Public Relations Inquiry as Rhetorical Criticism: Case Studies of Corporate Discourse and Social Influence

By William N. Elwood | Go to book overview
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4
The Engineering of Outrage Mediated Constructions of Risk in the Alar Controversy

Jamie Press Lacey and John T. Llewellyn

For most of the American public, the Alar controversy began on February 26, 1989, when "60 Minutes" reporter Ed Bradley identified "a silent killer in their midst, perhaps right at their dinner table" ( Smith, 1990, n.p.). Bradley's report contained testimony from scientific experts who warned that eating apples sprayed with daminozide, the chemical name for Uniroyal Chemical Company's Alar apple growth regulator, could lead to a heightened risk of cancer, especially in children. Smith, editorial writer for The Washington Times, described public reaction: "Washington's regulatory apparatus cranked up to prevent the looming baby slaughter. The apple industry turned to apple sauce as apple prices plummeted and sales fell off. Hysterical parents fretted over lunch box contents. . . . School administrators expelled the apple summarily. Taxpayers got stuck with the bill for apple leftovers" (p. 1).

In the wake of the broadcast, there were strong and informed dissents from the "60 Minutes" position. However, due to their timing and lack of dramatic elements, these pro-Alar views were either ignored or minimized. Messages from scientific experts who disputed the Alar- condemning study were lost "amid the talk shows and headlines trumpeting news about poisons in the vegetable patch" as the media urged parents to stop feeding produce to their children ( Smith, 1990, p. 1).

This chapter examines how and why the Alar controversy unfolded as it did. The key elements in the outcome were an advocacy group's carefully crafted public relations campaign, the news media's patterns

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