Reproduced with permission from original as posted.
We are failing to govern ourselves. The concept of American democracy has been driven from the field by the public relations industry. The balancing act between the poles of public and private interests, performed so deftly by Chester Bowles, William Benton and Harold Burson in the 1950s to protect us from the deceptions of our leaders and the cynicism of the PR industry founded by Edward Bernays, has collapsed. Spinning the morally indefensible is now embedded in our civic DNA.
From its inception, the leaders of our republic chose misleading words to mask the crimes against humanity committed by the markets they created and profited from:
- Slavery—“our peculiar institution of other persons”
- Freedom seeking men and women—“fugitives”
- Peace-loving, welcoming, conciliatory people of the land—“savages”
The author of our nation, Mr. Jefferson, detested newspapers, although he was principled and intelligent enough to understand they were indispensable for a viable representative democracy. [PBI: Thomas Jefferson is credited with the phrase, “A Nation’s best defense is an educated citizenry.]
Only men such as Madison urged journalistic resistance to this Spin:
“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern Ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
The Father of PR, Edward Bernays, Spun it out of Propaganda giving it Power and Legitimacy
Edward Bernays’ goal was to exploit our deepest personal and collective anxieties in order to destroy our capacity as
1. Consumers (his coining) to make rational judgments about our consumption of goods and services, and
2. Citizens to make rational judgments about our governance.
It goes without saying that the power to control government in a democracy must reside with the people. A people who cannot make rational decisions about their well-being are ill equipped to govern themselves. Bernays’ techniques and his legitimization of propaganda as “Public Relations” permitted Government as well as Markets, to obfuscate the purposes and effects of their communications.
But the power to control behavior requires more than the dissemination of misinformation. It also entails attacks on and subversion of the means of resisting that quest to control. Direct, concerted attacks on the press were not a Bernays’ technique; staging and usurping “reality” was, as well as knowing the effects on the public mind of such events. His creation and rhetorical defense of staged events are the genesis of our nation’s military Psychological Operation Doctrine, used to undermine the Public and National Interest of Americans, as well as our Adversaries. Knowing the public mind now takes the form of government/market information-gathering intrusions into our private lives that would make Bernays salivate. Our journalism offers almost no opposition to this seizure of our psyches and our programmed incapacity to communicate our common interests to one another.
Lewis Powell’s Battle Plan to Defeat the Public Interest
Lewis Powell, like the Bentons, Bowles and Bursons and other mid-twentieth century PR leaders, understood the meaning of the public interest, but unlike them, he did not respect it. Powell’s legal and strategic representation of the tobacco industry made him an opponent of the public interest. Powell also waged a losing battle against efforts to end discrimination in the workplace and in schools. In each conflict he gained insights that enabled him to craft plans to defeat Public Interest driven policies, both domestic and foreign, and to subvert any means of communication not controlled by big business. In his very first year on the United States Supreme Court, he drafted a plan of war against public interest. The Powell memorandum to the US Chamber of Commerce is in all particulars a public relations plan designed to impose arguably totalitarian control over America’s communications space.
Today we consume far beyond our means, are governed by the exploitation of our fears, and are denied the civic participation decreed by our Constitution. Public relations specialists devoted exclusively to the annihilation of public interest values now outnumber journalists three to one with almost inexhaustible funds at their disposal, courtesy their corporate clients whose charters are dedicated to maximizing profit at the expense of everything and everybody else.
The Dreamers Loose the Dogs of War
It was the Carter Administration –- not as is widely believed the Reagan Administration –- that was the first to challenge the validity of public interest policy-making. But it was the Reagan Administration that delivered the most significant blow to our capacity to communicate with one another and thereby govern ourselves. The public relations cadre around the President lead by Michael Deaver and Charles Wick forced the abandonment of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine. The constraints on propaganda in the public media evaporated as did journalism’s capacity to speak truth to power. We abandoned our commitment to the sanctity of Madison’s “popular information” embedded since 1934 in the Public Interest.
The final nail in the coffin of public interest communication was driven by the Clinton Administration-led 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that opened the pockets of the American citizen to the wolves of Wall Street. Now the Powell Plan had the financing it needed to remove all constraints on accountability in commercial as well as civic discourse. Now an ex-President who knowingly forfeited the savings of generations of Americans to greed is hailed as a civic hero. Now a United States Supreme Court could hold that the political speech of a corporation whose charter prevented the consideration of public interest was as protected by the Constitution as the speech of a person for whom the public interest was the keystone of our democracy.
These are forms of civic terrorism, recognized as such by the President of the United States in a State of the Union Address. It is a form of terror that rages across our civic landscape. It is a form of terror the President of the United States chooses to ignore, as do the mainstream media of our country. Bernays’ corrupting craft is about to succeed in America as devastatingly as it succeeded in the hands of Bernays’ most devoted disciple: Joseph Goebbels.
Phi Beta Iota: After the author wrote the above in 2014, it became legal in the USA for the US Government to lie to the US public as a matter of state policy. Prior to taking this blatant step legalizing lies of state, the USG had already informed the judicial branch, officially by memorandum from the Attorney General, that the executive branch reserved the right to lie to the Courts whenever desired in relation to “national security.”
the Obama administration has now argued that the government not only can lie about its surveillance activities to American citizens but can, in turn, lie to federal judges when “national security” is involved.