“Since crowds do not reason, they can only be organized and stimulated through symbols and phrases.” –U.S. public relations pioneer Ivy Lee, 1917
Last time I saw the PETA in Reno, the animal-rights activists were camped out in front of KFC with plastic poultry corpses. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were on a nationwide anti-Colonel Sanders drive. The small group’s message was clear: KFC is one of the largest chicken-torturing outfits in the United States.
Perhaps you don’t care about chickens as much as PETA does. But maybe you appreciate that PETA protests lead to awareness, and awareness can lead to reforms in the ways animals are handled.
As you might guess, the fast-food industry doesn’t take bad press lying down. The latest counterattack includes a billboard in Times Square. It reads: “PETA kills animals.com.” At the Web site, PETA folks are accused of tossing puppies in Dumpsters and indoctrinating young people into the animal-rights movement, where the gullible young might be involved in such heinous activities as banning circus animals in Denver, “passing the hat for animal rights” or even engaging in “adolescent-driven, animal-rights-related vandalism.”
Animal-rights vandalism? Gosh, I thought the kids were too busy with porno video games, underage drinking, and reality TV to be corrupted by a bunch of skinny, low-budget vegans.
The anti-PETA campaign is run by a nonprofit group, the Center for Consumer Freedom, started a decade ago by Washington lobbyist Rick Berman with money from tobacco giant Philip Morris (now known as the Altria Group).
The CCF gets dough from agri-giants like Cargill and Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola, Wendy’s, White Castle, Outback Steakhouse, Applebee’s. Harrah’s Entertainment has kicked in, according to CCF’s IRS forms obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Not everyone bothers to look up the organization’s tax records. At Web sites like the much-read WorldNetDaily.com, a news-ish site that features ads for Christian reading materials and financial services companies, CCF’s campaign is given full credibility.
“A new publicity campaign run by a consumer-freedom organization is using a billboard in Times Square to expose the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA,” the story begins, “saying the nonprofit is a deceptive money-grabbing lobby that actually kills over a thousand animals every year.”
The story refers to CCF as if it actually were run by freedom-loving Americans determined to protect the extra-crispy-drumstick experience.
This deception scares me because the CCF doesn’t limit its demonizing to PETA. It’ll take on any group that threatens the interests of fast-food, booze and tobacco profiteers. When the documentary Super Size Me was in theaters, Berman wrote op-eds and appeared on talk shows to fear-monger about the “food police.” He’s tried to make Mothers Against Drunk Driving members look like finger-wagging numbskulls.
Berman’s open about his strategy and his funding. A Berman interview from industry magazine Chain Leader is often quoted: “Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger. … We’ve got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons.”
In his book, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda Versus Freedom and Liberty, Alex Carey wrote that “the success of business propaganda in persuading us for so long that we are free from propaganda [was] one of the most significant propaganda achievements of the 20th century.”
Since World War I, Americans have been cranking out public-relations propaganda using methods adopted by amateurs like the Nazis and Joe Stalin. We’re far more sophisticated critical thinkers these days.
As long as it remains invisible, we like our propaganda—with a slippery side of grease.