The Enemies of Democracy
[Reprinted from a message distributed via email by
the author -- July 2001 -- DonChisholm@magma.ca]
The enemies of democracy are flexing their muscles. A corporate front
group calling itself Frontiers of Freedom has petitioned U.S. tax
officials to revoke the tax-exempt status of Rainforest Action Network
(RAN), a major environmental organization (www.ran.org). If
successful, the petition would put Rainforest Action Network out of
business, and would open the door for lethal attacks on other
environmental advocates. Frontiers of Freedom acknowledged to the WALL
STREET JOURNAL that, if successful against RAN, "it will
challenge other environmental groups."
Frontiers of Freedom was founded in 1995 by Malcolm Wallop, a
former U.S. Senator (R-Wyo.) and "friend of vice-president Dick
Cheney," according to the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The JOURNAL
reports that Frontiers is funded by Philip Morris Companies, R.J.
Reynolds Tobacco Holdings, Inc., and the Exxon Mobil Corporation.
This latest corporate attack on freedom of speech, freedom of
association and freedom of assembly, is not random. It is part of an
accelerating campaign to replace representative democracy with control
by corporate elites.
Now a new book, TRUST US, WE'RE EXPERTS! by Sheldon Rampton
and John Stauber, provides a chilling, documented history of ongoing
corporate efforts to use propaganda and "public relations"
to distort science, manipulate public opinion, discredit democracy,
and consolidate political power in the hands of a wealthy few.
The Big Idea behind the anti-democratic corporate-power movement is
that people cannot be trusted to make political decisions because they
are irrational, emotional, and illogical. This cynical view of humans
is widely held by the public relations industry's experts but also by
the scientific experts they employ to 'guide' the public. For example,
physics professor H.W. Lewis (University of California, Santa
Barbara), a well-known risk assessor, says people worry about
non-problems like nuclear waste and pesticides because they are
irrational and poorly educated. "The common good is ill served by
the democratic process," he says. (pg. 111)
If people are not rational they cannot be guided by reason, so they
must be manipulated through emotion, PR experts say (thus justifying
their own propaganda services). For example, a spokesperson for
Burson-Marsteller, a PR firm that manipulates the public on behalf of
Philip Morris, Monsanto, Exxon Mobil and others, told the Society of
Chemical Industry in London in 1989, "All of this research is
helpful in figuring out a strategy for the chemical industry and for
its products. It suggests, for example, that a strategy based on logic
and information is probably not going to succeed. We are in the realm
of the illogical, the emotional, and we must respond with the tools
that we have for managing the emotional aspects of the human psyche...
The industry must be like the psychiatrist..." (pg. 3)
The PR psychiatric manipulation industry is now enormous.
Corporations spend at least $10 billion each year hiring PR propaganda
experts (pg. 26) and our federal government spends another $2.3
billion or so (pg. 27) -- and these are no doubt underestimates. But
these huge sums are not wasted -- they provide major benefits to the
clients. For example, about 40% of all stories that appear in
newspapers are planted there by PR firms on behalf of a specific
paying client. Because most radio and TV news is simply re-written
from newspaper stories, a substantial proportion of the public's "news"
originates as PR propaganda. Naturally the connection to the PR source
is edited out.
The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW analyzed the WALL STREET
JOURNAL and found that more than half its stories are "based
solely on press releases" even though many carry the misleading
statement, "By a WALL STREET JOURNAL Staff Reporter."
Thus what passes for news these days is, as often as not, corporate
propaganda. Tongue in cheek, Rampton and Stauber refer to the major
news media as the disinfotainment industry.
Unfortunately, as Rampton and Stauber make crystal clear with example
after example, all of this manipulation has devastating consequences
for real people. The news media largely set the limits on public
discussion, and thus on public policy debate. What is excluded from
the news is often more significant than what gets inserted. For
example, approximately 800,000 new cases of occupational illness arise
each year, making occupational illness much larger than AIDS and
roughly equivalent to cancer and all circulatory diseases, but most
people have no idea that this is so. (See REHN #578.)
Combined with on-the-job injuries, work-related illnesses kill about
80,000 workers each year -- nearly twice the national death total from
automobile accidents. In 1991 former NEW YORK TIMES labor
correspondent William Serrin reported (but, notably, NOT in the NEW
YORK TIMES) that about 200,000 workers had been killed on the job
since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) in
1970, and that an additional 2 million workers had died from diseases
caused by conditions where they worked. That's 273 work-related
deaths EACH DAY, day after day after day. This corporate carnage is
ignored by the news media, which prefer to keep us focused on yuppie
SUV crashes, and crimes of passion.
During the same 20-year period, 1970-1990, an additional 1.4 million
workers were permanently disabled in workplace accidents. Yet during
those 20 years, only 14 people were prosecuted by the Justice
Department for violation of workplace safety standards and only one
person went to jail -- for 45 days for suffocating two workers to
death in a trench cave-in.
PR experts "spin" stories for the media on the assumption
that most reporters are too overworked (or too lazy) to search out the
truth for themselves. But Rampton and Stauber exhaustively document
that "spin" goes much farther than merely providing a "news
hook," a viewpoint, or a few facts. Modern corporate propaganda
involves purchasing scientific opinions and planting them in
scientific journals (without, of course, mentioning the money
connection to the corporate benefactor). Tobacco companies invented
this technique, but now others are using it freely. For example, in
the early 1990s, tobacco companies paid $156,000 to a handful of
scientists to sign their names to letters written by tobacco company
lawyers. The letters were published in the JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN
MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, the LANCET, the JOURNAL OF THE
NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE, and the WALL STREET JOURNAL,
and were then cited by the tobacco companies as if they had been
written by independent scientists. "It's a systematic effort to
pollute the scientific literature," says professor of medicine
Stanton Glantz (University of California, San Francisco), a longtime
critic of Big Tobacco. (pg. 199)
In 1999 drug maker Wyeth Laboratories commissioned ghost writers to
manufacture ten medical articles promoting a combination of Wyeth
drugs called fen-fen, as a treatment for obesity. Two of the articles
actually got published in peer-reviewed journals. After fen-fen was
pulled from the market for permanently damaging peoples' heart valves,
lawyers for injured victims discovered that Wyeth had edited the
articles to play down and occasionally delete descriptions of side
effects caused by fen-fen. Prominent scientists put their names on
these articles in return for fees as small as $1000 to $1500 -- and
journal editors published the articles as if they represented
independent scientific inquiry. Wyeth could then cite these "independent"
studies to convince doctors to prescribe fen-fen.
In 1996, Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University examined 789 articles
published by 1105 researchers in 14 leading life science and
biomedical journals. In 34% of the articles, at least one of the chief
authors had an identifiable financial interest connected to the
research. None of these financial interests was disclosed in the
journals. Krimsky said the 34% figure was probably an underestimate
because he couldn't check stock ownership or corporate consulting fees
paid to researchers.
Science, like democracy, depends crucially upon the free flow of
information. When secrecy is imposed, errors go undetected and
fallacies proliferate -- only to be discovered years later, if at
all. For example, secrecy has allowed the U.S. military to create a
"pattern of exaggeration and deception" in its reports to
Congress, just as secrecy allowed the military to waste more than $100
billion (!) in failed attempts to create a workable "star wars"
missile defense system. In 1993, a front-page story in the NEW
YORK TIMES began, "Officials of the 'Star Wars' project
rigged a crucial 1984 test and faked other data in a program of
deception that misled Congress..." Secrecy invites deception
and destroys democratic accountability.
Rampton and Stauber point out that "Corporate funding creates a
culture of secrecy that can be as chilling to free academic inquiry as
funding from the military. Instead of government censorship, we hear
the language of commerce: nondisclosure agreements, patent rights,
intellectual property rights, intellectual capital." (pg. 214)
A key feature of the corporate anti-democracy strategy of the past 20
years is reduced government funding for needed research, thus inviting
corporate funders to step in. This is what "tax cut" really
means. Tax cuts are not primarily aimed at giving families another
$300 to spend -- they are mainly intended to reduce the capacity of
governments to fund needed public services, such as medical research.
As a result, corporations are asked to provide the funds and thus they
gain an opportunity to influence the national research agenda and the
In 1994 and 1995 researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital
surveyed more than 3000 academic scientists and found that 64% of them
had financial ties to corporations. They reported in the JOURNAL
OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA), that 20% of the 3000
researchers admitted that they had delayed publication of research
results for more than 6 months, to obtain patents and to "slow
the dissemination of undesired results." "Sometimes if you
accept a grant from a company, you have to include a proviso that you
won't distribute anything except with its OK. It has a negative impact
on science," says Nobel-prize-winning biochemist Paul Berg. (pg.
215) In 1999 Drummond Rennie, editor of JAMA, said private funding of
medical research was causing "a race to the ethical bottom....
The behavior of universities and scientists is sad, shocking, and
frightening," Rennie said. "They are seduced by industry
funding, and frightened that if they don't go along with these gag
orders, the money will go to less rigorous institutions," he
said. (pg. 217)
In this rich, deep book, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber have
painstakingly documented the specific techniques that PR experts and
their corporate masters employ to deceive the courts, the
legislatures, the media, educators, and the public. The next time
someone accuses you of "chemophobia" or of relying on "junk
science" you'll know you're dealing with corporate manipulators
who are being guided by PR skanks. Their overriding goal is to
discredit decision-making by the public and replace it with control by
corporate elites. They know better, they're experts, trust them.
The final chapter of this important book tells us how to fight back.
If you care about democracy, science or simple truth and want to know
exactly how corporate elites subvert all three, this is the book for