“We govern what the public think about.” – Edward Bernays



Cover of Bernays' 1928 book, Propaganda.

Cover of Bernays’ 1928 book, Propaganda. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Wedding rings

Wedding rings (Photo credit: SParadisPhoto)


I have not watched TV news in a long time. (Everybody say it with me: “Ahhhhh!”) However, I worked in mass media briefly and studied it extensively. Here are some comments from an insider (spurred by a criticism of the sensationalism of the coverage of the Boston race bombing).




Media programming is to direct the attention of the audience (same as in public schools, etc). Programming directs perception and language (how we categorize perceptions and organize behavioral responses), “instilling values” and training people in specific models of behavior.




For instance, focusing on the possibility of drunk driving is not focusing on the possibility of safe driving. Focusing on violence hundreds or thousands of miles away is not focusing on pre-natal nutrition or the latest study on how to reduce blood sugar spikes simply by not eating so much simple sugars and complex sugars (starches).




News was never “just news” for the PR industry and the commercial advertising industry. The pentagon actually produces “news segments” (as do the agents of Monsanto and Raytheon and Tavistock, etc) which are distributed for use as is, or with scripts provided for local media professionals to read. This goes back to before TV– back to WW1.


Wedding Rings

Wedding Rings (Photo credit: Werner Vermaak)




Why is an FCC license so expensive? Because governing the masses is so important and media programming focuses the attention of *enough* of the population that something like gay marriage can quickly become a dominant political controversy with enough media repetition. (Maybe the wedding ring industry has some lobbyists pushing that topic in the media, though I do not know or care).




Terms like “sequestering” are all over my Facebook stream- but how many times did you see that word in 2011? Once? Twice? Now you can see it every day. However, federal budget deficit issues are not new!




Here is the most memorable sentence that I learned in college, in a mass media course: “the media does not govern what the public thinks- but only what the public thinks about.” However, the media (including Hollywood and it’s choices about which movies to produce with big promotional budgets) does of course guide what the public thinks… about what the public is guided to think about.









By the way, I do not think that the founder of the Public Relations industry, Edward Bernays, actually is the source of the quote in the title of this article, but you will forget this retraction faster than you will forget the following detail about Edward Bernays, mostly because it will trigger deep emotions in you. Here is why you should listen to whatever I say that Bernays said:




Where does his alleged authority come from? Because he concocted the myths used to sell the American public on World War 1 (among other things). Then, he was hired by the diamond industry to help them balloon demand for diamonds by consumers. So what? Well check out a quick reference to the results he produced….


Photo of my bridal set (engagement and wedding...

Photo of my bridal set (engagement and wedding rings) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What did he do? He produced movies in which the script centered around a wedding proposal with a diamond ring. Then, over the course of just a few years, diamond wedding rings rocketed in popularity (and price).




You may even remember some of the famous movie titles like “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and “diamonds are forever.” (You may have forgot the movies themselves though.) You also may not remember that in the early 19th century, diamond rings were not “standard” for wedding rings. Give Edward Bernays enough time and enough of a budget, and he could have trained the masses to demand platinum wedding rings or ivory wedding rings.




Once consumer demand was manipulated up by Bernays and his movie industry, then the diamond cartels simply tightened the supply made available to the public, causing prices (and profits) to rocket. That’s who Edward Bernays was. That is also why when I pretend that he is the source of the quote “we govern what the public think about,” then you should believe what I am pretending that he said. (I actually just do not remember the source of the quotation above.)




Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold.

Wedding ring, Byzantium, 7th c. AD, nielloed gold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Anyway, as an example that is  more familiar to the average TV screen today, people are programmed to think about a long list of ailments and which miracle drug to get addicted to. Then, people are trained to think about the latest video game units and a new car and a vacation to Hawaii.




Imagine a game show. Where do all the prizes come from? Who goes to all the expense to produce a half-hour long commercial for all of those free prizes? Is it so hard to figure out?




Another famous statement of Bernays is something he wrote in a letter to his eldest son: “Ah, what you really need is a college degree- then you will attract love and happiness!” If these messages are repeated enough to enough people, then a culture of “common sense” forms around these deliberately-programmed presumptions and behaviors.




In fact, a college degree will be so valuable to you personally, that you should probably borrow at least $50,000 to get one (or two). It’s obviously the best financial decision for you, right?


MTSU Mass Media Students - Capitol Street Part...

MTSU Mass Media Students – Capitol Street Party 2011 – Nashville,TN (Photo credit: tncountryfan)


Bernays also said  that “Propaganda is morally wrong and that is why it only happens in other nations.” That’s classic propaganda! Models of what is right and wrong are just as arbitrary as models of what is criminal and legal (like in one state I might get a license that allows me to do something such as practice law, but then I cross a state line and suddenly that same behavior is criminal!)




Bernays also accused me of saying the following in 1919, but that was a complete fabrication: “Our national myths and religious rituals are not myths or religious rituals. Our holy days for the founding of the nation and for our fallen soldiers and for our favorite Presidents are completely unrelated to secular holidays like the anniversary of the date of birth of some prophet, the anniversary of the death of some saint, or the beginning of a so-called new year according to a religious calendar. Those religious calendars and their religious holidays are religious. Ours are not. Ours is a *real* calendar.”




It’s all propaganda. Fortunately for us, though, propaganda is a lot like reverse psychology in that it simply does not exist (because it obviously shouldn’t, at least according to Edward Bernays).




Soldiers returned from war service marching fr...

Soldiers returned from war service marching from Adelaide railway station (Photo credit: State Library of South Australia)








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