Issues in Public Relations – Spin

Posted on January 25, 2010


“Rambo from West Virginia” and the Power of Persuasion

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” (Edward Bernays, 1928)

The documentary War Spin showed the micro-managed Iraq war being fought on two fronts, one on the battlefield and one in our living rooms. Approximately six hundred selected journalists were embedded with the Coalition forces to report back on the so-called War on Terror. “Three weeks into the invasion and Torie Clark’s plan and the Pentagons decision to embed reporters has worked out well for them. How do you manage the media in times of war? Thoroughly embed them, surround them with PR enablers, and spread a little fear amongst those not embedded.” (Bill Berkowitz, 2003). This allowed the British and US leaders to tailor information given to the reporters, portraying the war in the most positive way they could. For example, the Jessica Lynch story, ridiculously portrayed by the Pentagon as ‘Rambo from West Virginia’ was about a ‘heroic soldier’ wounded in a gun battle, and who was eventually rescued by the brave US military after being captured by Iraqi terrorists. In reality she was injured when her vehicle crashed, however this fictional story was cleverly used to increase patriotism and unite the nation behind the fight against terrorism.

The documentary depicted only a small part of the spin/propaganda aspect of the war. The media blitz undertaken by the US and British governments to prepare the public for its entry into the Iraq war in 2002 has now been largely discredited. The information on which they based their decision was highly selective and biased to suit the arguments of the two governments to justify reasons to go to war. “Saddam Hussein’s regime is despicable, he is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked. He is a threat to his own people and to the region and, if allowed to develop these weapons, a threat to us also.” Tony Blair, 2002.

Some, like Alastair Campbell, the Press Secretary for Tony Blair, are accused of playing a pivotal role in the spin and manipulation of information that was provided to the media and the public. It is now known that senior officials in the government and in the UN questioned the basis of the arguments for going to war at the time. However, these officials were either completely ignored or silenced altogether. Many people have come to believe that “Public Relations Practitioners are becoming too powerful and, consequently, journalists are losing their conscious autonomy…As a result, top PRP’s are finding themselves in the position of being able to control media access and/or exclude journalists altogether. This power excludes journalists from, for instance, the briefings of the Prime Minster’s press secretary.” (Aeron Davis, (2002, pg29) cited Cockerell et al., (1984)).

Posted in: Spin