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20160611 Republic of Spin


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The main idea of this book is to review history of organized political public relations operations, their methodology, and results. The main conclusion is that politically skewed distortion of events, facts, and statements was increased continuously and achieved such high levels that it become practically impossible do derive picture of reality consistent with real facts based on flow if (dis) information produced by political campaigns and affiliated media.


PART I: THE AGE OF PUBLICITY: 1.Theodore Roosevelt and the Public Presidency; 2.William McKinley and the Passing of the Old Order; 3.The Rise of Public Opinion; 4.”The Fair-Haired”; 5.Muckraking and Its Critics; 6.The Passion of Upton Sinclair

  1. The Dawn of Public Relations; 8.Wilson Speaks; 9.Pitiless Publicity; 10.The Press Agents’ War; 11.The Journey of George Creel; 12. Disillusionment

This is review of initial formation of political spin that was really born quite non-incidentally with the first public presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. Author reviews Teddy’s publicity operation that started well before achieving presidency and hit high mark during his tenure allowing him to overcome low level of support from GOP establishment by connecting directly with masses. This part also includes review of McKinley’s use of publicity especially new media of movie documentary that provided visual access to masses. It coincided with dramatic increase in numbers of correspondents in DC that tripled from 58 to 171 from 1868 to 1900. However McKinley operation was relatively low scale with limited objectives appropriate for small federal government that had little impact on lives of regular people. However it was changing fast and author traces personalities and methods of public relation operations that allowed massive government expansion into businesses driven by muckraking journalism exposing “evils” and demanding bureaucratic intervention to protect consumers, small businesses, and everything else they could come up with in order to obtain more power. Needless to say that implementing draft, going into war, and drastically limiting American freedoms that occurred during this period would not be possible without massive successful brainwashing operation conducted by “progressive” intelligentsia. Finally a significant share of discussion here is the story of formal government public relation organizations, relevant personalities, quite fascinating semantic struggle to differentiate government spin effort from propaganda (that carried very negative connotation), and, finally, initial planting of healthy seeds of mass cynicism as result of all above.

PART II: THE AGE OF BALLYH00 13. Return to Normalcy; 14.Walter Lippmann and the Problem of the Majority; 15.The Likes and Dislikes of H. L. Mencken; 16.Bruce Barton and the Soul of the 1920s; 17.”Silent Cal”; 18.The Overt Acts of Edward Bernays; 19.Master of Emergencies;

This part covers relatively short period of temporary return to more or less traditional American values of small federal government, minimization of permanent military establishment, and consequently minimization of government intervention into economy and everyday lives of Americans. However the process of information spin to assure support of population to agenda of political class was continued unabated: Harding brought in professional speech writing, Coolidge expanded press conferences and radio talks, and Hoover established permanent White House press office and started continuous production of movies and other propaganda materials to keep public support. As it could be expected at this point public relations operation extensively used individuals with advertisement background who widely implemented advertisement methods to sell political ideas.

PART HI: THE AGE OF COMMUNICATION: 20.Tuned to Roosevelt; 21.Nazism and Propaganda; 22.The Dark Side of Radio; 23.Campaigns, Inc.; 24.The Wizard of Washington; 25.The Road to War; 26.The Facts and Figures of Archibald MacLeish; 27.Propaganda and the “Good War”;

This is about highly effective use of radio for propaganda by all sides during 1930s and 40s. Obviously in USA it was FDR with his fireside chats that in reality were highly sophisticated performances with planning, speechwriters, and thorough rehearsals. It also somewhat touched on continuing philosophical development of ideas of public relations and mass communications as necessary tools for democracy. On totalitarian side it reviews Hitler’s masterful use of mass communications to promote ideas of National Socialism and anti-Semitism. It also reviews in quite interesting details ideological support for war in America from earliest moments when population was fully isolationist to propagandist support for continuing war effort.

PART IV: THE AGE OF NEWS MANAGEMENT: 28.The Underestimation of Harry Truman; 29.George Gallup’s Democracy; 30.Psychological Warfare; 31.Eisenhower Answers America; 32.Salesmanship and Secrecy; 33.The TV President; 34.”Atoms for Peace”; 35.Vance Packard and the Anxiety of Persuasion

This part covers initial after war period, specifically reviewing Truman’s ideological activity in mass communications, it is quite convincingly demonstrated here that Truman was far more effective than he usually gets credit for. This demonstrated by using both Truman internal and external communications directed at winning propaganda war against Soviet Union. The second half of this part looks at Eisenhower administration and its various initiatives in this war with stress on the new media of TV, development of polling methodology that assured improved feedback from population, and glossy magazines that provided both education and propagandist food for public consumption.

PART V: THE AGE OF IMAGE MAKING: 36.The Unmaking of Presidential Mystique; 37.The Great Debates; 38.The Politics of Image; 39.The Kennedy Moment; 40.News Management in Camelot; 41.Crisis 42.”Let Us Continue”; 43.The Credibility Gap; 44.The New Politics;

The new era come in 1960s with Kennedy presidency when ideas were moved somewhat into background and substituted by images. This new environment opened unheard of possibilities of selling to the public packaging in lieu of substance. This part reviews multiple crises of Kennedy administration and its eventual failure to manage the news that led to increasing credibility gap between public and administration filled by news providers.

PART VI: THE AGE OF SPIN: 45.The Permanent Campaign Arrives; 46.The Reagan Apotheosis; 47.Spinning Out of Control; 48.George W. Bush and the “Truthiness” Problem; 49. Barack Obama and the Spin of No Spin.

The final part traces final development of contemporary spin through the last 5 administrations from Reagan to Obama when it is characterized by increasing sophistication in wordsmithing with decreasing effectiveness of results. In short not only credibility of consecutive administrations declined dramatically, but also credibility of news provided went the same way: down the drain.


This is an interesting historical review of public relations tracing continuing and seems to be unstoppable decrease in elite’s ability to convince population to support elite’s ideas and endeavors. I believe that it is a very natural process with people getting practically unlimited access to all conceivable information with nationalization and even globalization of individual live when individual’s well being depends not only and even not that much on local circumstances, as it used to be in times past, but more and more on global circumstances of international political, economic, and even psychological and ideological environment. It remains to be seen how well elite would be able to managed dramatic increase in ability to access information, time to digest it, and level of dependency of individual well being on general political and economical situation in the country and even in the world. My guess would be that elite will fail and subsequent development will lead to severe decrease in elite’s influence and quite possible increase of individual freedom, but not before a sequence of serious political battles between elite and populist movement significantly impact environment in the country.


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