A few days ago, the Sammie Lynn Puett Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) invited me to speak at the University of Tennessee's PR Day. It was more of an honor to be asked than the students will ever know. I don't think many of them knew I was a charter member of that PRSSA chapter back in the '70s and that Sammie Lynn Puett, a revered figure on campus for many years, had been my teacher, student adviser and, later in life, my mentor. Sammie Lynn had been a journalist before going into teaching and taught several journalism courses, including the first one I ever took, Basic News Writing. She also served for a while as a PR professional, and was determined to establish a comprehensive PR curriculum at UT. It hadn't been fully fleshed out by the time I graduated in 1973, but I took every PR course offered at the time, including all of the graduate level courses. The first PR textbook I ever used was Effective Public Relations by Scott Cutlip and Allen Center. First published in 1952, it is still considered the PR "bible" by many PR teachers and practitioners. In my view, one of the reasons it is called the PR bible is that Cutlip & Center, from the very beginning, preached the importance of ethics and ethical behavior. As I told the students at PR Day, I did not learn in PR school -- not from Cutlip & Center, and certainly not from Sammie Lynn -- how to set up fake grassroots organizations and front groups to disseminate false or misleading information in order to manipulate public opinion and influence public policy. I would not learn how to do that -- and how prevalent such PR practices are -- until many years later, when I was deep into my career as a corporate communications executive.
In advance of my appearance with Michael Moore on Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight on MSNBC (8 and 11 p.m. ET), I would like to offer an apology to both Moore and his arch enemy, the health insurance industry, which spent a lot of policyholder premiums in 2007 to attack his movie, Sicko. I need to apologize to Moore for the role I played in the insurance industry's public relations attack campaign again him and Sicko, which was about the increasingly unfair and dysfunctional U.S. health care system. (I was head of corporate communications at one of the country's biggest insurance companies when I left my job in May 2008.) And I need to apologize to health insurers for failing to note in my new book, Deadly Spin, that the front group they used to attack Moore and Sicko -- Health Care America -- was originally a front group for drug companies. APCO Worldwide, the PR firm that operated the front group for insurers during the summer of 2007, was outraged -- outraged, I tell you -- that I wrote in the book that the raison d'être for Health Care America was to disseminate the insurance industry's talking points as part of a multi-pronged, fear-mongering campaign against Moore and his movie. An APCO executive told a reporter who had reviewed the book that I was guilty of one of the deceptive PR tactics I condemned: the selective disclosure of information to manipulate public opinion.
What a difference a word can make -- nothing short of the difference between good and evil.
During my interview on Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC Wednesday night, I explained the sinister work of an industry-funded front group to discredit Michael Moore as a filmmaker and citizen and especially of his 2007 movie, Sicko. The PR firm hired by health insurers to do the evil deed set up and operated a front group, named “Health Care America,” to conduct a fear-mongering campaign designed to scare people away from the movie’s core message: that every developed country in the world except the United States has been able to achieve universal coverage for their citizens largely because they don’t allow big insurance companies to call the shots like they do here. I wrote about this in my book, Deadly Spin, in the chapter entitled “The Campaign Against Sicko.”
I inadvertently called the front group “Health Care America Now” in response to a question from Keith Olbermann. That misstatement has led to some confusion, so I want to set the record straight. Health Care for America Now is one of the good guys, in my view. It is a real grassroots organization comprising a broad range of groups throughout the country advocating for “quality, affordable health care.” Health Care America was what is commonly known as a fake grassroots or “Astroturf” organization. It was set up and operated by a big PR firm and funded by Big Insurance and Big Pharma.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been taking a beating lately over its new, full-body X-Ray imaging scanners that show people naked. People are concerned about both the humiliation of the procedure and the extra doses of X-rays they get from these scanners, but travelers who refuse to be scanned must submit to a TSA "enhanced pat-down," which now involves a newer, more aggressive policy: frisking with the front of the hand instead of the back of the hand, and feeling people's crotches and women's bras. These more invasive practices are leading the public from skepticism to rage and outright resistance to the new procedures, and for good reason, since TSA's track record of facilitating crime against travelers arguably far outstrips the amount of crime the agency has prevented.
When Wall Street crashed the economy in 2008, it cost America eight million jobs and five million homes. A quarter of American families are underwater with their mortgages and four million more families may lose their homes. Despite widespread anger at the big banks, they aren’t getting the message. They continue to fraudulently foreclose on millions of families in order to keep paying out record bonuses to their top executives. They continue to back the predatory payday loan industry with over 1.5 billion dollars of credit. This cannot last.
Join NPA, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and dozens of other groups as they protest the big banks in a series of actions across the nation November 18-24. See a full list of actions here and plan one for your neck of the woods soon.
In December, two million Americans will lose their Unemployment Insurance unless Congress acts. Millions more will follow. Congress is about to make a choice that will define this moment in history: either support those unemployed by the recession or give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. Let them know you are watching. This week you can call your Senator toll free 866-606-1189 or send an email by clicking here. Tell Congress that Unemployment Insurance benefits are a vital lifeline for families and communities in these tough times.
As part of our “Whoppers of the 2010 Election Cycle” article, we noted how Republicans ran misleading ads accusing their Democratic opponents of creating jobs in China by supporting the stimulus package. Not only did these ads completely twist the facts, but it was disingenuous for GOP candidates to accuse Democrats of sending jobs to China when GOP members opposed the “Buy American” provisions that would have prevented this offshoring. Here, we discuss how the GOP’s sustained opposition to meaningful climate and energy legislation played a larger role in sending green jobs overseas than a vote for the stimulus.
Throughout the course of the 2010 Congressional midterm campaigns, candidates threw out countless fibs, questionable assertions, whoppers and half-truths. These are our candidates for the most misleading campaign ads of 2010, what are yours?Big Lie #1: Health Care Reform Guts Medicare
In a nationally coordinated effort, Republicans and pro-Republican groups attacked Democrats for supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), making misleading allegations that the health care reform bill will lead to cuts in Medicare benefits. Many of the ads came from “outside interest groups” like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the 60 Plus Association and Americans For Prosperity, who ran nearly identical ads across the country. Attacks also came from “official” Republican groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as candidates themselves.
Watch out, they’re coming. After an election cycle in which Republicans worked themselves into a lather in an attempt to convince voters that the deficit was the source of all their economic woes, the political elites and their Bankster backers are coming for the middle class. What better time for us to start a new publication — "Pillage and Plunder Alert"? And what better inaugural event than the release of the draft report prepared by the co-chairs of the Presidential Deficit Commission?
The two chairmen of the deficit commission, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, surprised Washington Wednesday with the release of their own draft recommendations on federal debt reduction. They were supposed to issue a report December 1, after the full 18-member panel had been given a chance to vote on each item. Knowing that it would be next to impossible to achieve a high level of support on the commission for their recommendations, the raiders decided to go it alone. Their package appears to be about three-fourths cuts and one-fourth revenue raisers.
Money, plain and simple, is what Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald called "the bacteria that ills the American political system" in a talk given at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on November 3, 2010. Indeed, when looking at issues individually, one can see that this is obviously the case, whether it be health care, Wall Street, war, or on national security issues. It's all the same and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Should anyone be surprised, then, that every statewide race in Pennsylvania, a state in which there are no limits on campaign contributions, was ruthlessly barraged by campaign money from oil companies? If you're surprised, you clearly haven't had your eyes open during other election cycles.
Take Action! Tell Elizabeth Warren about Your Top Priorities for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Elizabeth WarrenThe sweeping Wall Street reform bill that was signed into law this summer calls for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Just like other consumer regulators work to keep dangerous products off the market, the CFPB’s job is to make sure financial products and services don’t harm consumers or our economy.
This summer, almost 3,000 subscribers to our BanksterUSA action alerts signed a petition to President Obama asking him to appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the new bureau. On September 17th, the President appointed Warren to get the bureau on its feet and running. The new agency has not yet opened its doors, but we wanted to give Warren and the new staff a little guidance on what Americans think the agency’s top priorities should be as it begins its work.
Here at CMD, we work closely with the reform coalition Americans for Financial Reform (AFR). We hope you will take the AFR survey to let us know what consumer financial issues you think the new agency should tackle first and we will make sure the survey results are put on Professor Warren’s desk.
Throughout the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans claimed that Democrats were ready to impose massive tax increase on Americans come January 1, 2011. This inaccurate and misleading fear was perpetuated by several Republican TV ads, via chain emails, and in television interviews, including several statements by Sarah Palin, with the help of hand-notes).
Former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of this year, and it is true that if no action is taken, Americans’ taxes would revert to pre-2001 levels. However, Republicans know full well that President Barack Obama and House and Senate Democrats have always intended to extend the Bush tax cuts for the majority of Americans. For the wealthiest members of society (individuals who make over $200,000 a year, or families who earn more than $250,000), Democrats planned to return their tax rates to pre-2001 levels, but nowhere near the 90%-and-up upper-income bracket tax rates from 1944-1964.
In response to growing pressure about promoting unhealthy food to kids and contributing to the obesity epidemic, the fast food industry did what every industry that produces a harmful product does: it pledged to voluntarily end the harmful practices that started drawing scrutiny to the industry. Accordingly, in 2006 the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched its Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary code of conduct under which fast food purveyors pledged to promote healthier food choices in their advertising, and to use messages encouraging good nutrition in ads aimed at kids.
As with other voluntary corporate codes, the CFBAI has proven more effective at staving off regulation of the fast food industry than protecting kids from predatory advertising and marketing practices. Since signing onto the Initiative, the fast food industry has found many ways to evade its purported intent and promote their unhealthy foods to kids more than ever.
The U.S. Supreme Court may continue its march towards permitting greater corporate "rights" in the case AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, scheduled for oral argument on Tuesday. If the Court sides with the telecom giant, it will greatly weaken rules regarding an individual's right to join class-action lawsuits, one of the most powerful legal tools available to citizens and consumers.
Class actions allow everyday Americans to join together and bring a single lawsuit in cases of widespread violations of individual rights. These suits are particularly useful when individual damages are relatively small, making it difficult or cost-prohibitive to bring an individual suit. A class action lawsuit allows wronged persons to band together, thereby making their claims more effective and efficient. Such aggregated lawsuits aim at deterring corporate misconduct regarding misleading consumer practices, unfair hiring practices, product defects, toxic pollution, civil rights violations, and other abuses. Class action suits have been highlighted in popular culture in films like Michael Clayton, (which dealt with a corporation’s violent reaction to a class action lawsuit filed by persons sickened by health effects from its lethal pesticides) or Erin Brockovich, involving a class-action suit against the world's largest utility company for contaminating the water supply with cancer-causing chemicals.
In the weeks before the 2010 mid-term elections, the Tea Party and its activities dominated the media, but there was a decided lack of discussion about exactly what the Tea Party is. Major media seemed sold on the idea that the Tea Party is one big homogenous, spontaneous grassroots uprising, but this was not the case. Apart from a single, exhaustive article in the August 30, 2010 edition of The New Yorker (aptly titled "Covert Operations,") that linked the wealthy billionaire Koch Brothers' and their corporate interests to the Tea Party, few media outlets discussed which factions of the movement were truly grassroots, which were corporate-backed, and to what extent corporations supported the "movement."
Here at PRWatch, we strove to tease out the difference between various Tea Party factions, like the GOP-backed Tea Party Express, the grassroots Tea Party Patriots and the for-profit corporation called Tea Party Nation. We found out which factions were getting the big money, who their PR operatives were, what types of PR tricks they were engaging in, and more.
Lisa Graves, CMD Executive Director With the flood of opinions about the meaning of the 2010 election results and the hundreds of millions spent by front groups and special interests, I'll be taking a deeper look at the results, spending reports and other research in the coming days.
Some of the spending data is in, and some will remain concealed, but we will be digging through it to give you the Center's unique perspective on what it means for PR, for public policy, and for our democracy.
So, please look for our upcoming analysis, which we'll email and post online in the coming weeks. This weekend, PRWatch.org will be offline as we prepare to launch major upgrades to this website, but we will be back online next week and our redesigned website should be live later this month for you to use and explore.
It’s the day before a hotly-contested national election, where it appeared the rabble was well positioned to deliver a colossal spanking to the elites who have for too long ignored their plight, so what does Team Obama do?
They have a press conference to talk about their eagerness to complete the Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiated by President Bush. "The president has long said we want to try and address the outstanding issues regarding the Free Trade Agreement in order to bring it forward for approval," said Mike Froman, Obama’s deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. “[W]e're going to put every effort into achieving ... an acceptable agreement, a satisfactory agreement, by the time the president comes to Seoul," he told a news conference on Monday.
Are these people nuts?
The progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now has uncovered a plan by the Wisconsin Republican Party, Americans for Prosperity, and local Tea Party groups to engage in what One Wisconsin Now is calling a “voter suppression” scheme. The GOP and Tea Party groups have denied the existence of such a plan, instead claiming that their efforts are aimed at preventing alleged "voter fraud."
The voter-suppression charge arises from right-wing groups training “election observers” to challenge people they somehow suspect of voting fraudulently in Wisconsin’s elections. Americans for Prosperity is paying for a series of mailings targeted at communities of color, to assemble a list of “ineligible” voters that Tea Party election observers will challenge at the polls. Such challenges are not only intimidating and intrusive, but contribute to long lines at polling stations, further discouraging voters.
CMDs Senior Fellow on Health Care, Wendell PotterThe Center for Media and Democracy's Senior Fellow on Health Care, Wendell Potter, has a new tell-all book coming out November 9, Deadly Spin: An insurance company insider speaks out on how corporate PR is killing health care and deceiving Americans. The book details disinformation campaigns that health insurers use to cover up their misdeeds and manipulate public policy, reveals insurers' public relations tricks, like commissioning bogus scientific studies, working through fake "grassroots" organizations, and disseminating rhetoric designed to scare the public. (Think phrases like "socialism" and "death panels," that Wendell reveals were created by health insurance companies.) Wendell tells about the methods insurers use to "dump the sick," discusses the skyrocketing premiums and high deductibles that are putting health care out of reach for working people, and discloses the outrageous salaries that insurance companies executives make while denying care to patients. As the former head of Corporate Communications for CIGNA, Wendell is uniquely to qualified bring this important information to the public. The book, published by Bloomsbury, can be ordered at Amazon.com.
Fred Malek (from YouTube)The Center for Media and Democracy continues its series exposing the right-wing political operatives, billionaires, and corporate executives behind the American Action Network (AAN), the group running grossly misleading ads attacking Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. This week, we highlight AAN board member and CREEP-er, Fred Malek.
Our past articles have suggested that AAN is attacking Russ Feingold as revenge for his votes for financial reform, and against TARP and the Wall Street bailout. We have demonstrated that some of AAN’s board members benefited personally from TARP and the Wall Street bailout, and are trying to convince voters to support corporatist candidates who will do their bidding and stall needed financial reforms. We’ve also noted how the Washington, D.C.-based AAN operates under a veil of secrecy, collecting over $25 million from anonymous corporate donors. American Action Network Chair Fred Malek is well versed in punishing those considered “disloyal” and carrying out acts of deception.