The Wizards of Oz

One of the most telling scenes from the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” is when Dorothy and friends discover that the wizard is not all that he is cracked up to be. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” says the very mortal wizard through a distorting microphone. This scene is indicative of what is happening with great ease in our society much to our detriment. The “wizards” behind the curtain are people of great wealth who constitute an oligarchy of individuals and companies that are actually dictating the information we receive and who we should vote for. The distorting microphone and frightening wizard persona is, in essence, represented by their Public Relations (PR) people.

These PR people are well paid because of their ability to influence consumers like you and me. We tend to buy what they are selling. This has always been the case, but now it so easy for them as they are funded by industry or individuals through super-PACs or corporate marketing budgets. There is an excellent movie on the havoc that can be wreaked by PR people in the movie “Merchants of Doubt.” A link to an article in a San Antonio online news is as follows: http://www.sacurrent.com/sanantonio/americans-revealed-as-willing-suckers-in-merchants-of-doubt/Content?oid=2423641

In short, these well paid PR people are paid liars. There really is no better way to put this. They are often given the more politically correct term of “spin doctors,” but that does not do justice to what some of them do. I am more than OK with public relations people who do their best to tell a positive story based on factual information. In other words, helping companies put their best foot forward. As a business person, I have actually engaged people to help my company tell our story. But, we did not ask them to lie or distort the truth as that would have been a disservice to our clients. Yet, the folks I am referencing care little about the underlying message and the detriment it causes.

A dilemma we face is with our smaller attention spans, limited news budgets and conflicts of interests, news agencies that seek out and report verifiable truths are few in number. Some even rely on these PR agents to be subject matter experts, as presented in “Merchants of Doubt.” These PR people can contrive a more understandable story to countervent a scientist who has spent a lifetime on an issue, but cannot break his or her message into a sound bite. One of the more troubling things about the movie “Merchants of Doubt” as highlighted in the San Antonio article is one of the PR people actually brags on his ability to defeat scientists in arguments because he says they are “boring.” A sad truth is also shown in the movie is some of these scientists actually receive death and harmful threats at the directions of “paid liars” like this guy.

How do we combat these highly effective PR people and their underlying “Wizards of Oz” who pay for their services.

– Watch, read or listen to credible news sources – PBS Newshour, BBC World News America, NPR, The Guardian, Al Jazeera News et al are reputable sources who discuss issues in-depth and often with subject matter experts. Also, read editorialists you do not agree with as they will help confirm or shape your beliefs. I have changed an opinion or reconfirmed an opinion by reading someone who shares the opposite view.

– When a politician, pseudo-news person, or leader uses labels (Nazism, Socialism, Tree-Huggers, Apartheid, Slavery) in an attempt to discredit something or limits debate over a topic (as Governors Scott and Walker did in Florida and Wisconsin over the use of the terms climate change or global warming), dig further into argument. These tactics are generally used when the labeler or squelcher’s argument is not sound.

– Ask questions of politicians. Politicians know less than you would think and hope, plus they are beholden to funders who tell them how they should vote. Why did you change your vote or opinion? Why do you believe that when more people do not? Do you expect us to believe what you just said? Remember the words of Senator Jon Kyl, when caught in a lie when he responded “You should not confuse what I am saying with the truth.”

– Get involved. We have major issue facing our planet and country around climate change and eco-energy issues, poverty issues, and corruption issues to name a few.  There are more corrupt places than in the US, but we have monied influences that dictate what they want. These Wizards of Oz are akin to the Robber Barons that President Teddy Roosevelt fought so hard against.

– When you hear something inane in conversation or on Facebook, ask the person do you really believe that? Or, maybe you could say, “that is an interesting viewpoint. I personally do not share that opinion.” Be civil in your discourse, but it is more than OK to counter an argument. I do my best, but fail sometimes, to focus on the argument or issue. I use Senator Kyl’s name above as an exemplar as this line is on the public record.

We all need to channel our inner Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion’s and seek the truth. That is the only way we can countervent the “Wizards of Oz,” and their well-paid “Merchants of Doubt.”

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15 thoughts on “The Wizards of Oz

  1. Great analogy. I think another “saleable” fact about misinformation is that we tend to believe what we want to be true, which makes the spin doctors’ job easy.

    • Very true. We have bad case of cognitive dissonance when the truth creates disharmony. What most people do is go back to the source of misinformation and say please tell us this is not true. Remember the climate change naysayers when the head of skeptic.com tried to say he had been convinced it is true in “Merchants of Doubt?”

  2. When you think about it, there’s a very small gap between emphasizing the positive factors about a product (and ignoring the negative ones) and simply telling cobblers (as the Brits like to say). What may start out as the intention to inform can easily slide into outright distortion and prevarication. Protecting ourselves against this sort of wizardry all comes down to a sound education in the end, doesn’t it? Or have I mentioned that before??!!

  3. I have been hesitant to see that movie because I think it would be too depressing. It never ceases to amaze me how (sometime purposefully) ignorant our citizens can be. Your list of ways to educate ourselves is a good one… too bad those that need it the most probably won’t bother.

    • Thanks. Merchants of Doubt is depressing, but will also tick you off. Please encourage any climate naysayers you know to watch this and why they should. The best line to is “you know you are being used.”

  4. Educating ourselves is something we should continually do, and your list is a good start, for sure. It can certainly be difficult though to have a respectful argument on Facebook though – so I usually avoid them instead, to be honest! I hope you are doing well!

    • Christy, many thanks. I actually am not on Facebook for many reasons, one of which you cite. Please keep pushing folks to seek out better sources of information. All the best, BTG

  5. i really enjoyed this post, and i’m glad to be in town where the internet is faster… i remain baffled how so many people are so naive and don’t consider peering behind the curtain.. or have enough wisdom to know they don’t even have to peer to confirm their suspicions.

    • Z, you are so right. It seems with the polarized politics and news, it is OK not to peer behind our curtain as long as our team is winning. Unfortunately, we all lose in these cases. Thanks and I am glad you are feeling better, BTG

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