cover image Toxic Sludge Is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

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

John Stauber. Common Courage Press, $17.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-1-56751-060-7

Stauber and Rampton cite a classic example of image manipulation in this chilling analysis of the PR business. During the aftermath of the 1975 Three-Mile Island nuclear accident, a company spokesman said that a spark in the accumulated hydrogen bubble could result in a ``spontaneous energetic disassembly''--otherwise known as an explosion. The authors trace certain specious practices of the $10 billion PR business to P.T. Barnum, who in 1836 wrote anonymous pro and con letters to editors about himself, generating heated interest. Modern public relations has evolved ``crisis management'' and ``anti-'' PR campaigns including sabotaging the tours of authors who challenge industry clients, for example, Jeremy Rifkin, author of Beyond Beef. The new euphemism for sewage sludge, ``biosolids,'' is part of a campaign to convince the public that municipal sludge, replete with an astounding array of toxic substances, is good for farm soil. The authors point to Business for Social Responsibility, an organization that includes The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry's and others, as now containing ``some of the most environmentally destructive corporations on the planet.'' Giant agencies extend their contracts to selling national policies, as Hill & Knowlton did in selling the Gulf war to the American public. Although most large news organizations at least rewrite PR materials, many smaller markets ``rip and read'' prepackaged video news releases. This is a cautionary reminder that much of the consumer and political world is created by for-hire mouthpieces in expensive neckties. (Dec.)