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Crystallizing Public Opinion
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Read: 2018-02-03
Last Update: 2018-02-03

Five Sentence Abstract:

This edition, from 1961, contains and extensive preface that recounts the modern history of propaganda through the first half of the 20th century as seen from Bernays' position at the center of the development. Mentioned more than a few times are the tools of the propagandists trade - magazines, motion pictures, radio, books, lectures, plays, and any other kind of media available. A kind of circular logic is presented when you consider that the promotion of public relations was done in the same way you'd promote anything else - through the aforementioned media - until the public opinion, on public relations, was formed. Bernays, Lippmann, and several other prominent propagandists of the era usher in a new way to understand public opinion with the advent of the so-called group mind, the precursor to today's group think and hive mind. The eventual conclusion, contrary to what you might think given the association most make between public relations, advertising, marketing, and their goal of sales, is that the upper class of society must use these means to inject morals into the lower classes.

Thoughts:

The preface to the 1961 edition gives a look back at the history of propaganda from about the first world war until the 1960s. Early on it gives the example of spreading the idea of public relations the same way other ideas are spread, through repetitious promotion in newspapers. The idea is also spread on radio, in lectures, at school or church, in magazines, on the stage, in music or motion pictures, and every other media.

"Articles about public relations appeared in magazines of general circulation, such as The Atlantic Monthly and The American Mercury and in Business Week, Nation's Business and other similar journals. A profile of Ivy Lee appeared in The American Mercury in the late 1920'S. The Atlantic Monthly of May, 1932, and The American Mercury of February, 1930, carried profiles of me. Business Week published its first special report on public relations on January 23, 1937, and another on October I, 1939. The Columbia Encyclopedia, published in 1935, had no article on the profession, but listed books about it in the bibliography of the article on propaganda. Fortune regarded 1938 as the big year for professional public relations. Scarcely a convention, trade magazine or meeting of a board of directors failed to discuss it. In 1939, Fortune, in an article entitled, "The Public Be Not Damned,""

I wonder who was in control of these magazines at the time?

There are many examples provided for how public relations was used to sway the masses, from selling apartments to allaying Italy's suspicion that the USA was not going to support her after the war. From increasing hair-net sales by countering the bobbed cut fashion to projecting ideas that lead to Lithuanian independence. Even promoted League of Nations. These cursory case studies don't offer much depth. They are all basically the same idea, relentless promotion of a particular viewpoint in as many forms of media as can be recruited.

One of the examples Bernay's uses is the promotion of his own play, "Damaged Goods." He points out that such a sexually charged play, concerning syphilis, was made acceptable because it was spun as bringing safe sexual education to the masses. From where I am standing, with the advantage of hindsight, it seems to have simply been another rung on the ladder to sexual degeneracy.

It is stated that men have opinions on everything, even that which they know nothing of, a priori, based on some authority such as parents, teachers, or government. To change these opinions you must either introduce a new authority or discredit the old one. On one hand he is saying that you can't argue facts, and that you need to appeal to emotion. On the other hand he clearly states that logical fallacies are to be avoided.

A few of the names that crop up in the work include Margaret Sanger (eugenicist, Planned Parenthood), George Creel (WW1 propagandist, Bernay served under), and Walter Lippmann ("Public Opinion"). Lippmann's "Public Opinion" is cited constantly throughout the book.

Lippmann's theory of stereotypes states that people see things differently depending on their position and presentation. A capitalist and communist see the same thing differently. One might see an exploitive railroad and the other sees a fairly compensated public service. This is the basis for the belief in the relativity of truth. Truth here being tortured into belief, there is only one truth no matter how you might, or might not, perceive it.

Between the instilled beliefs of authority and the varying stereotypical viewpoint it is concluded that there is a crowd mind. This is the mind of a people not aggregated physically but with the same beliefs. This, again with the advantage of hindsight, seems to be the precursor to group think, the hive mind, and the concept of egregor.

It is claimed that those who dominate today do so not because of wealth/power but because they are established and unified whereas the opposition is neither. Consider the 2 party system or the incumbent. This is true, but I don't believe for a second wealth, power, and influence don't play a huge role. Later the book outlines precisely this when it considers starting a newspaper or radio station from scratch. The proposed capital requirements are completely out of the reach of the common man.

The idea of money influencing who comes to and maintains power is also clearly seen in the following example:

'"The North American." says Mr. Irwin, "had declared for local option. A committee of brewers waited on the editor; they represented one of the biggest groups in their business. 'This is an ultimatum,' they said. 'You must change your policy or lose our advertising. We'll be easy on you. We don't ask you to alter your editorial policy, but you must stop printing news of local-option victories.' So the deepest and shrewdest enemies of the body politic give practical testimony to the 'power of the press' in its modern form." In the case of the brewers of Philadelphia it is my own opinion that if they had been well advised, instead of attempting to interfere with the policy of the North American, they would have made it a point to bring to the attention of the North American every instance of the defeat of local option.' The newspaper would undoubtedly have published both sides of the story, as far as both sides consisted of news.'

This is essentially going after the income of a newspaper with pressure from the advertisers.

What is news anyway? It is that which deviates from the norm or has some kind of personal interest to the reader. The latter is the basis for the prevalence of human interest stories we see today. A person is hooked into a story by a person in the story that they can identify with. Facts and figures are boring, drama is addicting.

'In Mr. Irwin's opinion, the four outstanding factors making for the creation or enhancement of news value are the following:

  1. "We prefer to read about the things we like." The result, he says, has been the rule; "Power for the men, affections for the women."
  2. "Our interest in news increases in direct ratio to our familiarity with its subject, its setting, and its dramatis persona.'
  3. "Our interest in news is in direct ratio to its effect on our personal concerns."
  4. "Our interest in news increases in direct ratio to the general importance of the persons or activities which it affects."'

This is taken from "What is News?" by Will Irwin, Collier's March 18 1911 (pages 17-18).

The take away as the main objective for a public relations counsel is that it doesn't report or distort the news, it creates it.

The last statement of the book is absolutely mind-blowing. It asserts that the upper class must inject morality into public to change public opinion into public conscience.

'"The future of public opinion," says Professor Tonnies, "is the future of civilization. It is certain that the power of public opinion is constantly increasing and will keep on increasing. It is equally certain that it is more and more being influenced, changed, stirred by impulses from below. The danger which this development contains' for a progressive' ennobling of human society and a progressive heightening of human culture is apparent. The duty of the higher strata of society-the cultivated, the learned, the expert, the intellectual-is therefore clear. They must inject moral and spiritual motives into public opinion. Public opinion must become public conscience."'

Books of interest:

Exceptional Excerpts:

Sculpture, painting, oratory, became tools in affecting attitudes and actions of the public. The open market place became a living symbol of the free discussion of competitive ideas.

The theatre was second only to oratory as an influence in developing opinions of the Athenian public.

Lincoln expressed his concept of the vital nature of these activities when he said, 'In this and like communities public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who accepts or makes decisions.'

In 1876, Jacques Offenbach, a traveler to the United States, found advertising was 'playing upon the brain of man like a musician does upon a piano.'

World War I gave emphasis to the development of planned techniques in professional public relations. The Committee on Public Information, the war agency initiated in 1917, focused attention on the importance of ideas as weapons. I was a staff member of the organization

Any idea could be built up if dealt with skillfully.

The Hays Office was going strong. It was attempting to defend the motion picture industry against attacks that had been made upon it for immorality after the Fatty Arbuckle episode.

his [John Q. Public] judgments, not on a basis of research and logical deduction, but for the most part dogmatic expressions accepted on the authority of his parents, his teachers, his church, and of his social, his economic and other leaders.

from the New York Evening Post of July, 1922, as to the important interaction of these forces: 'The importance of the press in guiding public opinion and the cooperation between the members of the press and the men who express public opinion in action, which has grown up since the Peace Conference at Paris, were stressed by Lionel Curtis, who arrived on the Adriatic yesterday to attend the Institute of Politics, which opens on July 27 at Williamstown. 'Perhaps for the first time in history,' he said, 'the men whose business it is to make public opinion were collected for some months under the same roof with the officials whose task in life is the actual conduct of foreign affairs. In the long run, foreign policy is determined by public opinion. It was impossible in Paris not to be impressed by the immense advantage of bringing into close contact the writers who, through the press, are making public opinion and the men who have to express their opinion in actual policy.''

No idea or opinion is an isolated factor. It is surrounded and influenced by precedent, authority, habit and all the other human motivations.

2. 'He is more sensitive to the voice of the herd than to any other influence.' Mr. Trotter illustrates this characteristic in a paragraph which is worth quoting in its entirety. He says: 'It (the voice of the herd) can inhibit or stimulate his thought and conduct. It is the source of his moral codes, of the sanctions of his ethics and philosophy. It can endow him with energy, courage, and endurance, and can as easily take these away. It can make him acquiesce in his own punishment and embrace his executioner, submit to poverty, bow to tyranny, and sink without com- plaint under starvation. Not merely can it make him accept hardship and suffering unresistingly, but it can make him accept as truth the explanation that his perfectly preventable afflictions are sublimely just and gentle. It is this acme of the power of herd suggestion that is perhaps the most absolutely incontestable proof of the profoundly gregarious nature of man.'

The average citizen is the world's most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own 'logic-proof compartments,' his own absolutism are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction.

A debate will draw a larger crowd than a lecture.

The tedious business of teaching reading in public schools has become chiefly a training to consume newspapers.

The only difference between 'propaganda' and 'education,' really, is in the point of view. The advocacy of what we believe in is education, The advocacy of what we don't believe in is propaganda.

'The relativity of truth,' 1 says Mr. Elmer Davis, 'is a commonplace to any newspaper man, even to one who has never studied epistemology;

'The future of public opinion,' says Professor Tonnies, 'is the future of civilization. It is certain that the power of public opinion is constantly increasing and will keep on increasing. It is equally certain that it is more and more being influenced, changed, stirred by impulses from below. The danger which this development contains' for a progressive' ennobling of human society and a progressive heightening of human culture is apparent. The duty of the higher strata of society-the cultivated, the learned, the expert, the intellectual-is therefore clear. They must inject moral and spiritual motives into public opinion. Public opinion must become public conscience.'

Notes:

Table of Contents

1961 Preface
Forward
Part 1: Scope and Functions
1-1: THE SCOPE OF THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL
1-2: THE INCREASED AND INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF THE PROFESSION
1-3: THE FUNCTION OF A SPECIAL PLEADER
Part 2: The Group and the Herd
2-1: WHAT CONSTITUTES PUBLIC OPINION?
2-2: IS PUBLIC OPINION STUBBORN OR MALLEABLE?
2-3: THE INTERACTION OF PUBLIC OPINION WITH THE FORCES THAT HELP TO MAKE IT
2-4: THE POWER OF INTERACTING FORCES THAT GO TO MAKE UP PUBLIC OPINION
2-5: AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PUBLIC MOTIVATION IS NECESSARY TO THE WORK OF THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL
2-6: THE GROUP AND HERD ARE THE BASIC MECHANISMS OF PUBLIC CHANGE
2-7: THE APPLICATION OF THESE PRINCIPLES
Part 3: Technique and Method
3-1: THE PUBLIC CAN BE REACHED ONLY THROUGH ESTABLISHED MEDIUMS OF COMMUNICATION
3-2: THE INTERLAPPING GROUP FORMATIONS OF SOCIETY, THE CONTINUOUS SHIFTING OF GROUPS, CHANGING CONDITIONS AND THE FLEXIBILITY OF HUMAN NATURE ARE ALL AIDS TO THE COUNSEL ON PUBLIC RELATIONS
3-3: AN OUTLINE OF METHODS PRACTICABLE IN MODIFYING THE POINT OF VIEW OF A GROUP
Part 4: Ethical Relations
4-1: A CONSIDERATION OF THE PRESS AND OTHER MEDIUMS OF COMMUNICATION IN THEIR RELATION TO THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL
4-2: HIS OBLIGATIONS TO THE PUBLIC AS A SPECIAL PLEADER

1961 Preface

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Forward

Part 1: Scope and Functions

Chapter 1-1: THE SCOPE OF THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL

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Chapter 1-2: THE INCREASED AND INCREASING IMPORTANCE OF THE PROFESSION

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Chapter 1-3: THE FUNCTION OF A SPECIAL PLEADER

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Part 2: The Group and the Herd

Chapter 2-1: WHAT CONSTITUTES PUBLIC OPINION?

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Chapter 2-2: IS PUBLIC OPINION STUBBORN OR MALLEABLE?

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Chapter 2-3: THE INTERACTION OF PUBLIC OPINION WITH THE FORCES THAT HELP TO MAKE IT

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Chapter 2-4: THE POWER OF INTERACTING FORCES THAT GO TO MAKE UP PUBLIC OPINION

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Chapter 2-5: AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PUBLIC MOTIVATION IS NECESSARY TO THE WORK OF THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL

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Chapter 2-6: THE GROUP AND HERD ARE THE BASIC MECHANISMS OF PUBLIC CHANGE

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Chapter 2-7: THE APPLICATION OF THESE PRINCIPLES

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Part 3: Technique and Method

Chapter 3-1: THE PUBLIC CAN BE REACHED ONLY THROUGH ESTABLISHED MEDIUMS OF COMMUNICATION

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Chapter 3-2: THE INTERLAPPING GROUP FORMATIONS OF SOCIETY, THE CONTINUOUS SHIFTING OF GROUPS, CHANGING CONDITIONS AND THE FLEXIBILITY OF HUMAN NATURE ARE ALL AIDS TO THE COUNSEL ON PUBLIC RELATIONS

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Chapter 3-3: AN OUTLINE OF METHODS PRACTICABLE IN MODIFYING THE POINT OF VIEW OF A GROUP

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Part 4: Ethical Relations

Chapter 4-1: A CONSIDERATION OF THE PRESS AND OTHER MEDIUMS OF COMMUNICATION IN THEIR RELATION TO THE PUBLIC RELATIONS COUNSEL

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Chapter 4-2: HIS OBLIGATIONS TO THE PUBLIC AS A SPECIAL PLEADER

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