Academic journal article Journalism History

PR! A Social History of Spin

Academic journal article Journalism History

PR! A Social History of Spin

Article excerpt

Ewen, Stuart. PR! A Social History of Spin. New York: Basic Books, 1996. 480 pp. $30.

The title and the content of this book are not a good fit, unless you want to accept FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and many others in government and in the private sector as ex officio public relations practitioners. This book is more about public opinion than PR. As for the impact of the "spin," most public relations professionals would only say, "I wish!"

Stuart Ewen, the author of All Consuming Images, which inspired Bill Moyers' PBS series, The Public Mind, has done a magnificent job of chronicling public opinion through the twentieth century. And he has pinpointed a number of the major influencers of that opinion, such as both presidents Roosevelt. His book also tells readers when and how public opinion began to be measured by names readers will recognize, such as Elmo Roper, George Gallup, and Claude Robinson (Opinion Research).

As his Images book does, this one shows how public opinion in the U.S. has shifted, and it illustrates how efforts to influence public opinion have used different strategies based on the public "mood," rather than the "mind."

Major pioneer public relations practitioners, such as Edward L. Bernays, Ivy Lee, George Creel, Theodore Vail, Louis Howe, Earl Newsom, John Hill, Howard Chase, Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter, put in appearances. However, many others named, who contribute to the "spin" put on events and create events for imagemaking, are not public relations practitioners.

The PR focus at the beginning and at the end is on Bernays, yet Ewen never mentions Bernays's consuming passion to get public relations practice licensed so it would be clear who is doing what with what credentials. In fact, it is not clear whether the author understands the difference between press agent, publicist, and public relations counsel. But this may say more about the practice of public relations than historians.

Throughout, Ewen is dealing with the "mass audience" of the country, when most practitioners have moved away from that emphasis. He does recognize the tensions created by the struggle between different points of view. …

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