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Edward Bernays (1891—1995) was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and legendary
bullshit artist propagandist grandaddy of public relations who fundamentally changed the nature of media in the 20th century. Of course, Bernays was a piker compared to the algorithm-fired masters of the dark arts walking the streets today.
One of his most successful techniques was the use of a front group to spread bullshit for one organization through a third party group posing as objective analysts. Bernays also popularized the use of tie-in products. He called his method the "engineering of consent."
You spin me round
While he mostly used his powers of persuasion to hawk products for companies or for political purposes, such as:
- Hawking cigarettes to women.
- Hawking bacon and eggs as the "all-American breakfast."
- Hawking Ivory Soap.
- Hawking Dixie Cups.
- Working on Calvin Coolidge's campaign.
- Spreading propaganda about Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala being a commie, on behalf of his masters at United Fruit Company ("el pulpo", literally the Octopus). Eisenhower's foreign policy was predicated on anti-communism. John Foster Dulles, who orchestrated the coup, sat on the board of United Fruit.
...some of his campaigns actually served good purposes:
- Helping to get water fluoridation passed.
- Peddling propaganda for Woodrow Wilson to gain support for World War I.
- Working on an NAACP campaign.
In his book aptly entitled Propaganda, Bernays wrote:
“”The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
- Bernays in the Museum of Public Relations
- Read Propaganda online
- The Father of Spin
- The Century of the Self (BBC Documentary) (Full video)
- Public Relations, Edward Bernays, and the American Scene, Internet Archive
- Bernays' "Engineering of Consent"
- Freud's Nephew and the Origins of Public Relations, NPR