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04-23-01: Goebbels and today's mass mind control: Part One
How PR opinion-shapers turn the people against their own interests
By Carla Binion
April 23, 2001 -- Today's right-wing public relations spin has much in
common with the propaganda methods of Hitler's PR man, Joseph Goebbels.
Goebbels admired Edward Bernays, a self-proclaimed founder of the public
relations industry. Bernays, a Vienna-born nephew of Sigmund Freud,
opened a New York office in 1919. According to John Stauber and Sheldon
Rampton, ("Toxic Sludge is Good for You," Common Courage Press, 1995)
Bernays "pioneered the PR industry's use of psychology and other social
sciences to design its public persuasion campaigns."
Bernays wrote in "Propaganda," (New York: 1928, pp. 47-48) "If we
understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible
to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their
knowing it." Bernays referred to this scientific opinion-control as the
"engineering of consent."
In his autobiography, Bernays discusses a dinner at his home in 1933
where, "Karl von Weigand, foreign correspondent of the Hearst newspapers,
an old hand at interpreting Europe and just returned from Germany, was
telling us about Goebbels and his propaganda plans to consolidate Nazi
power. Goebbels had shown Weigand his propaganda library, the best
Weigand had ever seen. Goebbels, said Weigand, was using my book
'Crystallizing Public Opinion' as a basis for his destructive campaign
against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me….Obviously the attack on the
Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate,
Today, corporations spend millions on public relations campaigns to
"crystallize public opinion," often in an effort to convince the public
that harmful things are actually good for us. Sometimes the companies
start by bending the minds of our elected representatives.
This is the first part of a series. In part one, we'll focus on the ways
in which corporations and their public relations mind-shapers worked to
destroy the Clinton health care plan. Today forty-four million Americans,
about one in five people, have no health coverage, and many people cannot
afford needed pharmaceutical drugs. Most Americans probably wonder why,
despite repeatedly broken campaign promises, Congress never does anything
to improve the health care system.
As far back as November 8, 1999, a Newsweek article reported that half or
more of eligible heart attack patients are at greater risk because they
can't get needed beta blockers. The article stated that two-thirds of
people surveyed say they are worried that health care is no longer
affordable. Conditions haven't improved since then.
In 1993, the Clinton administration tried to do something about the high
price of prescription drugs, hinting at possible government-imposed price
controls. The pharmaceutical industry then turned to the Beckel Cowan PR
firm to oppose the administration's designs on lowering the cost of
prescription drugs -- although, of course, the Clinton plan would have
benefited the public.
Stauber and Rampton write that Beckel Cowan "created an astroturf [or,
fake grassroots] organization called 'Rx Partners' and began deploying
state and local organizers to, in the words of a company brochure,
'generate and secure high-quality personal letters from influential
constituents to 35 targeted members of Congress.'"
At the same time, Beckel Cowan managed a mail and phone campaign "which
produced personal letters, telegrams and patch-through calls to the
targeted members' local and Washington, DC, offices." The PR firm built a
network of supporters in 35 congressional districts and states.
Pharmaceutical companies weren't the only corporations to oppose an
improved health care system. The insurance industry went to work to fight
against the Clinton health care plan, recruiting PR-man Robert Hoopes.
According to Stauber and Rampton, the 300,000 member Independent Insurance
Agents of America (IIAA) hired Hoopes as their "grassroots
coordinator/political education specialist."
Campaign & Elections magazine reported the IIAA activated "nearly 140,000
insurance agents during the health care debate, becoming what Hoopes
describes as a new breed of Washington lobbyists," wrote Stauber and
Rampton. Hoopes said the lobbyists "have behind them an army of
independent insurance agents from each state, and members of Congress
understand what a lobbyist can do with the touch of a button to mobilize
those people for or against them."
In Campaign & Elections magazine ("Killing Health Care Reform,"
October/November 1994) Thomas Scarlett writes of the insurance companies
PR moves, "Through a combination of skillfully targeted media and
grassroots lobbying, these groups were able to change more minds than the
president could, despite the White House 'bully pulpit.' …Never before
have private interests spent so much money so publicly to defeat an
initiative launched by a president."
The Coalition for Health Insurance Choices (CHIC), an insurance company
front group, led the attacks on health care reform. According to Consumer
Reports, "The HIAA [Health Insurance Association of America] doesn't just
support the coalition; it created it from scratch." Stauber and Rampton
write that PR-man Blair G. Childs masterminded the Coalition.
Describing the fight against health care reform, Childs said in 1993, "The
insurance industry was real nervous. Everybody was talking about health
care reform…We felt like we were looking down the barrel of a gun." He
added, "We needed cover because we were going to be painted as the bad
guy. You get strength in numbers…Start with the natural, strongest
allies, sit around a table and build up to give your coalition a positive
To battle health care reform, Childs said the coalition brought in
"everyone from the homeless Vietnam veterans…to some very conservative
groups. It was an amazing array, and they were all doing something."
(Blair Childs speaking at "Shaping Public Opinion: If You Don't Do It
Somebody Else Will," in Chicago, Dec. 9, 1994.)
Childs advised industry health reform opponents on selecting names for
their fake grassroots coalitions. He said they should use focus groups
and surveys to find "words that resonate very positively." (Examples
included the words "fairness, balance, choice, coalition and alliance.")
His own coalition sponsored the famous "Harry and Louise" television
spots. Those ads used strategic words to convince the public that
Clinton's health care plan was overly complex -- a "billion dollar
Propagandist Rush Limbaugh also fueled the anti-health care debate on his
radio show with frequent "calculated rants" aimed at his dittohead
audience. PR-man Blair Childs said his coalition ran paid ads on
Limbaugh's show to encourage Rush's listeners to call members of Congress
and urge them to kill health care reform.
Stauber and Rampton say that congressional staffers often didn't know the
callers were "primed, loaded, aimed and fired at them by radio ads on the
Limbaugh show, paid by the insurance industry, with the goal of
orchestrating the appearance of overwhelming grassroots opposition to
During 1992 and much of 1993, before the propaganda blitz, both Democrats
and Republicans were leaning toward a health reform bill according to
James Fallows (The Atlantic, January 1995.) Fallows writes, "Bob Dole
said he was eager to work with the administration and appeared at events
side by side with Hillary Clinton to endorse universal coverage.
Twenty-three Republicans said that universal coverage was a given in a new
By 1994, the insurance corporations' PR attacks had changed the political
environment. Stauber and Rampton write that "Republicans who previously
had signed on to various components of the Clinton plan backed away."
Even Democratic Party Senate majority leader George Mitchell "announced a
scaled-back plan that was almost pure symbolism…Republicans dismissed it
with fierce scorn."
Although Hitler's propagandist used mass mind control for more sinister
goals, today's corporate propagandists have the following in common with
Goebbels: They use the same opinion-shaping techniques he did, and they
use them for the purpose of turning the people against their own
interests. When large numbers of American citizens suffer or die because
they can't get needed medicine or surgery as a result of corporate
propaganda, it becomes obvious that Goebbels and today's industry PR spin
doctors have produced fruit that is similar in kind, though different in
The public benefits from understanding corporate PR and its character and
intentions. Hitler said, "Only one thing could have broken our movement:
if the adversary had understood its principle and from the first day had
smashed with extreme brutality the nucleus of our new movement." (Speech
to Nuremberg Congress, 9/3/33.)
Corporate America's movement to undermine affordable prescription drugs,
universal health care and other public health and safety interests has to
be understood before it can be fought. Stauber and Rampton say the PR
industry resembles the title character in the old Claude Rains movie, "The
Invisible Man." Rains' character uses his invisibility to get away with
robbery, murder and other crimes. The film was made using special-effects
techniques such as hidden wires to make ashtrays, guns and other objects
appear to float in mid-air, as if they were being moved by the invisible
"Instead of ashtrays and guns," write Stauber and Rampton, "The PR
industry seeks to manipulate public opinion and government policy. But it
can only manipulate while it remains invisible."
In part two, we'll look at specific techniques today's public relations
ploys have in common with Goebbels' methods, and we'll examine the
corporations' and think-tanks' Goebbels-like attacks on environmental
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