Public relations has become the art of convincing people to do things that they may not want to do…even things that are not in their own best interests. Public relations firms are hired by retailers to convince the public to buy their product, individuals to hone their public image or politically interested entities to shape public opinion and action.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis left a legacy of eight rhetorical tricks that propandists used as ploys to influence people’s thinking. It is remarkably similar to those used by political PR firms today to control how people vote:
1. Fear. Organizations with the most to lose are most likely to resort to fear mongering; loss of jobs, threat to public health, or a general decline in social values, standard of living, or individual rights. It may also vilify a specific cause or even a specified person in order to create the desired point of view.
Obama’s health care includes death panels.
2. Glittering generalities. This approach arouses strong, positive emotions by using words and phrases like, “democracy,” patriotism,” and “American way of life.” Virtually all types of organizations use the tactic to create support for themselves, but when combined with negative messaging, the implications can be insidious.
The John Birch Society tie pins and the constant inference that liberals or progressives are less patriotic than Conservatives.
3. Testimonials. Celebrities are employed to provide testimonials in support of a candidate.
4. Name calling. Blatant insults can be a very effective public relations tool; associating the target with a negative or unpopular cause or person.
Pictures depicting Obama as a Nazi or Muslim.
5. Plain folks. Posing with rank-and-file employees or people gives the appearance that a person or candidate is “of the people.” Candidates, even though they may have been office for years claim to be Washington outsiders.
6. Euphemisms. PR practitioners often select words that obscure the real meaning of actions or concepts. The tactic is sometimes called “doublespeak.” For instance, an employee may be “transitioned” rather than “fired,” and a “lie” may be called a “strategic misinterpretation.”
7. Bandwagon. The overriding message is that everyone else is supporting this and you should be too. Opinion polls can create the impression that a large percentage of people are on the bandwagon, but poll results may reflect only a designated sliver of the population, and they can be shaped in advance by structuring question to trigger an expected response.
8. Transfer. Similar to testimonials, the transfer approach involves the approval of a respected individual or organization. The IPA described the transfer as a “device b which the propandist caries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and rever to something he would have us accept.”
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to relate these tactics to the campaign of misinformation used by the spin masters, hired behind the screen enabled by the Citizens United decision, to convince voters, particularly low information voters, to vote for candidates and causes that are counter to their own best interests in the 2010 midterm elections.