As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The PR Machine

It should come as no surprise that PR Spending has doubled under the Bush Administration. This government is all about spin and persuasion, masking the devious nature of the policies themselves. What is also not surprising is where this money is going. Almost 40% of all PR payments were to Ketchum, the company implicated in the Armstrong Williams scandal and others (like developing "video news releases" for the Departments of Education, HHS, and the ONDCP supporting Presidential policies, but masquerading as news).

Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest has a great post called "Why Republicans Win" which makes the salient point that Republicans have the goal of persuading Americans to believe their point of view, while Democrats do not (at least not in a coordinated fashion). Democrats still rely on conventional wisdom, thinking that everyone wants decent health care and a cleaner environment. Republicans rely on their enormous message machine to cajole, wheedle, and nudge people into believing they have the better ideas and positions. Here's the money quote:

So you can see how things got to be the way they are. Democrats understand themselves as a political party, not as a movement. The party grew out of a time when people already understood why they were Democrats or not, so there was no need for organizations that talked to the general public about why it is good to be a Democrat. Instead the party naturally focused on elections. And it is still that way. Democrats look for the "right candidates" to appeal to voters. The candidate is expected to "voice" the issues, and develop messaging that works, and is expected to do it after putting together a campaign team, which happens during and after the primaries. The Democrats use the election cycle as a time to come up with specific "issues" and "messages" and educate the voters. Then the campaign is supposed to reach the voters and educate them about the candidate and the issues... This is the old way of understanding politics. The problem is that times have changed -- they have been changed by the rise of "movement conservatism."

On the Right, they developed their movement in response to the existing liberal consensus, which means that their movement developed based on the idea of changing people's minds away from those liberal ideas and values. So the result is that today the Right is structured around persuasion, while the Democrats are not. And their organizations have spent decades studying how best to persuade people.

And one way is just throwing huge sums of money on every available form of media (including word-of-mouth media through church and social groups) and bludgeoning the barely-paying-attention voters into submission. And then, incredibly, they claim that the other side is doing the exact same thing, through the liberal "MSM" (mainstream media), and they cry foul. This is a peculiar bit of genius, to accuse the other side of exactly what you're doing yourself. The only way to counteract it is to DO THE EXACT SAME THING.

Does this mean funneling cash to PR firms that can get your message out? Well, I think it'll be a different kind of PR, one that burgeons online more than anywhere, for example. But it does mean setting up those infrastructures that study what frames work and what ones do not, dozens of liberal think tanks whose entire goal is how to best persuade the public. That's starting but it'll take time, effort, and (yes) lots of money.

By the way, whenever you want to start that up, Democrats, give me a call.

...UPDATE: looks like the Democrats have decided to fight government-funded PR:

In response to continued revelations of government-funded "journalism" -- ranging from the purported video news releases put out by the drug czar's office and the Department of Health and Human Services to the recently uncovered payments to columnists Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, who flacked administration programs -- Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) will introduce a bill, The Stop Government Propaganda Act, in the Senate next week.

"It's just not enough to say, 'Please don't do it anymore,'" Alex Formuzis, Lautenberg's spokesman, told E&P. "Legislation sometimes is required and we believe it is in this case."

The Stop Government Propaganda Act states, "Funds appropriated to an Executive branch agency may not be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States unless authorized by law."

"It's time for Congress to shut down the Administration's propaganda mill," Lautenberg said in a statement. "It has no place in the United States Government." The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Jon Corzine (D-N.J.).

Call your senator and tell them to sign on to The Stop Government Propaganda Act.