Dear Democracy Now! Visitor: We are an independent, ad-free daily news program that serves millions of viewers and listeners each month. In this US election year, Democracy Now! is more important than ever. For 20 years, we’ve put a spotlight on corporate and government abuses of power. We lift up the stories of ordinary people working to make change in extraordinary times. We do all of this with just a fraction of the budget and staff of a commercial news show. We do it without ads, corporate sponsorship or government funding. How is this possible? Only with your support. A generous funder will match your donation dollar for dollar if you donate right now. That means when you give $10, your donation will be worth $20. Pretty exciting, right? So, if you've been waiting to make your contribution to Democracy Now!, today is your day. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you every day.

Your Donation: $

Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and   the Public Relations Industry

March 05, 1996

John Stauber, author of Toxic Sludge, says democracy is in steep decline because of corporate dominance of the political spectrum through the public relations industry. Especially interesting over the past ten years is the complete takeover of even grassroots politics by corporations and their  
consultants. We’ve always known that big business runs Washington, but we find that the same big business interests now dominate grass roots organizing through direct marketing and "astroturf" campaigns, for example the quashing of debate on health care reform during the Clinton administration. The pharmaceutical industry poured tens of millions into the appearance of grass roots support for maintaining the status quo. including the Harry and Louise commercials and ads the insurance industry placed on the Rush Limbaugh show. First Limbaugh would deliver a fevered rant about how health care reform was next to Stalinism, then an industry-sponsored ad would come in: "If you’re upset about health care reform call 800 000 0000. From there, callers would be patched through free to their congressperson’s office. Thus the industry dumped thousands of angry calls into Washington offices. The worst thing about this type of political organizing is that it neutralizes genuine grassroots advocacy.

During summer 1995 a public relations firm, Beckel Cowan, who got their start working for such liberal Democrats as Walter Mondale generated thousands of pseudotelegrams into Washington from people who never agreed to have their names used, and some of whom were  deceased. They were caught at it, and major corporate media began to focus on the issue of astroturf. No criminal action was ever taken, however; and Beckel is now 1996 an election commentator for CBS.  Biosolids is the euphemism that the PR industry has coined for toxic sludge, now being promoted as a beneficial fertilizer. The firm whose stated goal is to make toxic sludge "noncontroversial"  by 2000 is Powell Tate, formed by Jody Powell, Jimmy Carter’s press secretary, and Nancy Tate, Reagan’s press secretary (now chair of Board of Appropriations for Public Broadcasting, where Stauber notes a rightwing direction in programming).  In1994 TV Nation did a segment on sewage sludge being carried by a company named Merco Joint Venture from New York to Sierra Blanca, Texas, where it was dumped on the ground and allowed to blow around, causing asthma and other illnesses. This has resulted in a 33 million dollar SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suit by Merco against Sony, local anti-sludge activists, and Hugh Kauffman, an EPA activist, now in court in East Texas.

Olestra, a chemical that mimics fat, is discussed. Proctor & Gamble’s public relations strategies are highlighted


- John Stauber, editor PR Watch quarterly newsletter and founder of Center for Media and Democracy
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.