Public Relations Gets Bad Public Relations

By Stoff, Rick | St. Louis Journalism Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Public Relations Gets Bad Public Relations


Stoff, Rick, St. Louis Journalism Review


What a dilemma public relations faces. On one hand, many potential clients go unserved and unbilled because they see no value in something as nebulous as communications. On the other hand, the profession can be criticized - harshly - for the power that professional communications can exert.

"Few outside the public relations industry know how well PR really works, and fewer realize how often we are persuaded by it . . . Academicians who study media now estimate that about 40 percent of all news flows virtually unedited from the public relations offices . . . PR executives are today mediating public communications as never before," writes Mark Dowie in the introduction to the vividly-titled book, "Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry" (Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine), written by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, editors of the quarterly newsletter "PR Watch: Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry."

Quite an endorsement for the profession from Dowie, former publisher and editor of Mother Jones magazine!

Dowie continues, "PR has become . . . an industry designed to alter perception, reshape reality and manufacture consent." Among its many weapons, he alleges, are "industrial espionage, organized censorship and infiltration of civic and political groups."

In a sense, the book also is a text on and testament to the sophistication that professional communications can achieve in terms of analyzing highly biased and deep-rooted public perceptions and accordingly shaping an organization's messages and conduct. Unfortunately, the book is based upon the worst-case applications of modern communications psychology and methodology.

"Today's PR industry is related to democracy in the same way that prostitution is related to sex. When practiced voluntarily for love, both can exemplify human communications at its best. When they are bought and sold, however, they are transformed into something hidden and sordid," the book explains.

"There is nothing wrong with many of the techniques used by the PR industry - lobbying, grassroots organizing, using the news media to put ideas before the public. As individuals, we not only have the right to engage in these activities, we have a responsibility to participate in the decisions that help shape our society and our lives . . . But ordinary citizens cannot afford the multimillion dollar campaigns that PR firms undertake on behalf of their special interest clients, usually large corporations, business associations and governments. Raw money enables the PR industry to mobilize private detectives, attorneys, broadcast faxes, satellite feeds, sophisticated information systems and other expensive, high-tech resources to outmaneuver, overpower and outlast true citizen reformers."

Many of the tactics outlined by Stauber and Rampton actually are utilized far too often in the free world:

* Attempting to silence or minimize people and organizations who have views that conflict with ours, often through demonization and belittlement. When your views are unpopular or adverse to broader interests, respectful debate just won't do.

* In what the authors term the "astroturf" tactic, misusing the "grassroots" movement to create shell organizations and the perception of public support where none exists, or even misleading citizens to support causes that actually are not in their interests.

* Infiltrating citizen groups to obtain information or induce them to pursue activities that are counterproductive to their causes.

The authors contend that moneyed interests alone are capable of such behavior, but sadly it is practiced by many special interest groups today. Often the practitioners come from outside the boundaries of the true public relations profession, largely the political profession. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Public Relations Gets Bad Public Relations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.