Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The offensive PR offensive

Public relations professionals control the American dialogue these days, culturally and politically. It's been a long time developing, and it accounts for much of our country's questionable taste, cuturally and politically. If you're looking to disprove evolution, the current state of our discourse provides no better evidence: we're devolving at an alarming rate.

Propaganda is an easy art to master. It begins with formulating a simple, broad (and brief) slogan. Hire people who can deliver that message with stoic conviction. Whenever asked a question contradicting the sales pitch, repeat said pitch. Over and over. Without an ounce of doubt. Never, ever, defer.

Finally, the skeptics will become distracted. The observers will grow bored. And the PR offensive is won.

The Bush Administration has proven most adept at this art; they could sell a burka to a Hassidic Jew. But as any gifted liar will tell you, deception must be mixed with an occasional truth. It catches the ombudsman off guard and leaves the deceiver less vulnerable to his or her enemies.

But embattled FEMA Directior Michael Brown let down that guard in a memo sent to the agency's charges on the eve of their deployment to the storm ravaged Gulf Coast. Yes, delivering water to the thirsty and sustenance to the hungry were important, but so was "convey(ing) a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public."

Apparently one doesn't have to be schooled in public relations to oversee the competitive judging of Arabian horses (Brown's previous job), though his profane admission of policy proved telling of the current White House's m.o. It's genesis traces back to Texas, but first emerged on the national stage after Bush's resounding defeat in the New Hampshire primary at the hands of John McCain.

Reform was McCain's predominant theme, and it was finding an audience. Reform was suddenly popular. Hmmm....what's more popular than a reformer? Perhaps a "reformer with results?" Hell, let's paint that on the side of our bus. After all, crazy, tempermental Vietnam vets can't be trusted, particularly when it comes to overhauling a corrupt, stagnant system. It takes a well-trained politician to do that.

This is not to place the blame squarely on a couple of unqualified bureacrats. There is plenty of shame to be had, on the local, state and national levels. Enough to fill the Superdome, for that matter, with twice as much denial and three times the scapegoats, real and imagined.

Think how refreshing it would be if just one of them stopped in mid-sentence, took a long pause, breathed deeply and admitted (like Howard Beale once did): "I've just run out of bullshit."


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