With all due respect to public relation (PR) professionals who have to perfume some of the smelliest of pigs, many do their job too well. Yet, we the public make their job too easy. They count on an uninformed public and use their talents to spin-doctor a story that is compelling, even if it could not be confused with the truth. Stephen Colbert famously called this “truthiness” as every group has its version of the truth. The dilemma is we must ferret through this PR spin to ascertain what the real problems are and what we should do about it.
The sad part is very few people do this and are left forming judgments based on a source of information that they judged long ago to be aligned with their thinking. Even when confronted with evidence that disproves thinking, they tend to gravitate back to their advisor’s opinions. This is often termed cognitive dissonance. Per Wikipedia, “cognitive dissonance can be defined as the distressing mental state that people feel when they find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” This can be very disconcerting and is a key reason PR people can have a field day fueling pre-conceived notions. This is a key reason the Limbaughs, Becks, O’Reillys and Maddows of the world can paint a picture that is so terrible by spinning the story toward their bent.
To be frank, I am not a fan of purposeful disinformation or misinformation. It is one thing to truly not be aware of a topic or have been misled, but when someone intentionally tells you something they know not to be true, it bothers me. The term I use for this is Machiavellian. It is intentional deceit and is the worst aspect of PR and politicians. Here are a few disinformation campaigns that I find distasteful as they harm real people.
Global warming is a hoax: Back in the 1990s, the fossil fuel industry hired a PR firm and paid for biased scientific studies to paint a picture that global warming was a hoax. They did their job so well, that several congressmen and senators held meetings on Capital Hill to address this hoax. This stalling tactic put the US ten years behind on planning an eco-energy future strategy.
Weapons of Mass Destruction: This one led to American and our allied troops dying along with thousands of civilians. This was employed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove. The manufactured evidence was done so to support going to war to do something after the President let Osama Bin Laden escape Afghanistan after being cornered. Scooter Libby, one of Rove’s lackeys went to jail for outing a CIA operative whose ambassador husband was critical of the misuse of data from his reconnaissance mission on WMDs. Yet, if you questioned this WMD public relations campaign, you were labeled as un-American. This is why the named folks have no credence in offering an opinion on bombing Syria.
Fracking is perfectly safe: It should give you pause that the fracking industry is using the same PR firm to promote the safety of fracking that was used to portray global warming as a hoax. I heard a commercial the other day where some minor celebrity is allowing fracking on her property as it is perfectly safe. I understand the need to find ways to glean natural gas from the ground, but to portray it as perfectly safe is a bald-faced lie. Nothing in life is perfectly safe. Vice President Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, placed some strategic language in the 2005 Energy Policy Act to give a hall pass to frackers from the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water Acts. Why would he do that if fracking were perfectly safe? Per a fracking engineer, 1 out of 20 cement casings around the fracking housing fail immediately. And, over time more of them fail. But, even if they did not, you are only as good as your worst operator.
Failed Stimulus Bill: This was a very successful PR campaign strategy that carries over to today. The GOP was told to use the world “failed” in front of Stimulus Bill. The truth is the Stimulus Bill actually worked and made a difference in aiding our economy, so says five econometric firms as reported in Time Magazine. It was traditional Keynesian economics, which is needed today, but was not significant enough back then. Yet, when I say this to people, they look at me strangely, both Republicans and Democrats (they seem to have an esteem problem). That is how well this PR campaign worked.
Obamacare is not a Republican idea: This one is very timely given the 41st vote to repeal Obamacare. I have written in numerous posts dating back to last spring that Obamacare is largely a Republican idea, especially the exchanges. Its predecessor, Romneycare was supported by then Senator and Tea Party leader Jim DeMint as late as 2009. Once Obamacare was patterned after Romneycare and passed, DeMint declared both as unconstitutional. I find this hypocritical since DeMint is leading the anti-Obamacare push from the Heritage Foundation.
Americans don’t like Obamacare: Taking a page from the failed Stimulus Bill PR campaign, the GOP was asked to always describe Obamacare as “job-killing Obamacare.” And, like failed Stimulus Bill, if you say it over and over again, it paints an impression. People began to accept this as gospel, yet when CFOs said four years ago that their number one concern was runaway healthcare costs, this was an idea that the GOP embraced as an option against national healthcare insurance. Yet, the key goal is to get people insured and the mandate (which DeMint liked in 2009) is a key part of spreading risk. So, when asked if you like Obamacare, the numbers are stacked against it due to this PR campaign. Yet, if you ask people about Obamacare’s individual features – continuing adult children to age 26 on a parent’s plan, the elimination of pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, the elimination of lifetime limits on medical reimbursements, the limitation on the profits an insurance company makes on your premiums, the subsidies to buy coverage through exchanges and Medicaid where it is expanded, etc. – they tend to like these features in the majority.
NSA is not really reading what they are obtaining: I did not believe this when I first heard it. If that is the case, they are going to an awful lot of trouble to become Big Brother and building a mountain of data storage sites. Whether you like Snowden or not, we would not be having this conversation of it were not for him. We must have an active discussion around freedoms versus security. I have said before, in many respects, the terrorists have already won, as we are no longer the land of the free, as we once were. We must have better oversight over this kind of surveillance.
I understand the need for public relations. Yet, I would prefer people to shoot straighter with us and not try to purposefully misinform us. I personally do not like to be lied to, especially when I know you are lying. That serves no one in the long run.