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.”

Merchants of Doubt – Those who lie for a living

I have written before about the public relations efforts of the fossil fuel industry to convince people everything they do is perfectly safe. The efforts also play on our minds and hearts that they create jobs and safer communities, at the same time they are stealing our lunch money. One in particular post plays off the five D’s of public relations – deny, discredit, disinform, diffuse and defray. A new documentary is out which highlights these efforts called “Merchants of Doubt” written by Robert Kenner and Kim Roberts and directed by Kenner.

The story focuses on those who mask science, use science out of context and in many cases distort the truth to tell consumers the products they are buying are not harmful. The public relations consultants use these folks to present an alternate truth which is fed hook, line and sinker to politicians funded by these industries. The documentary begins with the smoking industry to convey the message smoking is not addictive. The PR merchants had a unified campaign which led to several CEOs of the companies lying in front of Congress in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary.

But, they did not stop there, as if you can sell cigarettes are safe, you can sell just about anything. They helped sell folks that the flame retardants in fabric would save lives using a scientific study taken out of context as evidence. When the scientist who led the study found out about this years later, he said that is not what the study found. The flame retardants actually caused cancer in owners of the sofas, caused cancers in the firemen and women who were putting out the fires while not really retarding flames. Yet, the industry staved off regulation, until it was discovered the industry was funding what appeared to be supportive charity to kids, but was really a PR sales engine to obfuscate the truth. There is another documentary on this subject called “Toxic Hotseat.”

Yet, the two biggest campaigns have unfolded in the last few years dating primarily back to the time of “An Inconvenient Truth” about global warming. The PR folks started with a campaign that “global warming is hoax,” and were (and are) so successful about it, Congress has had people to testify on these subject. And, the current Environmental Committee chair, Senator James Inhofe, is a denier who recently brought a snowball into the chambers to reiterate global warming is a hoax. Anytime you see one of these bumper stickers or hear the new party line of “I am not a scientist” to offer contradictory opinion, remember these merchants of doubt. The answer to this statement, by the way, is “neither am I , but I can read.”

The other is on how safe fracking is. The PR campaign has been equally robust on the safety of fracking and the significant number of jobs it creates. Yet, like the climate change deniers, this message is starting to break down with actual data piling up to the contrary. No process this hard and expensive is perfectly safe, yet that is what we are constantly told in commercials. Even if it were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator and there are a lot of them. However, with the air and water pollution being caused by fracking, with the environmental degradation, with the earthquakes that have been proven to be causal with water disposal and correlated with the process itself and with the sheer volume of water used that cannot be reused, this is one Return on Investment that has been miscalculated.  The costs, especially the healthcare costs, are vastly understated.

Please understand why these merchants get paid a lot. They are very good at what they do. And, it is easier with the new information age, as everyone can have their own version of truth. It is critical for us consumers and citizens to question data sources, news sources and politicians. Trace the money. Who owns what and who funds what? Why should we get rid of all regulations? Do you stand to benefit from that change? We must be more skeptical of information as often it is opinion or advertisement conveyed as news. Some online sources look like news, but they are written by people to close to the action or in on the action. It makes it hard to get at the real truth. But, we have to.

Companies make money selling us things. They want our money. The will try to get it legitimately, they will distort the message and some will outright lie. The hard truth is climate change is here and causing problems already. We are late, but can still make a difference. A good truth is solar energy is one of the fastest growing employers in the country as the cost to produce continues to fall. Fracking will occur, but it is not as safe as it is portrayed and we need to move away from it primarily because of the vast use of water and the impact on our health. Chemicals are over used to grow things. The greatest threat to our civilization may be anti-bacterial resistant bugs that move beyond our bodies ability to withstand them.

These are real truths. So, do me a favor. If you hear the disclaimer, “I am not a scientist,” the next phrase should be taken with a grain of salt as it is like untrue. If anyone tells you something is “perfectly safe,” do not believe them. The only thing perfectly safe is the assurance you will die at some point. If anything sounds too good to be true, question it. And, look for cited and peer-reviewed data sources conveyed by people who have a track record of good journalism. A news organization that has been proven wrong on over half of their news stories by Politifacts would not qualify as a source of good journalism.

http://www.salon.com/2015/03/06/merchants_of_doubt_meet_the_sleazy_spin_doctors_who_will_stop_at_nothing_to_obscure_the_truth/