49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 1999
Must reading for everyone. I bought a bunch of copies and am giving them as gifts to my friends.
I used to wonder why I heard so much contradictary news in the major media pertaining to health and the environment. First, a news item quotes an authority saying a food is safe, the next year the same newspaper says it's dangerous, and the next year after that they claim it's good for you. After reading this book, I know why. There are thousands of environmental and health , and scientific organizations. According to this book, many (but not all) of these organizations are not much more than clever PR fronts, funded mainly by industry. For example, I have often seen and continue to see information provided by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in the major newspapers and magazines. The media usually takes this organization at its word as a credible scientific source.
According to this book: The ACSH is an industry front group that produces PR ammunition for the food processing and chemical industries. They praise the nutritional values of fast food and receive money from the fast food industry. They claim pesticides are very safe and take money from a host of pesticide manufacturers. The list goes on and on.. Yet the journalists usually take the ACSH words almost verbatim as fact and print it in their newspaper. Most journalists don't check their sources, or they're puppets of industry. Then the public reads this stuff as if it were scientifically proven fact. Public policy and law often gets decided on the basis of this "knowledge." Of course, some readers of these "facts" are skeptical, but no one seriously challenges the ACSH's credibility. Thus the ACSH continues to operate as if it were an objective science institute. Thousands of front groups worldwide use many of the same techniques. It then becomes obvious why so many people have a mistrust for science and don't know what to believe.
I used to think this country was a democracy, but now I know who really pulls the strings on many key issues. It's not the PR firms, it's the companies who hire the PR firms. Don't miss this book. For related info on health and environmental issues, I recommend "Our Stolen Future" by Theo Colborn.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Where oh where do I begin? Toxic Sludge... takes a jaded look at the public relations industry, and exposes more than a few objectionable practices perpetrated on behalf of (mostly) corporate America's pursuit of the Almighty Buck.
I say 'mostly' because, however distressing it may be to informed and intelligent citizenship, even the United States Government and more than a few foreign regimes solicit the services of these most nefarious snake oil salesmen. Let's face it, you really do not consume the services of PR firms in order to foster good relations with your customers, you go to them when you have done something bad, and you want it covered up, or at least 'spinned' in the 'right' direction. You solicit the help of PR flacks and keep them on juicy retainers in order to look good, and not to be good. When the doo-doo hits the fan, whose a corporate ne'er do well gonna call? The PR company, that's who.
Toxic Sludge... contains twelve chapters of absorbing reading. From countermeasures directed at censoring information thoroughly in the public domain, keeping books off the bookshelves and dissenting voices from being heard, to infiltrating shoe-string activist organizations, fomenting criminal insurgency and subverting (and ultimately perverting) any and all attempts to relay the facts, the authors provide example after example of very well-financed government and corporate interests actively frustrating (and quite often foiling) intelligent and inormed democratic participation in the political and economic process. As Mark Dowie, the author of the introduction says, in an environment rife with PR, facts can not survive, nor can the truth prevail.
Some of the strategies and tactics PR firms used with giddy abandon on often unsuspecting targets truly shocked me, for many tools and tricks from the PR Playbook share an eerie resemblance to CIA methods and operations. In fact, more than a few PR players and heavy hitters get their inspiration from millitary strategists such as von Clauswitz, and cross-fertilization between PR firms and the upper levels of government and corporate America impart a uniquely acidic aggressivity and practiced slickness to their campaigns against their opponents. Some of their more colorful operations reminded me of the FBI's use, via its infamous COINTELPRO initiative, of agent provocateurs against student groups, anti-Vietnam war protestors and civil rights activists during the late sixties and early-mid-seventies. This unholy alliance between government, corporations and PR firms, combined with their incestuous linkages to the ad industry, make for one formidable and thorougly intimidating opponent.
The book contains a veritable smorgasbord of eminently quotable quotes and delightful (and very distressing) anecdotes. In this vein, my personal favorite is the story of how PT Barnum, of circus fame, got his start. He put on display an old, black slavewoman, and billed her as 'George Washington's childhood nursemaid', and get this- he claimed that she was one hundred and sixty years old. Barnum made certain that he got the woman in the news as often as he could, and it did not matter what the papers said, as long as his name was spelled right. Of course, Barnum made a killing, the woman died, an autopsy was performed for the benefit of more than a few skeptics, and gee whiz, it turned out that she could not have been more than eighty.
Barnum, of course, handled the situation like the PR pro he was. When the truth was finally revealed, he went public, and said he was shocked, truly shocked, at the way the woman had deceived him!
And that anecdote, in essence, describes the modus operandi of the PR professional. PR pros turn the truth inside out. While they greatly prefer subtlety, they will stoop to other, more brutish tactics in service of their cause. PR groups can obtain favorable coverage of their worldview, much like Barnum did, and can readily obtain the willing cooperation of government agencies, as well as current and former high ranking government officials and politicians to do their questionable bidding.
The PR firm has proven itself to be at times a sinister, vicious octopus with many tentacles in some of the most unlikely places. As such, it behooves any concerned citizen to read this book and take notice of this beast as he or she participates in the marketplace of ideas.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 1998
This book is one of the most eye-opening things I have ever read, and given how much I read that is saying a lot! As a person who has worked in PR as a lobbyist (in my case for a state university), I was already somewhat acquainted with, and disgusted by, the general processes used by the industry. This book, however, put a whole new spin on things. The concrete examples of some of the PR fiascos that have been used on the American people were depressingly explicit. Yes, this book is one-sided. It never pretends not to be. It is also a must-read for anyone who views the media. If you read this book, you'll never read a newspaper the same way again. Does the book add to one's cynicism? Yes, but sometimes cynicism is a preservational force. This is one of those times.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2000
John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton have set themselves a crucial task. As editors of the quarterly PR Watch, they regularly report on the often negative influence that the public relations industry has on the debate on public issues, especially PR firms' efforts on behalf of corporations which are battling public interest activists. This superb and concise book is largely based on that reporting.
The ills documented in "Toxic Sludge is Good for You" are too numerous to give any kind of complete summary here--a few examples must stand for the whole:
-One approach is the "divide and conquer" method of splitting a coalition of activists, by finding ways to buy some of them off. For example, Candy Lightner, the fonder of MADD, was taken out of the fray when she became a lobbyist for the American Beverage Institute.
-Another fruitful method is the "astroturf" tactic, which involves the creation of a carefully controlled, phony grassroots group to front for corporate interests. An example is the "National Smokers Alliance," created by PR giants Burson-Marsteller on behalf of Philip Morris.
-We also learn about attempts to cloud debate on scientific and technical issues. Many corporations have benefitted from the "expertise" of the American Council on Science and Health, a deceptively-named industry front group which can be counted on for pronouncements on the perfect safety of all sorts of chemicals and food additives, and on the nutritional benefits of eating fast food. Stauber and Rampton document a particularly duplicitous attempt by the ACSH to fudge cancer statistics and make it appear that cancer rates are falling, not rising.
-Worst of all are the outright fabrications. Some readers may recall the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, when a teenage Kuwaiti girl told a Congressional committee a chilling tale of Iraqui soldiers killing babies in a hospital in Kuwait. Only much lager was the girl revealed as the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the US, and her testimony as a pack of lies scripted by PR giant Hill & Knowlton.
So what is one to do in the face of this relentless spin. Surely part of the solution is to be aware, first, of the existence of the negative influence of corporate PR, and second, of the identities of some of the key perpetrators. Stauber and Rampton's book will help readers gain that awareness. It is, as previous reviewers have noted, especially essential reading for environmental and other activists whose efforts may make them the targets of corporate spin campaigns.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2000
This is a valuable and profoundly depressing book. When I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. It describes EXACT situations I've faced personally working for the past 19 years as an local citizen environmentalist in a heavily polluted industrial region of Northeast Wisconsin. The book helped me to realize I wasn't just paranoid or "sensitive." It helped me recognize and cope with the deliberate dirty tricks, orchestrated sabotage, character assassination and obstructionism of linked corporate polluters. Most of my work has centered on counteracting the total BS coming from hundreds of high-paid PR flacks who work for these corporations. These people spend millions on local TV and newspaper ads, editorial board meetings, speaker bureaus, lobbyists at the local, state and federal level, school programs and curriculum guides, political campaign contributions, community & university goodwill grants, grants to nature centers, and scientists willing to prostitute themselves to say whatever the corporations want. They've created several "astro-turf" organizations to give the impression of citizen environmental action IN SUPPORT of the corporate goals. They've used their "astro-turf" groups to divert public attention to other issues, away from corporate pollution. I've actually seen corporate play-by-play guidebooks on how their people should discuss their problems in the most favorable light, meanwhile public health is at continued risk, and they know it.
Some previous reviewers claimed the writers were biased or somehow exaggerating, but I thought the book was remarkably calm considering the outrageousness, the evil, that the book discusses. I'm disgusted that the negative reviewers from the PR and journalism fields (especially those teaching our young people!) don't want to admit the seriousness of the corruption outlined in this book. Perhaps we should ask where their paychecks come from, and why they wrote anonymously.
Ironically, I now serve on a citizen advisory committee created by the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources to set PCB soil criteria for Wisconsin, and this criteria could restrict the landspreading of PCB-contaminated sludges. The sewage treatment plant operators are going ballistic and pulling all kinds of lobbying and legal tricks to prevent the health standard from applying to them or being fully protective of public health --- because they want to keep landspreading toxic sludge on our food croplands. The paper mills have quietly gotten their own exemptions for their sludge, so far. Their PR responses fit this book perfectly, especially the chapter discussing sludge. The criteria battle in the DNR and legislature isn't over, but I predict it will be ugly and full of PR spin-doctoring.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2004
In addition to the fact that this book reads like a thriller, the content and specific examples that are used in this book are so eye opening that it might make you depressed or even nauseated.
Americans are flooded with a propaganda campaign so efficiant that it would make the NAZIs jealous. This book expalins in vivid detail the actual manipulation tactics that are used by the energy, pharmacuetical and tobbaco industries (among others) to blind us into submission and hypnotize us into believing their products are not only safe but are intimately tied to your youth and vitality.
An earlier post for this book made the comment that the authors shouldn't explain the actual manipulation strategies, but the dangerous PR firms allready know how to use them. The rest of us should know these strategies so we can recognize their tactics when we are confronted with them.
Highly recomended book.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2004
See, long ago (how long? More than one hundred years...) advertising, and not circulation (that small fee you pay when you buy a magazine or daily newspaper) was already the number one source of income for most newspapers. Is it too difficult to predict that advertisers can exert power over publishers?
And when you learn from this book that 10 out of the top 15 Public Relations firms (already back in 1994) are owned by advertising firms, and you do the math, I believe you'll then find easy to understand why some unpleasant news don't find their way through the "free" press...
This book is extremely well researched; it pushes you to think twice at problems; it is a good handbook on how to spot deceit; it is a source of hope.
It is also somewhat scary and somewhat difficult as well (many quotations save the authors from lawsuits but slow the reading speed; there are topics on international politics; there's some reasoning about chemistry...) so I don't recommend it to the average reader (choose "Trust us, we're experts" by the same authors and "Influence" by Robert Cialdini first, then come back and dig this one).
"The radioactive waste from nuclear power plants contains the deadliest substances known. It consists mostly of spent fuel which, although it is no longer suitable for generating power, will remain radioactive and lethal for over 100,000 years."
"The business class dominates government through its ability to fund political campaigns, purchase high priced lobbysts and reward former officials with lucrative jobs."
"When an issue is actually coming up for a vote, [this direct-marketer] turns to his phone banks: 'Phones are for speed. Another advantage of phones is that it's really flexible. You test mail, get results in three weeks, and make adjustments. With phones you're on the phones today, you analyze your results, you change your script and try a new thing tomorrow. In a three-day program you can make four or five different changes, find out what's really working, what messages really motivate people, and improve your response rates'. "
Everybody hates junk mail and junk phone calls. Problem is, this stuff works...
"Every day 20 million Americans tune in and turn on to the Limbaugh talk radio show, which is aired on 650 stations across the United States. However, few people realize the degree of technologically sophisticated orchestration behind Limbaugh's power. [Someone] explained how his coalition used paid ads on the Limbaugh show to generate thousands of citizen phone calls urging legislators to kill health reform. First, Rush would hip us his 'dittohead' fans with a calculated rant against the Clinton health plan. Then during a commercial break listeners would hear a anti-health care ad and an 800 number to call for more information. Calling the number would connect them to a telemarketer, who would talk to them briefly and then 'patch them through' directly to their congressperson's office. The congressional staffers fielding the calls typically had no idea that the constituents had been primed, loaded, aimed and fired at them by radio ads on the Limbaugh show, paid by the insurance industry, with the goal of orchestrating grassroots opposition to health reform".
One wonders (might I add?) how naive and unfit for the job American congresspersons are! They just don't know a trick played on some 20 million fellow citizens!?
Do you know SLAPP lawsuits? They are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, their goal is to force the defendant to run up huge bills: and shut up, of course. And what happens if lawsuits fail?
"And if lawsuits fail, some anti-environmentalists urge even stronger tactics. Former Interior Secretary James Watt (who in 1996 pleaded guilty to trying to influence a Federal grand jury) told a gathering of cattlemen in June 1990, 'If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used.' ".
There are tens of quotable lines in this book, I just think those above are enough to give you some clue about its relevance.
I tried to imagine how to describe a country where less than half the citizens bother to vote, politicians get massive amounts of money from corporations (why? and what's the compensation?), consumers lemmingly follow what the media tell them. I have three words: apathy, greed, gullibility. This book is a very effective antidote.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 1999
This is a fantastic book. No - much more than that - it's a truly *important* book. And it will change you.
It has changed me: I am now a much more critical reader. Let me give you an example.
The recent reviewer from Denver (5 March), who seems intent on damning the book with faint praise, claims that the authors are "biased". If "bias" means "left of centre" then I agree, but that's neither bad in itself nor relevant. If, however, "biased" means irrational or unscientific, then these authors are definitely *not* biased.
But - and here's how I've changed - I couldn't help wondering whether our 5 March reviewer is the one who is in fact "biased". How, for example, could someone be so dishonest as to say "I enjoyed reading it, up until the point they started defending Saddam"?
Here's what the book actually says:
"[By the time of the Gulf War] Hussein had been a US ally for nearly a decade. From 1980 to 1988, he had killed about 150,000 Iranians, in addition to at least 13,000 of his own citizens.... [But] this time Hussein's crime was far more serious than simply gassing to death another brood of Kurdish refugees. This time, *oil* was at stake..."
"Viewed in strictly moral terms, Kuwait hardly looked like the sort of country that deserved defending, even from a monster like Hussein...."
"... The American public was notoriously reluctant to send its young into foreign battles on behalf of any cause. Selling war in the Middle East to the American people would not be easy. [President] Bush would need to convince Americans that former ally Saddam Hussein now embodied evil, and that the oil fiefdom of Kuwait was a struggling young democracy..."
If that amounts to "defending Saddam" then I am a Chinese spy.
So why the misrepresentation? There are two possible explanations, both of which are relevant to the thesis of this book.
The first possibility is that our 5 March reviewer is in fact a PR person himself/herself. When you've read the book, I think you'll agree that's highly likely.
But let's we give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Here's the other possibility: the campaign to convince us that Saddam is indeed the embodiment of evil - run by the giant PR firm Hill & Knowlton! - has been so wholly successful that an ordinary thinking person can read the above passages and interpret them as "defending Saddam".
Needless to say, I certainly don't want to believe the latter alternative. But either way, you can see why you must read this book.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2003
an enlightening collection of articles that expose the PR scandals and ongoing campaigns of misinformation that cover our brains like so much toxic slime.
The information is intelligently presented and serves as a primer on knowing exactly what is going on. Like the "War on Drugs," we unfortunately buy into way too much propaganda and yet we still call ourselves a "free" society.
Libertarians and Ralph Nader wannabes everywhere should seriously consider ordering and reading this thorough and strangely entertaining work of illumination.
It misses a point for being kinda pricey for its size (compare with "Everything You Know is Wrong.") Ironic - given its subject matter of being duped.
I'm glad I got it, though.
Just say Know!!!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2002
I borrowed this book from a friend and one chapter into it, I had to purchase a copy for myself. It is one of my favorite books and I often refer back to it. It gives really detailed insight into the PR industry. Surprisingly, it doesn't come off as preachy but just sticks to the facts. I have personally interacted with a "front group" for a fuel company claiming to be an environmental actvist organization similar to those outlined in this book and can testify that their tactics were just as Stauber describes. Please get this book. Everyone needs to be armed with this information.