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Customer Review

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.
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