Command Consent

March 2003


When was it exactly that we authorized our government to spend billions of our tax dollars on PR to persuade us into agreeing with them?

I always thought that Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he commented:

"Just who is the government, anyway? In a republic, the government is a servant, a temporary one, whose job is to obey orders, not originate them."

It seems to me that in any republic, with high ideals and aspirations to democracy, the government should be prohibited from seeking to mold and modify the opinions of the electorate. It should certainly be prohibited from spending vast sums of public money on elaborate PR to further any particular political agenda.

Our government is supposed to be above that sort of thing -- it is supposed to listen politely to what we have to say and then do its best to serve the electorate, that is, all of us. Our elected representatives are supposed to come to us for answers. They are not supposed to sell us their ideas like toothpaste, with our money.

Of course, I am speaking of what ought to be the case, and not what has come to pass. I am grieving for a lost innocence that we never really had. Our government has always been in the pockets of rich and powerful people. But ideals should stand for something, a direction in which we would like to go, or at the very least a direction we should turn away from before it is too late.

Our government has spent an unprecedented amount of our money trying to influence public opinion on the matter of Iraq. Since the terrible incident of 9/11, our government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on media and public relations campaigns whose purpose is to sell the war with Iraq to the American people. This should not be allowed. The merits of this war are irrelevant. Our government should not be allowed to spend our money to make us agree with them.

Our government currently employs hundreds of PR professionals, whose job is to find or manufacture information that supports the notion that:

Our government is very experienced in this sort of campaign. The same elements in the government have been waging what amounts to a propaganda war with Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Cuba, Nicaragua... It does not matter if propaganda is untrue, it only matters that those who manufacture it do not know or care if it is true. All that they care about is expedience.

Back in the days before the arranged marriage of advertising and behavioral engineering resulted in the love child of modern public relations, there were pundits of opinion, such as William Randolph Hearst. These self-appointed spokespeople shouted to the heavens about all kinds of issues, real or imagined. Serious journalists had a term for them: the yellow press. Millions of people believed in their campaigns, hook, line and sinker. The government, particularly those who had attained public office, did not use public money to coerce the electorate. If they had done so, actual journalists would have roasted their political hides in public. I wonder when this changed?

I think it must have been during the latter part of the Johnson administration, or during the Nixon years, that the government went into the business of developing political opinions, big time. I recall people questioning why the Nixon Whitehouse needed a press budget that was larger than the news budgets of all three major networks combined. Things have not improved since then. The Reagan administration was fond of planting the most obvious untruths in print, under the guise of information from official sources. They were also fond of excluding journalists who turned in unfavorable stories about them. The elder Bush and Clinton administrations continued the assault on truth. Since the Patriot Act passed, truth has been running scared.

Today, when three corporations own something like 90% of all of the fourth estate in the USA, the mission of the government propagandist is vastly simplified. If you wish to establish the credibility of a fact, you only have to arrange for it to show up in three places, not hundreds. When the editors of the New York Times see the same factoid in, for example, Newsweek, CBS News, and a Pentagon briefing, they accept it as gospel. In journalism, the truth is much less important than what is generally accepted to be the truth. Seeing and hearing the identical carefully crafted negative publicity, appearing spontaneously in 30-40 supposedly different news sources on the same day, makes one suspicious: truth is no longer an absolute, but a commodity that is often manufactured on demand.

Apologists for the US free and independent press tell us that circumstances like these are merely accidents and that they could never happen by deliberate design. How likely do you think it is that a phrase like "Axis of Evil" was quite suddenly a feature of every newspaper, every television news broadcast, and every news periodical? Just the other day, I was in a grocery store. Their canned music started blaring out a pro-war country western song... and this wasn't something about WWII or the Korean War, this was a very topical lyric that named all the same names that you see in the tabloids every week. This is no coincidence.

If history is any guide, our leaders do NOT know what is best for us. That kind of paternalistic claptrap expired for good and for all in the trenches of France in WWI, if not before. What tiny shred of plausibility it once had vanished with the publication of Silent Spring.1

The very worst thing about having an elitist, anti-democratic cabal in power, masquerading as representative government, is not that they treat us all like sheep, but that so many of us act like sheep.

1Rachel Carson's seminal work on the threat to the natural environment posed by indiscriminate technology.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.