JonPilger.com | In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger traces the history of propaganda to Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, who invented the term “public relations”. Bernays believed in “engineering public consent” and creating “false realties” as news. Here are examples of how this works today.
Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, is said to have invented modern propaganda. During the first world war, he was one of a group of influential liberals who mounted a secret government campaign to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath in Europe. In his book, Propaganda, published in 1928, Bernays wrote that the “intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society” and that the manipulators “constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country”. Instead of propaganda, he coined the euphemism “public relations”.
The American tobacco industry hired Bernays to convince women they should smoke in public. By associating smoking with women’s liberation, he made cigarettes “torches of freedom”. In 1954, he conjured a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the democratically-elected government, whose social reforms were threatening the United Fruit company’s monopoly of the banana trade. He called it a “liberation”.
Bernays was no rabid right-winger. He was an elitist liberal who believed that “engineering public consent” was for the greater good. This was achieved by the creation of “false realities” which then became “news events”. Here are examples of how it is done these days:
False reality The last US combat troops have left Iraq “as promised, on schedule”, according to President Barack Obama. TV screens have filled with cinematic images of the “last US soldiers” silhouetted against the dawn light, crossing the border into Kuwait.
Fact They are still there. At least 50,000 troops will continue to operate from 94 bases. American air assaults are unchanged, as are special forces’ assassinations. The number of “military contractors” is currently 100,000 and rising. Most Iraqi oil is now under direct foreign control.
False reality BBC presenters and reporters have described the departing US troops as a “sort of victorious army” that has achieved “a remarkable change in [Iraq’s] fortunes”. Their commander, General David Petraeus, is a “celebrity”, “charming”, “savvy” and “remarkable”.
Fact There is no victory of any sort. There is a catastrophic disaster; and attempts to present it as otherwise are a model of Bernays’ campaign to “re-brand” the slaughter of the first world war as “necessary” and “noble”. In 1980, Ronald Reagan, running for president, re-branded the invasion of Vietnam, in which up to three million people died, as a “noble cause”, a theme taken up enthusiastically by Hollywood. Today’s Iraq war movies have a similar purging theme: the invader as both idealist and victim. Read More