>Subject: How The Media Deceives You About Health Issues

>Date: Tue, 27 Feb 2001 12:00:17 -0800

>

>How The Media Deceives You About Health Issues

>by Tate Metro Media

>

>Think about how many times you've heard an evening news anchor spit out

>some variation on the phrase, "According to experts ...." It's such a

>common device that most of us hardly hear it anymore. But we do hear the

>"expert" - the professor or doctor or watchdog group - tell us whom to

>vote for, what to eat, when to buy stock. And, most of the time, we trust

>them. Now ask yourself, how many times has that news anchor revealed who

>those experts are, where they get their funding, and what constitutes

>their political agenda? If you answered never, you'd be close. That's the

>driving complaint behind Trust Us, We're Experts, a new book co-authored

>by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of the Center for Media and

>Democracy. Unlike many so-called "experts," the Center's agenda is quite

>overt - to expose the shenanigans of the public relations industry, which

>pays, influences and even invents a startling number of those experts.

>The third book co-authored by Stauber and Rampton, Trust Us hit bookstore

>shelves in January. There are two kinds of "experts" in question--the PR

>spin doctors behind the scenes and the "independent" experts paraded

>before the public, scientists who have been hand-selected, cultivated,

>and paid handsomely to promote the views of corporations involved in

>controversial actions. Lively writing on controversial topics such as

>dioxin, bovine growth hormone and genetically modified food makes this a

>real page-turner, shocking in its portrayal of the real and potential

>dangers in each of these technological innovations and of the "media

>pseudo-environment" created to hide the risks. By financing and

>publicizing views that support the goals of corporate sponsors, PR

>campaigns have, over the course of the century, managed to suppress the

>dangers of lead poisoning for decades, silence the scientist who

>discovered that rats fed on genetically modified corn had significant

>organ abnormalities, squelch television and newspaper stories about the

>risks of bovine growth hormone, and place enough confusion and doubt in

>the public's mind about global warming to suppress any mobilization for

>action. Rampton and Stauber introduce the movers and shakers of the PR

>industry, from the "risk communicators" (whose job is to downplay all

>risks) and "outrage managers" (with their four strategies--deflect,

>defer, dismiss, or defeat) to those who specialize in "public policy

>intelligence" (spying on opponents). Evidently, these elaborate PR

>campaigns are created for our own good. According to public relations

>philosophers, the public reacts emotionally to topics related to health

>and safety and is incapable of holding rational discourse. Needless to

>say, Rampton and Stauber find these views rather antidemocratic and

>intend to pull back the curtain to reveal the real wizard in Oz.

>

>Metro Media: What was the most surprising or disturbing manipulation of

>public opinion you reveal in your book?

>

>

>John Stauber: The most disturbing aspect is not a particular example, but

>rather the fact that the news media regularly fails to investigate

>so-called "independent experts" associated with industry front groups.

>They all have friendly-sounding names like "Consumer Alert" and "The

>Advancement of Sound Science Coalition," but they fail to reveal their

>corporate funding and their propaganda agenda, which is to smear

>legitimate heath and community safety concerns as "junk-science

>fear-mongering." The news media frequently uses the term "junk science"

>to smear environmental health advocates. The PR industry has spent more

>than a decade and many millions of dollars funding and creating industry

>front groups which wrap them in the flag of "sound science." In reality,

>their "sound science" is progress as defined by the tobacco industry, the

>drug industry, the chemical industry, the genetic engineering industry,

>the petroleum industry and so on.

>

>Metro Media: Is the public becoming more aware of PR tactics and false

>experts? Or are those tactics and experts becoming more savvy and

>effective?

>

>Stauber: The truth is that the situation is getting worse, not better.

>More and more of what we see, hear and read as "news" is actually PR

>content. On any given day much or most of what the media transmits or

>prints as news is provided by the PR industry. It's off press releases,

>the result of media campaigns, heavily spun and managed, or in the case

>of "video news releases" it's fake TV news - stories completely produced

>and supplied for free by former journalists who've gone over to PR. TV

>news directors air these VNRs as news. So the media not only fails to

>identify PR manipulations, it is the guilty party by passing them on as

>news.

>

>Metro Media: What's the solution for the excesses of the PR industry?

>Just more media literacy and watchdog organizations like yours? Or should

>the PR industry be regulated in some way?

>

>Stauber: In our last chapter, "Question Authority," we identify some of

>the most common propaganda tactics so that individuals and journalists

>and public interest scientists can do a better job of not being snowed

>and fooled. But ultimately those who have the most power and money in any

>society are going to use the most sophisticated propaganda tactics

>available to keep democracy at bay and the rabble in line. There are some

>specific legislative steps that could be taken without stepping on the

>First Amendment. One is that all nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations -

>charities and educational groups, for instance - should be required by

>law to reveal their institutional funders if, say, $500 or more. That way

>when a journalist or a citizen hears that a scientific report is from a

>group like the American Council on Science and Health, a quick trip to

>the IRS Web site could reveal that this group gets massive infusions of

>industry money, and that the corporations that fund it benefit from its

>proclamations that pesticides are safe, genetically engineered food will

>save the planet, lead contamination isn't really such a big deal, climate

>change isn't happening, and so on. The public clearly doesn't understand

>that most nonprofit groups (not ours, by the way) take industry and

>government grants, or are even the nonprofit arm of industry. Detroit

>Metro Times February 6, 2001

>

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