PsyOps & Corporate PR

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Source: Buzzflash

With the combined challenges of neoliberalism’s relentless drive to cut cost for profit maximization and the advent of the Internet that has severely impacted journalism, many of today’s journalists have been forced to become churnalists. They are forced to churn out a massive number of news items on armed conflict, articles on wars, and battle reports in a very short period of  time. It has become news’ manufacturing.

Their corporate masters no longer give these journalists the time to go out to investigate, to find their own stories, and to check the news material which they are handed with and eventually publish. This exposes churnalists to become mere transmitters of war propaganda. The 2003 Iraq War (for no WMD) remains an instructive example on how propaganda works.

The challenges of neoliberalism and the Internet assure that many journalists are consistently subjected to ingesting and reproducing pre-packaged corporate PR materials and ready-to-use information provided for(!) them by the global PR industry.

At its most basic level, this involves directing journalists into accepting stories and externally supplied pro-business interpretations (known as framing). In many cases, these materials had been chosen “for”(!) them, in order to satisfy the commercial interests of businesses and corporations, as well as the political interests of conservatives who support the overall pro-business ideology.

Worst, virtually all of this renders valuable journalists to the propagation of accidental misinformation, deliberately launched disinformation, very serious distortions, and corporate falsehoods.

To many, much of this may appear inherently irrational. But for PR experts, all this is very rational. Even ghastlier is the fact that today’s global PR industry uses the utmost sophisticated mechanisms to monitor and manipulate the emotions, attitudes, interests, and beliefs of who they call: target audience.

Once this is done, PR deliberately and very consciously fabricates news stories that appeal to the target audience’s emotions, attitudes, interests, and beliefs. In any case, the PR industry has never shied away from recycling whatever falsehoods, distortions, and misunderstandings it finds and it deems useful.

It remains one of the great unspoken ironies of the global PR industry that it has – more or less – succeeded not just in amplifying those emotions, attitudes, interests, and beliefs. It has been rather successful in converting them into political and pro-business outcomes for its well-paying customers: corporations, businesses, right-wing politicians, dictators, oligarchs, autocrats, criminals, etc.

PR outfits like Bell Pottinger, for example, would never work for the 80% of the world’s population who live below the poverty line. In the Ritzy-glitzy world of corporate PR, they simply do not exist. On the same token, another PR setup called Hill + Knowlton, for example, cannot be hired to run a PR campaign exposing the one-third of global products which are traded through tax-free offshore accounts.

The customized manufacturing of politics, elections, social and environmental issues, positive pro-corporate attitudes, as well as huge sections of our public debates have become rather epidemic. With the kind assistance of corporate mass media, our age has mutated into The Age of Contrivance.

Human society is deceived, manipulated, and misled by the very machines designed to enlarge our vision of: the so-called independent media. In true Orwellian fashion, the term independent indicates dependency on corporate finance, churnalists, profit-seeking, corporate PR, media corporations, and ultimately: the structural imperatives of capitalism.

All this is cranked up by corporate media, the Internet – run by very large and powerful corporations like Facebook (social), Google (searches), Amazon (cloud storage), YouTube (videos), etc. – and public relations (i.e. propaganda). For the first time in human history, there is a determined strategy to manipulate global perception on virtually all vital issues that humanity faces. This is done not via a conspiracy theory but through an interest symbiosis established between virtually all key players of media capitalism.

Of course, politics contributes to this as well. It is just as the US Air Force’s J. Michael Kelly said all those years ago, the most critical special operations and mission we have … today is to persuade the … people that the communists are out to get us. Yet, things have changed.

Later it became: to persuade the … people that the Muslim terrorists are out to get us; and more recently: to persuade the …  people that Vladimir Putin is out to get us;  more variations will come soon: like  to persuade the … people that the environmentalists, the blacks, the feminists, etc. are out to get us.

One of the almost unsurpassable highlights on how all this works has been delivered by none other than one of the world’s more evil PR outfits: Hill + Knowlton. It all started when the infamous Hill + Knowlton presented the semi-plausible story of a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl named: Nayirah. Nayirah told her audience that she was so frightened of reprisals against her family that she could not give her full name.

With that introduction, she came to the core of her story. In vivid colors, she described how she had seen Iraqi troops were pulling premature babies out of incubators in a hospital in Kuwait City and hurling them to their deaths. Later, the story was exposed as false – a mere fabrication. It was further revealed that Nayirah was in fact, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington DC.

This story was uncovered. Yet, there are many undiscovered stories. This may indeed indicate that some, e.g. the military, the CIA, the Pentagon, even (or particularly) Hollywood, certain news agencies, PR firms, etc. have indeed the power to fabricate news stories whenever and about whomever they want.

Best of all: without their hand being seen. These may indeed constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country – just as the Godfather of modern PR (Edward Bernays) said in his 1928 masterpiece Propaganda.

In fact, the CIA even setup what it has called the Forum World Features. It supplied news stories to 140 newspapers around the world. The Forum had absolutely no qualms about spreading disinformation. The CIA invested particularly heavily in propaganda in countries such as France, Italy, and Germany.

It was done to influence the outcome of elections. The agency also passed millions of dollars to the political parties it wanted to win. A former CIA official even admitted when speaking to the New York Times, that this has been a commonplace – perhaps it still is.

Worse, another CIA man freely admitted, you don’t need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are agency people at the management level. Even better: Reader’s Digest regularly ran CIA material. Meanwhile, Admiral John Poindexter once admitted, one of the key elements is that it combines real and illusionary events through a disinformation program.

Things are no better in Britain. In the UK, MI6 runs an I Ops section. These are PsyOps or psychological warfare. In other words, propaganda. In the UK’s PsyOps version, there are particularly close links between the military and newspaper such as the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and the Financial Times. MI6’s Operation Mass Appeal, for example, had the goal of shaping public opinion.

According to Paul Lashmar and James Oliver’s Britain’s Secret Propaganda War, one network secretly distributed stories which were variously true, distorted, or entirely false. It enjoyed particularly close links to the BBC and Reuters. Most interestingly, the former MI6 officer John le Carre once said that, MI6 controlled large parts of the press.

To hide the ability to manipulate information as weapons of mass deception, various terms are used. The military, for example, prefers information operations or IOs. Spreading misinformation to influence the attitudes, emotions, motives, objective reasoning and, ultimately, the behaviour of their target audiences, a more common term PsyOps is used. While intelligence agencies tend to use the term strategic communications.

Self-evidently, the secretive world of strategic communications tends to choose to meet behind closed doors. Yet, their goal is relatively clear: to persuade targeted audiences to support their objectives. Commonly, they – as well as corporate PR – run a dual system of:

·       active attribution – used for material for which they would declare its origin; and

·       passive attribution – used for material where the origin would be disguised.

Much of this is known as white and black propaganda. The most common form of propaganda remains the white propaganda. This is the propaganda that does not hide its origin or nature. Yet, white propaganda is to be distinguished from black propaganda where the origin of a story is disguised, and for which it is often used to discredit an opposing side.

Crucial to pretty much all of this is the conviction of PR experts that it is imperative to get a story out fast and thereby dominate the information domain. This is the all important agenda setting. Beyond all this, it remains imperative to realize that the global media gravitates toward information that is pre-packaged for easy dissemination and consumption. Corporate media will nearly always favor, timely, plausible, short, sexy (e.g. the infamous sexed-up dossier), emotion stirring, and presents a full and complete story.

With the latest advancements – and this not only in manipulative technologies like machine learning – consumers are, quite literally overwhelmed. Ordinary consumers of news reports face ever more advanced manipulative capabilities developed by those that bring the news. These are engineered by news corporations and by so-called social media, i.e. Internet corporations. These have created a more sophisticated propaganda apparatus.

Today, this apparatus is furnished with the ability to move misinformation, disinformation, falsehoods, semi-lies, and outright propaganda not just around a nation but also around the world. This ability has grown exponentially with – thanks – to the Internet, and – perhaps even more importantly – with more and more people getting their news from the Internet. Today, 8 out of 10 Americans get their news from the Internet.

The power and influence of corporate PR, the power and influence of those who create “strategic information operations” (PSyOps, e.g. war propaganda and psychological warfare), and the power of those who use the knowledge gained from PsyOps and convert them into corporate PR grow almost daily.

This marks corporate PR’s ability to reach ever deeper and ever faster into corporate news outlets. They can and do plant stories that support the prevailing ideology of neoliberal capitalism, legitimize war (Viet Nam, Iraq, Ukraine), make environmental destruction look good – known as greenwashing.

Yet, news agencies and PR outfits can and will watch their manipulative propaganda circulating the planet. Much of this links the two agencies –the hidden persuaders – a mushrooming, ever more powerful, and global PR industry; and an expanding apparatus of propaganda entering our homes via an oligopoly of global media corporations, and the online world of the Internet – run by just twenty corporations.

Both of them – PR outfits and corporate media – make up the two key players of media capitalism. Both of them have become massively more powerful as a result of the takeovers of smaller players. This has led to a very high concentration of ownership in the global media landscape.

It also led to the reduction of journalistic work by passively processing information supplied to them by a handful of wire services (e.g. Reuters and Associated Press) and, worse: corporate PR and military PR via PsyOps and the good old-fashioned war propaganda.

As a consequence, the role of news production inside the corporate news’ factory imposes its own demands on journalism. This means that journalists become churnalists who are forced to pick easy – and simple, simplistic, and most importantly: simplified – stories. These stories need to contain safe facts, safe ideas, and a safe ideology, i.e. widely accepted ideology like, for example, the free market is good, competition works, etc.

Such safe and often pre-fabricated news stories are often clustered around official sources used for the protection of journalists. This reduces almost everything that churnalists touches to what has been called “short and sharp stories” – stories that are short in length and yet are sharp to the point without providing the context necessary to make sense of these stories.

At the same time, churnalism engineers a sort of simplicity without understanding the wider context. Corporate news wants flashy news bits without deeper analysis or complicated context – this is not wanted. For the last 40 years, it has recycled the dominant consensus of neoliberal capitalism – now spiced up with facts and ideas regardless of their validity.

In the end, it is very safe to agree with Vance Packard – the author of the classic Magnum Opus: The Hidden Persuaders. Packard said, we have become the most manipulated people in the history of mankind. Perhaps a true mastermind of propaganda and PR – Alastair Campbell – has outlined it to perfection:

if the public knew the truth about the way

certain sections of the media operate,

they would be absolutely horrified.


Thomas Klikauer is the author of a book on Media Capitalism. My thank you goes to my highly dedicated proof reader, Meg Young.Follow BuzzFlash on @twitter

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