(Borrowing on lessons learned from our World War I military propaganda machine), the new “science” of public relations began to win fans throughout corporate America and it was all tax-deductible. When Congress finally got around to granting workers some rights in 1935, big business decided to put away some (but not all) of the baseball bats it had used to bust unions for about 100 years. The boardroom boys added propaganda to the arsenal.
Allegations of communist leanings, socialism and treason were used to bloat the military-industrial complex during the Cold War, to destroy President Truman’s national health care initiative in the late 1940s and to kill the Consumer Protection Agency Act in the 1970s.
The same techniques are being used to ravage the public interest today. Look at the current health care hassle. (In 1994, the health care industry was busy killing what came to be known as Hillarycare.)
“The manufacture of consent was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy,” legendary New York Times columnist Walter Lippman wrote in 1922. “But it has not ... Under the impact of propaganda, it is no longer possible to believe in the original dogma of democracy,” that it necessarily reflects the popular will in any significant way.
“Beginning in 1945,” the late University of New South Wales professor Alex Carey stated, “The post-war conservative assault on public opinion revived the two dominant themes of the 1930s: (1) identification of the traditional American free-enterprise system with social harmony, freedom, democracy, family, church and patriotism, and (2) identification of all government regulation of affairs of business, and all liberals who supported such interference, with communism and subversion.”
This is rhetoric later regurgitated by muttonheaded sheep from Ronald Reagan to Lush Rambo.
Only government and labor are big enough to check unbridled corporate power, Carey noted. The middle class is shrinking, mothers have been forced to take jobs, the ranks of the poor and homeless increase daily.
President Clinton was the first leader in a long time to say that we must return to an America which has a job for everyone who wants one.
Over the past 70 years, corporate propaganda has managed to totally re-frame the issue into “what are acceptable levels of unemployment,” Inter-national Brotherhood of Electrical Workers executive Jim Rudicil told a (1994) gathering of Reno-Sparks workers.
For decades, corporate America has spent billions on “corporate communications,” forcing helpless workers into “economic education” and “human relations” classes. It worked. A good number of union workers voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. For 70 years, corporate America has daily distributed hundreds of free newspaper editorials and magazine articles, often under the auspices of some high-sounding think tank or “policy research” center. The Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and many others dance to the tune of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. They ship pamphlets, tapes and films to schools and companies across the land, all subsidized by the worker who pays taxes.
Shortly before President Richard Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, Lewis Powell wrote a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He urged business “to buy the top academic reputations in the country” to put out slanted studies backing up the anti-worker, anti-government line.
“It was a virtual manifesto for the neo-conservative movement,” Carey stated.
In 1978, when corporate America was spending a billion dollars a year on propaganda, Justice Powell authored a majority decision upholding the taxpayer subsidy of such claptrap.
Conservative Justice Byron “Whizzer” White strongly dissented: “The special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process. The State need not permit its own creation to consume it,” White wrote. I give you the killing of national health care ‘94 (and its 2010 dilution by delusion).
Professor Carey made some recommendations on how to battle the P.R. beast.
Advocacy advertising unrelated to a company’s product or service is not tax deductible “but there is in fact much tax evasion in this connection,” so IRS enforcement must be tightened, he said. Image advertising should be likewise disallowed.
“The success of propagandists depends at least in some measure on the voluntary cooperation of their victims,”* he stated. “Impede the effective use of corporate propaganda by simply refusing to cooperate in surveys and opinion polls.”
The only way for the United States to stop its long-term decline lies with workers who say “no more.”
Regular readers know that I have been raising money to help Sierra Nevada Community Access Television fully benefit from a matching foundation grant of $40,000. If you can help, give me a holler at 882-TALK or drop me a line.
The Reno-Sparks NAACP will hold its annual Freedom Fund Banquet on May 22 at the Peppermill in Reno. For ticket and sponsorship information, go to RenoSparksNAACP.org or contact me.
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan, second vice-president of the Reno-Sparks NAACP and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.