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Toxic Sludge is Good For You : Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

by John Stauber, published by Common Courage Press (1995-09)

Buy now from Amazon.com for $17.95
Amazon rating of 4.5 out of 5, Amazon sales rank: 66650

Editor's Review:

Sure, many of us in this modern world are cynical. The most cynical may even suspect that the news is manipulated and massaged by sponsors, that corporations act in their best interests, that political campaigns are determined not by votes, but by bucks, and that we don't get "all the news that's fit to print" but instead, "all the news that gets the ink". But even the most media-savvy amongst you will be awed by the behind-the-scenes descriptions of the Public Relations industry in action so masterfully described in this book. If you want your eyes to be opened, open them upon the pages of this book. (But remember: there are some very important people counting on you, and they really would prefer that you didn't ever hear about this book, much less buy it.)

Common Courage's number one seller blows the lid off of today's multi-billion-dollar propaganda-for-hire PR industry, revealing how public relations wizards concoct and spin the news, organize phony "grassroots" front groups, spy on citizens and conspire with lobbyists and politicians.

Reader Reviews:

Once again, John Stauber has written a book that tells it like it is, and this one ought to be a bestseller. Readers who can accept these truths may also want to read a couple highly detailed yet fascinating exposes of toxic sludge that is supposed to be good for us. First, "Fluoride Deception" by Christopher Bryson. Yup, that fluoride in your water and toothpaste is a poisonous wasteproduct turned to profit through shrewd public relations strategies. Secondly, read "The Whole Soy Story" by Kaayla Daniel. This is even more of a shocker. It's on how we've all been sold on the idea that soy is good for us. Did you know that soy protein and lecithin are waste products -- toxic and sludgy leftovers from vegetable oil and margarine making that the soy industry decided to make profitable? Because no one other than a few vegetarians and hippies wanted to eat that toxic sludge, we all had to be manipulated into believing that they are good for us. And now soy's in so many foods that it's hard to escape it. Thanks to John Stauber's books including "Trust Us, We're Experts,"I'm wary of experts and now know enough to follow the money. Just who are Ketchum Inc., Burson-Marsteller, and Fleishman-Hillard? Most Americans have not a clue, but these megacorporations surely know all about you.

I'm sure nearly all middle-aged Americans and those in college and remember seeing the California Raisins on TV. But, I bet many of you didn't know that the claymation production was less about enteraining kids at home and more a heavily financed strategic operation to get us consuming excessively in reaction to an expose that revealed that raisins had high levels of food toxicity and contamination with pesticides.

Most of what we see in the news is sponsored, but not all of it is explicitly revealed as such. Often, "exclusive" undercover footage or an in-depth feature is really just a slick paid advertisment.

How many brands of beer or clothing do you know? Compare that to how many capitals of foreign countries you can name in fifeen seconds without looking at map. Now, ask yourself how did it get that way?

This book sheds light on the public relations industry. It takes a rather critical tone and shows us how this industry has firm control over the culture and knowledge of the world's citizens, especially those in America. It serves as a bit of disinformation to the propaganda effort led by those who want to "manufacture [your] consent".

If you want to know how propaganda works in the world today, I recommend you give it a read. It will tell you how psychological games are being used on the public this very day and what you can do to safe-guard yourself from the sometimes menacing effects of the media spin machine. In addition to the fact that this book reads like a thriller, the content and specific examples that are used in this book are so eye opening that it might make you depressed or even nauseated.

Americans are flooded with a propaganda campaign so efficiant that it would make the NAZIs jealous. This book expalins in vivid detail the actual manipulation tactics that are used by the energy, pharmacuetical and tobbaco industries (among others) to blind us into submission and hypnotize us into believing their products are not only safe but are intimately tied to your youth and vitality.

An earlier post for this book made the comment that the authors shouldn't explain the actual manipulation strategies, but the dangerous PR firms allready know how to use them. The rest of us should know these strategies so we can recognize their tactics when we are confronted with them.
Highly recomended book.Where oh where do I begin? Toxic Sludge... takes a jaded look at the public relations industry, and exposes more than a few objectionable practices perpetrated on behalf of (mostly) corporate America's pursuit of the Almighty Buck.

I say 'mostly' because, however distressing it may be to informed and intelligent citizenship, even the United States Government and more than a few foreign regimes solicit the services of these most nefarious snake oil salesmen. Let's face it, you really do not consume the services of PR firms in order to foster good relations with your customers, you go to them when you have done something bad, and you want it covered up, or at least 'spinned' in the 'right' direction. You solicit the help of PR flacks and keep them on juicy retainers in order to look good, and not to be good. When the doo-doo hits the fan, whose a corporate ne'er do well gonna call? The PR company, that's who.

Toxic Sludge... contains twelve chapters of absorbing reading. From countermeasures directed at censoring information thoroughly in the public domain, keeping books off the bookshelves and dissenting voices from being heard, to infiltrating shoe-string activist organizations, fomenting criminal insurgency and subverting (and ultimately perverting) any and all attempts to relay the facts, the authors provide example after example of very well-financed government and corporate interests actively frustrating (and quite often foiling) intelligent and inormed democratic participation in the political and economic process. As Mark Dowie, the author of the introduction says, in an environment rife with PR, facts can not survive, nor can the truth prevail.

Some of the strategies and tactics PR firms used with giddy abandon on often unsuspecting targets truly shocked me, for many tools and tricks from the PR Playbook share an eerie resemblance to CIA methods and operations. In fact, more than a few PR players and heavy hitters get their inspiration from millitary strategists such as von Clauswitz, and cross-fertilization between PR firms and the upper levels of government and corporate America impart a uniquely acidic aggressivity and practiced slickness to their campaigns against their opponents. Some of their more colorful operations reminded me of the FBI's use, via its infamous COINTELPRO initiative, of agent provocateurs against student groups, anti-Vietnam war protestors and civil rights activists during the late sixties and early-mid-seventies. This unholy alliance between government, corporations and PR firms, combined with their incestuous linkages to the ad industry, make for one formidable and thorougly intimidating opponent.

The book contains a veritable smorgasbord of eminently quotable quotes and delightful (and very distressing) anecdotes. In this vein, my personal favorite is the story of how PT Barnum, of circus fame, got his start. He put on display an old, black slavewoman, and billed her as 'George Washington's childhood nursemaid', and get this- he claimed that she was one hundred and sixty years old. Barnum made certain that he got the woman in the news as often as he could, and it did not matter what the papers said, as long as his name was spelled right. Of course, Barnum made a killing, the woman died, an autopsy was performed for the benefit of more than a few skeptics, and gee whiz, it turned out that she could not have been more than eighty.

Barnum, of course, handled the situation like the PR pro he was. When the truth was finally revealed, he went public, and said he was shocked, truly shocked, at the way the woman had deceived him!

And that anecdote, in essence, describes the modus operandi of the PR professional. PR pros turn the truth inside out. While they greatly prefer subtlety, they will stoop to other, more brutish tactics in service of their cause. PR groups can obtain favorable coverage of their worldview, much like Barnum did, and can readily obtain the willing cooperation of government agencies, as well as current and former high ranking government officials and politicians to do their questionable bidding.

The PR firm has proven itself to be at times a sinister, vicious octopus with many tentacles in some of the most unlikely places. As such, it behooves any concerned citizen to read this book and take notice of this beast as he or she participates in the marketplace of ideas.See, long ago (how long? More than one hundred years...) advertising, and not circulation (that small fee you pay when you buy a magazine or daily newspaper) was already the number one source of income for most newspapers. Is it too difficult to predict that advertisers can exert power over publishers?
And when you learn from this book that 10 out of the top 15 Public Relations firms (already back in 1994) are owned by advertising firms, and you do the math, I believe you'll then find easy to understand why some unpleasant news don't find their way through the "free" press...

This book is extremely well researched; it pushes you to think twice at problems; it is a good handbook on how to spot deceit; it is a source of hope.
It is also somewhat scary and somewhat difficult as well (many quotations save the authors from lawsuits but slow the reading speed; there are topics on international politics; there's some reasoning about chemistry...) so I don't recommend it to the average reader (choose "Trust us, we're experts" by the same authors and "Influence" by Robert Cialdini first, then come back and dig this one).

Quotations follow:
"The radioactive waste from nuclear power plants contains the deadliest substances known. It consists mostly of spent fuel which, although it is no longer suitable for generating power, will remain radioactive and lethal for over 100,000 years."

"The business class dominates government through its ability to fund political campaigns, purchase high priced lobbysts and reward former officials with lucrative jobs."

"When an issue is actually coming up for a vote, [this direct-marketer] turns to his phone banks: 'Phones are for speed. Another advantage of phones is that it's really flexible. You test mail, get results in three weeks, and make adjustments. With phones you're on the phones today, you analyze your results, you change your script and try a new thing tomorrow. In a three-day program you can make four or five different changes, find out what's really working, what messages really motivate people, and improve your response rates'. "
Everybody hates junk mail and junk phone calls. Problem is, this stuff works...

"Every day 20 million Americans tune in and turn on to the Limbaugh talk radio show, which is aired on 650 stations across the United States. However, few people realize the degree of technologically sophisticated orchestration behind Limbaugh's power. [Someone] explained how his coalition used paid ads on the Limbaugh show to generate thousands of citizen phone calls urging legislators to kill health reform. First, Rush would hip us his 'dittohead' fans with a calculated rant against the Clinton health plan. Then during a commercial break listeners would hear a anti-health care ad and an 800 number to call for more information. Calling the number would connect them to a telemarketer, who would talk to them briefly and then 'patch them through' directly to their congressperson's office. The congressional staffers fielding the calls typically had no idea that the constituents had been primed, loaded, aimed and fired at them by radio ads on the Limbaugh show, paid by the insurance industry, with the goal of orchestrating grassroots opposition to health reform".
One wonders (might I add?) how naive and unfit for the job American congresspersons are! They just don't know a trick played on some 20 million fellow citizens!?

Do you know SLAPP lawsuits? They are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, their goal is to force the defendant to run up huge bills: and shut up, of course. And what happens if lawsuits fail?
"And if lawsuits fail, some anti-environmentalists urge even stronger tactics. Former Interior Secretary James Watt (who in 1996 pleaded guilty to trying to influence a Federal grand jury) told a gathering of cattlemen in June 1990, 'If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.' ".

There are tens of quotable lines in this book, I just think those above are enough to give you some clue about its relevance.

I tried to imagine how to describe a country where less than half the citizens bother to vote, politicians get massive amounts of money from corporations (why? and what's the compensation?), consumers lemmingly follow what the media tell them. I have three words: apathy, greed, gullibility. This book is a very effective antidote.
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See also:
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq

How to Prevent and Treat Cancer With Natural Medicine

The War On Truth: 9/11, Disinformation And The Anatomy Of Terrorism

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