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#725 - The Enemies of Democracy, 23-May-2001

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."[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]
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.[4] 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.[5] 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..."[6] 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 results.

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 you.

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

=====

[1] Anne Marie Chaker, "Conservatives Seek IRS Inquiry On
Environmental Group's Status," WALL STREET JOURNAL (June 21,
2001) pg. unknown.

[2] Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, TRUST US, WE'RE EXPERTS HOW
INDUSTRY MANIPULATES SCIENCE AND GAMBLES WITH YOUR FUTURE (New
York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2001). ISBN 1-58542-059-X. And check out
their web site: http://www.prwatch.org/cgi/spin.cgi.

[3] William Serrin, "300 Dead Each Day: The Wages of Work," THE
NATION Vol. 252, No. 3 (January 28, 1991), pgs. 80-81.

[4] Tim Weiner, "Military Accused of Lies Over Arms," NEW YORK
TIMES (June 28, 1993), pg. A10 quoting a 3-year investigation by
the U.S. General Accounting Office.

[5] William J. Broad, "After Many Misses, Pentagon Still Pursues
Missile Defense," NEW YORK TIMES (May 24, 1999), pgs. A1, A23.

[6] Tim Weiner, "Lies and Rigged 'Star Wars' Test Fooled the
Kremlin, and Congress," NEW YORK TIMES (August 18, 1993), pgs.
A1, A15.