PR! A Social History of Spin / Edition 1

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Overview

The early years of the 20th century were a difficult period for Big Business. Corporate monopolies, the brutal exploitation of labor, and unscrupulous business practices were the target of blistering attacks from a muckraking press and an increasingly resentful public. Corporate giants were no longer able to operate free from the scrutiny of the masses. "The crowd is now in the saddle," warned Ivy Lee, one of America's first corporate public relations men. "The people now rule. We have substituted for the divine right of kings, the divine right of the multitude." Unless corporations developed means for counteracting public disapproval, he cautioned, their future would be in peril. Lee's words heralded the dawn of an era in which corporate image management was to become a paramount feature of American society. Some corporations, such as AT&T, responded inventively to the emergency. Others, like Standard Oil of New Jersey (known today as Exxon), continued to fumble the PR ball for decades. The Age of Public Relations had begun. In this long-awaited, pathbreaking book, Stuart Ewen tells the story of the Age unfolding: the social conditions that brought it about; the ideas that inspired the strategies of public relations specialists; the growing use of images as tools of persuasion; and, finally, the ways that the rise of public relations interacted with the changing dynamics of public life itself. He takes us on a vivid journey into the thinking of PR practitioners - from Edward Bernays to George Gallup - exploring some of the most significant campaigns to mold the public mind, and revealing disturbing trends that have persisted to the present day. Using previously confidential sources, and with the aid of dozens of illustrations from the past hundred years, Ewen sheds unsparing light on the contours and contradictions of American democracy on the threshold of a new millennium.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Is there any difference between PR and propaganda? Ewen (All Consuming Images), a professor of media studies at Hunter College in Manhattan, doesn't think so. Accordingly, his account of the rise of the public relations industry begins with the U.S. Committee on Public Information, a government-sponsored organization dedicated to maintaining domestic morale during WWI. In the aftermath of the war, Ewen argues, public relations developed largely out of a corporate fear that genuine democracy would obstruct the workings of big business, with PR pioneer Edward Bernays offering, as he phrased it, lessons in "the engineering of consent." As corporations like AT&T began to perceive the importance of utilizing public relations in the face of a public increasingly suspicious of monolithic companies, the PR industry hit its stride by learning to incorporate many of the tactics and iconography of the New Deal while simultaneously opposing its progressive politics. Ewen's book trails off after the 1940s; he doesn't substantially probe the colossal impact of television or the incursion of PR methods into politics in more recent times. And although he presents a convincing portrait of a business elite attempting to use techniques of persuasion to distort and mold public opinion, he doesn't fully address the question of PR's effectiveness. (Nov)
Library Journal
A social critic and historian concerned with images and the power they have on society, Ewen (Channels of Desire, Univ. of Minnesota, 1992) presents here a social history of public relations in the United States. Modern PR rose as an attempt to explain the turmoil and confusion that occurred in the country from the end of the Civil War to the first decade of the 20th century. Public reaction to the excesses of industrialization and the growing immigrant classes caused many in power to fear that the "American way of life" was being destroyed. Ewen reviews the ongoing conflict in public relations between those who think the public is rational and want to present the facts and let people make up their minds, and those who think that opinion can be shaped by appeals to unconscious urges. Ewen gives fascinating examples of the communication similarities between FDR and Reagan, and why AT&T was loved by the public and Standard Oil hated. This provocative book should be purchased by all public and academic libraries.William W. Sannwald, San Diego P. L.
Library Journal
A social critic and historian concerned with images and the power they have on society, Ewen (Channels of Desire, Univ. of Minnesota, 1992) presents here a social history of public relations in the United States. Modern PR rose as an attempt to explain the turmoil and confusion that occurred in the country from the end of the Civil War to the first decade of the 20th century. Public reaction to the excesses of industrialization and the growing immigrant classes caused many in power to fear that the 'American way of life' was being destroyed. Ewen reviews the ongoing conflict in public relations between those who think the public is rational and want to present the facts and let people make up their minds, and those who think that opinion can be shaped by appeals to unconscious urges. Ewen gives fascinating examples of the communication similarities between FDR and Reagan, and why AT&T was loved by the public and Standard Oil hated. This provocative book should be purchased by all public and academic libraries.-- William W. Sannwald, San Diego Public Library
-- Judy Quinn, Library Journal
-- Judy Quinn, Library Journal
-- Judy Quinn, Library Journal
Booknews
Tells the story of the origins of the public relations age, looking at the social conditions which brought it about, the ideas that inspired strategies of public relations specialists, the use of images as tools of persuasion, and the ways that the rise of public relations interacted with the changing dynamics of public life. Explores some of the most significant campaigns, and reveals disturbing trends that persist in the present day. Includes b&w photos. For general readers. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
The New York Times
The illuminating tale of the rise of public relations.
Salon
A fascinating account of the social and historical forces that created the virtual reality in which we now live; here, the dream life of the 20th century is brought to light for the first time.
Kirkus Reviews
This lengthy history of spin and public relations tends to get stuck in some very narrow grooves. One of the Industrial Revolution's many machine-inflected ideas, public relations was an attempt to apply the principles of engineering and mechanics to popular opinion. While Edward Bernays, one of PR's great founding fathers, and other practitioners understood the practical limitations to their craft, they felt they were developing a real science: 'We can effect some changes in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can manipulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline. The Industrial Revolution had created a vast newspaper-reading public and, thus, the ability to widely disseminate information and ideas. The power of the medium was brought home to big business at the turn of the century when the muckrakers began their extraordinarily successful series of attacks against monopolies. An effective counter was needed, and so public relations was born. Ewen (Communications/Hunter College; All Consuming Images) does an able job of chronicling the evolution of this slippery trade. Drawing on seldom-seen corporate archives from such giants as AT&T and Standard Oil, he paints an alarming picture of corporate America eagerly trying to mold our perceptions to serve their purposes. Ewen believes these subtle manipulations are a terrible threat to democracy, but he tends to overstate his case, ignoring the numerous PR disasters that show the real limits of coercion. His account is labored, narrowly focused (he sticks too closely to his sources), and too America-centered, scanting such masters of PR as JosephGoebbels and completely ignoring PR as practiced in the rest of the world. Any overview of such an important and surreptitious subject is welcome, even when it is so prosaically presented, but this is a far cry from a definitive history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465061686
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 12/1/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 414
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Stewart Ewen is professor of media studies and chair of the Department of Communications at Hunter College. He is also a professor in the Ph.D. programs in history and sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of the acclaimed Captains of Consciousness, Channels of Desire, and All Consuming Images, the last of which provided the basis for Bill Moyers’s award-winning PBS series The Public Mind. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Credits
Pt. 1 Stagecraft and Truth in an Age of Public Relations
1 Visiting Edward Bernays 3
2 Dealing in Reality: Protocols of Persuasion 19
Pt. 2 "The Crowd Is in the Saddle": Progressive Politics and the Rise of Public Relations
3 Truth Happens: An Age of Publicity Begins 39
4 Controlling Chaos 60
5 "Educate the Public!" 82
6 House of Truth 102
Pt. 3 Changing Rhetorics of Persuasion
7 Social Psychology and the Quest for the Public Mind 131
8 Unseen Engineers: Biography of an Idea 146
9 Modern Pipelines of Persuasion 174
10 Optical Illusions 191
Pt. 4 Battles for the "American Way"
11 Silver Chains and Friendly Giants 215
12 The Greater Good 233
13 The New Deal and the Publicity of Social Enterprise 247
14 Money Talks: The Publicity of Private Enterprise 288
Pt. 5 Commercializing the Cosmos
15 Public Ultimatums 339
16 Engineering Consensus 373
Coda: The Public and Its Problems: Some Notes for the New Millennium 399
Notes 415
Bibliography 449
Index 471
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