Back in my early thirties, I strayed from the path of pure journalism and entered the much more lucrative world of public relations. I had read a few text books and listened to some smooth talkers who convinced me that all I had to do was tell the truth and the public would be persuaded to do whatever it was we wanted them to do. My mantra was a French proverb: “To understand all is to forgive all.”
I worked for the Canadian and Jamaican governments and for an American company that was supposed to be building a new telephone system for Jamaica. I tried to tell the truth, as far as I knew it, but it didn’t take me long to realize that what I was doing was putting “spin” on the facts (facts that were fed to me by people who were not always truthful).
One day, I was given a choice: Make loads of money proclaiming the benefits of “freeing enterprise”; or make enough to get by teaching journalism. Without much cogitation, I kissed the money goodbye.
But looking back, public relations was an innocent art form in those days. Reputable professionals did not practice “negative PR” – otherwise known as character assassination. And back then, the media placed a lot of emphasis on the credibility of sources. If a source was suspect, the media tended to ignore information from that source. So public relations professionals had an incentive to maintain their credibility.
Today’s media don’t seem to care where they get their information. They publish “special pleading” as if it were an honest examination of the topic under discussion.
What do they expect from Karl Rove (photo at right)? Or Sarah Palin (photo at left)? Balanced discussion? Gimme a break!
Today, Yahoo News shamed the media’s image even more blatantly. Under the guise of an “Op Ed” article, the internet search engine (turned money machine) published a spurious screed from a Republican politician named John Boehner (photo below, left).
The heading: “Dem’s Health Plan Will Increase Costs for Families, Small Businesses.”
A heading like that does not leave room for argument. Boehner’s “spin” (probably written for him by a PR pro) is presented to Yahoo readers as fact. For shame! Walter Cronkite must be turning over in his grave. But that’s the way it is today. With the internet available to anyone with a computer, and with the media willing (even eager) to spread propaganda, you really can’t believe what you read.
The gatekeepers that once ensured some semblance of reliability in the information fed to the public have gone the way of the dodo bird. The question now is: How can democracy endure when the public is fed a steady diet of “spin” and lies?