Edward Bernays, The Father Of American Propaganda

Bernays-1Gary G. Kohls, MD, Guest
Waking Times

“Tell a Lot of the Truth, but Never Tell the Whole Truth.”

Propaganda: “a message designed to persuade its intended audience to think and behave in a certain manner. Thus advertising is commercial propaganda. Or institutionalized and systematic spreading of information and/or disinformation, usually to promote a narrow political or religious (or commercial) viewpoint.” –from Business Dictionary

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic (AKA “capitalist”) society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.” –Edward L. Bernays,  Sigmund Freud’s nephew, from his seminal book Propaganda(1928). Bernays was the founder of the public relations industry in the US

Bernays had written earlier about the use of public relations techniques as a way for corporations to “so mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction.” – Bernays, in his first influential book on propaganda: Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923)

Admen like Bernays are “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.” — Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter when he warned President Franklin Roosevelt against allowing Bernays to play a leadership role in World War II

“Always tell the truth. Tell a lot of the truth. Tell a lot more of the truth than anybody expects you to tell. But never tell the whole truth.”  — quote from one of the participants of the 1924 annual convention of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World (from Stuart Ewen’s 1976 book, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture)

The Associated Advertising Clubs of the World had officially adopted the slogan: “Truth in Advertising”, which turned out to be, as with all advertising, all political campaigns and various public relations trickeries, just another bit of deception. The advertising industry had no intention of enforcing the empty promise. The promise of “truth” looked good to some naive consumers and probably influenced any number of folks, especially the gullible ones who had under-developed critical thinking skills.

Democracy Depends on Voters Who Have Critical Thinking Skills While…We consumers of heavily advertised products (that we may subconsciously desire but can usually get along without), are accosted hourly by clever commercials that are broadcast on our “free” television and radio programs. We can’t get away from it even when we surf the internet, when we idly page through our magazines or when we fritter away our time on our cellphones. Each encounter has an effect on our psyches – unless we are alert to the fact that some corporation or other is trying to sell us something.

  • Capitalism Depends on Consumers NOT Being Able to Think Critically…

    Thinking critically means making reasoned judgments that are logical and well thought out. It is a way of thinking in which one doesn’t simply accept all arguments and conclusions to which one is exposed without questioning the arguments and conclusions. It requires curiosity, skepticism and humility. People who use critical thinking are the ones who say things such as, “How do you know that?” “Is this conclusion based on evidence or gut feelings?” and “Are there alternative possibilities when given new pieces of information?”

    And whenever there is a political campaign happening (which in the US is essentially 24/7), prospective voters are accosted by partially true, squishy promises and sometimes vile verbal assaults from candidates who may be sociopaths, protofascists, serial liars or somehow never able to tell the whole truth about themselves, their real agendas or who their corporate paymasters are (whose hidden demands will necessarily be promoted if the bribed candidate is elected).

    Personally, I don’t recall ever being taught critical thinking or sales-resistance skills in my schooling, but I did acquire some by simply observing my very frugal and non-abusive parents, who provided my sister and I with our essential needs, tended a large backyard garden, bought no subscriptions to magazines, had no television and who listened to radio news programming that wasn’t sponsored by profit-driven corporations.

    I also grew up in a small rural Minnesota town that had very few shopping opportunities. Back then, thankfully, there was no such thing as a mall or a supermarket and there was nothing we ate that wasn’t already organic. The only shopping we were ever tempted to do was from the Sears catalog. Nobody shopped until they dropped and nobody frittered away valuable time diddling on cell phones.

    Baby boomer children in my era were rarely inoculated with vaccines, and although the ones we were given did indeed contain the neurotoxic metals mercury and/or aluminum , we never had multiple inoculations at one sitting. Instead, our mothers rushed to get us exposed to the many benign childhood infections such as chicken pox, measles and mumps whenever one of them appeared in town, and we then had lifelong immunity – no booster shots needed.

    Psychiatric drugs had yet to appear on the market when my immature blood-brain barrier was maturing – and there was no such thing as ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, bipolar disorder, premature dementia or even PTSD. And, although lobotomies, insulin shock and electroshock “therapies” were booming in America in the 1940s (wherever there were shock docs and insane asylums) we were protected by our geography. No such institutions were anywhere near my town.

    I grew up in the years between World War II and the American War in Vietnam, but I lived in an all-white Scandinavian town in safe, rural Minnesota that seemed to have no interest in the overseas fights against Germany, Italy, Japan, North Korea, China and North Vietnam. I was fortunate that my father had been too young to “serve” in World War I and was too old for #2, so Neither I, my mother or my sister were ever beaten by an alcoholic, combat-induced PTSD-victimized father. There was no authoritarian or punitive parenting in my family, no confusing war-related nightmares coming from my parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night and I had no parental chronic alcoholism to navigate.

    However, it was only much later in my adult life that I realized that I had been the victim of a subtle propagandizing in my childhood. Simply by reading the bland history books that had been approved by some school book committee down in uber-patriotic, pro-war Texas that I began to realize that I had been deceived by half-truths. I finally understood that my beloved nation was no triumphant, exceptional “shining city on a hill” like I had been led to believe. The religion I was accidentally born into, which endorsed every genocidal war its leaders started, was not superior to all the others. I realized that my teachers, my journalists and even my pastors had never gotten around to teaching me about the whole truth about America’s unethical, murderous, racist and genocidal military campaigns that started with Columbus and the conquistadors and continued with the mass killings of Native Americans and the theft of their homeland.

    And I was never taught the whole truth about the satanic nature of American slavery, the lynchings of innocent blacks or the cruelty of white supremacy and segregation after Lincoln had supposedly “emancipated” the African-Americans.

    Thanks to the political propaganda that drowned out every truth-teller, I never learned the whole truth of American imperialism, American racism, American militarism or American fascism. It took me decades before I finally realized that capitalism wasn’t the same as democracy!

    After all those decades of brain-washing, I am still working through the realization that I had been told thousands of patriotic lies about such things as the First Thanksgiving, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the War Between the States and the Reconstruction Years that followed that war. It took me a long time to learn about the atrocities American soldiers committed in the Spanish-American War and in every war since World War II. And it took me a lot of study to realize that America and its CIA have been actively supportive of hideous right-wing military dictators throughout our recent history and, at the behest of sociopathic multinational corporations searching for cheap labor and unregulated markets for their goods, actually orchestrated the overthrow of a multitude of democratically elected national leaders.

    I never asked my (equally deceived and propagandized) history teachers when I silently wondered about the ethics of the Divine Right of Kings, the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, Eminent Domain or the many US Supreme Court decisions like Dred Scott and Plessy vs Ferguson that supported white supremacy, slavery, the status quo and blatant racism.

    I’m sure that many folks of my generation (Baby Boomers) were victims of being told partial truths by teachers that we trusted. And we seemed to automatically trust the propaganda coming from politicians and opinion-leaders.

    In short, even though I regarded myself as being a critical thinker when it came to consumer purchases and politics, I have to admit that I have been bamboozled more times than I care to admit.

    And so have the citizens of other nations been bamboozled, including the “Good Germans” in the Third Reich, whose fascist leaders made evil use of America’s own Edward Bernays and his insights into what he called “The Engineering of Consent” (the title of an essay that he wrote in 1947).

    In that essay, Bernays defined “engineering consent” as the art of manipulating people. He maintained that “entire populations, which were undisciplined or lacking in intellectual or definite moral principles, were vulnerable to unconscious influence and thus susceptible to wanting things that they do not need. This is achieved by manipulating desires on an unconscious level. The central idea behind the engineering of consent is that the public or people should not be aware of the manipulation taking place.” (From the March 1947 issue of the Annals of the American Academy of poliltical and Social Science.)

    Bernays was handsomely paid by major corporations and assorted front group institutions to cunningly convince consumers to buy their products. The groups included the Committee on Public Information in Woodrow Wilson’s administration to make the US entry into World War I palatable and getting Republican Calvin Coolidge elected to the presidency.

    In addition, Bernays was employed by General Electric, Procter & Gamble, ALCOA, the American Tobacco Company, CBS, and others.

    Cunning De-stigmatization Campaigns Were Invented by Bernays

    Bernays was hired by the American Tobacco Company in their efforts to expand market share for tobacco, by designing what is now called a “de-stigmatization campaign” to make cigarette smoking by women OK. The now infamous publicity stunt involved hiring a group of attractive flapper girls – each smoking a cigarette – to march down Broadway Avenue in New York’s 1929 Easter parade. He labelled the stunt the “Torches of Freedom” march. Bernays’ de-stigmatization propaganda campaign worked like a charm and within 2 or 3 generations, lung cancer has become a leading cause of death in American women. It worked like a charm.

    But what also has worked like a charm have been the multimillion dollar de-stigmatization campaigns from the Big Pharma front groups CHADD and NAMI that was begun and then heavily funded – to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year – by all the big multinational psychopharmaceutical corporations like NAMI’s“Founding Sponsors” (Abbott Labs, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Pfizer, Novartis, SmithKline Beecham and Wyeth-Ayerst Labs), whose successor corporations continue to annually fund the propaganda campaign.

    (Incidentally, in case you haven’t noticed, there has recently emerged a “Make It OK” de-stigmatization propaganda campaign from a Minneapolis-based Health Partners-led consortium [that includes the Mayo Clinic, Park Nicollet, PrairieCare, Regions Hospital and Twin Cities Public Television{!}] that, under the cover of being a compassionate educational patient advocacy group, may have actually been designed to increase referrals for psychiatric care for those unfortunate people who may only have a temporary, emotionally-disabling problem that might be curable with non-psychiatrist, non-drug talk therapy, but who may have been mis-diagnosed with a permanent mental illness “of unknown cause” that “requires” life-long clinic visits and life-long “treatment” with unaffordable, disabling, brain-altering, often addictive and often dementia-inducing psych drugs [www.makeitOK.org])

    Bernays made use of his uncle’s psychological insights to control the public mind and manipulate it to create public acceptance for a product or idea. He wrote, “if you can influence group leaders (ie ”thought leaders”), either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.”

    One of Bernays most influential ”accomplishments” occurred in the mid- to late 1940s, when he was hired by ALCOA (the Aluminum Company of America) to orchestrate a public relations campaign to convince the public that it would be good to add ALCOA’s highly toxic by-product (fluoride salts) to the nation’s drinking water supplies under the guise of preventing tooth decay. It was one of Bernays’ most successful campaigns, with some state legislatures passing laws that compelled reluctant municipalities to fluoridate their water with the toxic waste product that had been responsible for poisoned – for decades – the air, soil, water, food, livestock and many other living things surrounding ALCOA’s manufacturing plants. The aluminum industry, with the help of the American Dental Association (who is still in denial about the serious neurotoxicity of their mercury fillings), got rid of their poisonous by-products and made a profit at the same time!

    Interestingly, a highly paid ($750,000 per year) ALCOA attorney named Oscar Ewing had been appointed by Harry Truman to be head of the US Public Health Service in 1947. Ewing had been in leadership positions in the Democratic National Committee since 1940 and he had twice been a Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General.

    Obedient to the hidden agenda of the powerful aluminum industry, he and Bernays orchestrated a national fluoridation campaign that, over several years, fluoridated some 90 American cities. Opponents to the fluoride program that correctly suspected that there was a (now proven) conspiracy between industry and government were propagandized as “deranged”. Today they would be denigrated as “conspiracy theorists”.

    During the “Roaring 20s”, when the rigged stock market seemed to only go up, much of the impetus was provided by the public relations propaganda of Bernays and his colleagues that made the easily duped public somehow trust the sociopathic corporations and the equally sociopathic politicians that dominated the 1920s.

    The lessons learned from the mistakes of the administrations of Republicans Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover came hard – and too late. Those lessons came in the form of the Great Depression, when unemployment for the middle and lower classes reached catastrophic levels but were not all that bad for the elites in the upper 1%, whose large fortunes may have temporarily dwindled to small fortunes, money with which they bought up securities at bargain basement rates as well as foreclosed land, homes and businesses.

    Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels were big fans of Bernays

    The sociopathic German fascists Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels, both of whom skilled serial liars and also anti-Semitic, were big fans of Bernays, who was a Jew.

    I end this column with a number of quotes about propaganda from some famous fascists who made “good” use of the insights of his writings. My hope is that readers will apply what can be learned from this piece to the propaganda that is happening both politically and commercially in our nation.

    “But it was not until the [First World] War that it became evident what immense results could be obtained by a correct application of propaganda.” – Adolf Hitler, in Mein Kampf (1925), having read Bernays’ book Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923)

    “Through clever and constant application of propaganda people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

    “The fascist state must not forget that all means must serve the ends; it must not let itself be confused by the drivel about so-called “freedom of the press”…it must make sure that (the media) is placed in the service of the state.” – Adolf Hitler

    “All this was inspired by the principle–which is quite true in itself–that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” — Josef Goebbels, German Nazi “Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment”

    About the Author

    Dr. Kohls is a retired physician who practiced holistic, non-drug, mental health care for the last decade of his forty year family practice career. He is a contributor to the efforts of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and was a member of MindFreedom International, the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. While running his own clinic, he taught a graduate level course, The Science and Psychology of the Mind-Body Connection, at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He now gives occasional presentations to the public and to healthcare professionals for CEU credits and writes a weekly column for the Duluth Reader, an alternative newsweekly published in Duluth, Minnesota. Many of Dr Kohls’ columns are archived HERE

    This article (Edward Bernays, the Father of American Propaganda) was featured at Natural Blaze and appears here courtesy of the author.

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