Monday, January 27, 2014

Toxic Sludge is Good for You! - A Treasured Paperback in my Library

Print Book Appreciation Month continues with this look at one of my most revered little paperbacks in my nonfiction library. Toxic Sludge is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton was assigned reading in my Propaganda and Public Opinion class at Chico State University. It details the dirty and deplorable tricks of the public relations industry to twist, manipulate, and mislead public opinion and lawmakers usually at the behest of polluters and warmongers and foreign governments.

This is such an eye opening book. It's made my understanding of the media and what is called "news" very different from the mainstream consumer who might actually believe what they read in mainstream publications or see on TV. Most news is very carefully crafted to promote a certain agenda, and almost never one that benefits you. So powerful and pervasive are these techniques that you will believe that "toxic sludge is good for you!"

Published in 1995, its examples are a bit dated now, but the information is still relevant. In the chapter called "The Torturers' Lobby" the common practice of lobbying the U.S. Congress by foreign governments with repressive regimes is explained. They seek support from the U.S. government through trade or business agreements and avoid sanctions for human rights abuses.

Next in the chapter "Poisoning the Grassroots" the surveillance of activists is explained. Spies even infiltrate activist groups that threaten industry and undermine their efforts. Next time you hear about a scandal among some do-gooder group keep in mind that the event was likely manufactured by undercover agents. Then there is the creation of false grassroots organizations that promote industry agendas and undermine or obfuscate the work of real activists. This is known as astroturf. These false organizations even enlist concerned citizens but misdirect them with lies. The Tea Party is the recent textbook example. It's made up of genuinely upset real people but the whole idea of the Tea Party was funded and promoted by billionaires like the infamous Koch brothers. You didn't believe that actual activists get coverage on cable news did you?

I could go on and on. I'm grateful to this hard-hitting little book for pulling the wool off my eyes. It only leaves me wondering what tricks I'm still falling for.

If you'd like to know the details of why you don't trust the media, I heartily recommend reading it.