation, Sloane Kettering opposed all anti-lead research for years. ("Trust Us We're Experts" p. 92). For the next 60 years more and more gasoline became leaded, until by the '70s, 90% of our gasoline was leaded.

Finally it became too obvious to hide that lead was a major carcinogen, and leaded gas was finally phased out in the late '80s. But during those 60 years, it is estimated that some 30 million tons of lead were released in vapor form onto American streets and highways. 30 million tons.

I hope this page will help you to start reading newspaper and magazine articles a little differently, and perhaps start watching TV news with a slightly different attitude. Always ask yourself, what are they selling here, and who is selling it?

If the news is dealing with an issue where money is involved, objective data won't be so easy to obtain. Remember, if everybody knows something, that image has been bought and paid for.

Real knowledge takes a little more effort, a little digging down at least one level below what "everybody knows."

We are all "conditioned". What we are exposed to through the media, especially television, does shape our beliefs. Britney Spears is paid millions of dollars to tell us to drink Pepsi because IT ABSOLUTELY WORKS.

I cancelled my cable TV service upon coming back from a transcendental meditation weekend residence course. I came back from that TM weekend residence course a new man, and from that moment it became clear to me that most of what is presented on cable TV can be referred to as "poison for the mind".

Transcendental meditation has helped me make marked improvements in not only my health but other aspects of my life as well. I highly recommend you look into it .






 

How much is your health worth? Get the Nutribullet!

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Work in progress. My neurofeedback app for Android will be available in the Google Play Store when completed.

The Neurosky EEG headset I am wearing in the video is available here.


By Marc Lacasse

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2002 Healing Daily