4. Deforming Consent: The PR Industry’s Secret War On Activists

by Project Censored
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Sources: COVERTACTION QUARTERLY, Date: Winter 1995-1996, Title: “The Public Relations Industry’s Secret War on Activists,” Authors: John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton; EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Date: Winter 1995-1996, Title: “Public Relations, Private Interests,” Authors: John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

Multi-million dollar clients of major public relations firms are behind the creation of false non-profit organizations, which target activists and lobby against legislation that threatens big business. Most of these organizations focus on environmental, consumer, and labor issues. The strategies of these powerful media manipulators include the defamation of activists, their ideas, and the deception of American citizens.

Through the PR industry and the enormous financial resources of their corporate clients, these organizations mobilize private detectives, lawyers, and undercover spies; influence editorial and news decisions; launch phony “grass-roots” campaigns; and use high-tech information systems to influence and manipulate public opinion and policy. With its array of sophisticated persuasive weaponry, the PR industry can out-maneuver, overpower, and outlast citizen reformers.

In one recent—and high-profile example, the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) created the Coalition for Health Insurance Choices (CHIC) to defeat the Clinton Administration’s attempt at health care reform. They utilized public opinion polling and lobbying strength to execute its campaign against mandatory health alliances.

“Greenwashing” is the term now commonly used to describe the ways that polluters employ deceptive PR to cultivate an environmentally responsible public image while covering up their abuse of the biosphere and public health. “Astroturf lobbying,” a term coined by Lloyd Bentsen, is another new concept which Bentsen describes as the “synthetic grassroots movements that now can be manufactured for a fee.” Campaigns & Elections magazine defines “Astroturf” as a “grass-roots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”

These anti-public-interest campaigns generate the false impression of public support in the name of “citizen activism” to promote the goals of corporate clients. Consequently, dissenting voices have been muffled, scientifically proven unhealthy chemicals and practices have been legalized, and public opinion has been profoundly, yet quietly influenced.

SSU Censored Researchers: Diane Ferre, James Hoback

COMMENTS: According to John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, coauthors of both articles, “There was virtually no mention or analysis of public relations’ role in protecting the status quo and dividing and attacking social change activists,” and “the anti-environmental campaign organized by business received almost no in-depth coverage by mainstream media.” Wider media exposure of this subject would allow the public to understand “the extent to which ‘news’ is the creation of PR experts, and the extent to which corporations spy upon and attack citizen activists.” The public would also understand “that ‘green’ claims by business often mask anti-environmental policies.”

Stauber and Rampton believe the limited media coverage of this issue serves the interests of “the companies that pollute, which typically pump hundreds of millions of advertising dollars into mainstream media.” Media’s interests are served as well, “in covering up the extent to which it is complicit in passing on public relations as journalism, and its corporate interest in preserving the status quo.” For more on this issue, see the book, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 1995), also by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.