The biggest, most dangerous lies we have to contend with, the most far-reaching in their effects, are promulgated by experts in spreading information that favors one party to the detriment of all others. This is called Public Relations, PR. PR is the art of telling the public selected things that will make them accept “externalities” like poverty wages, dead babies, toxic drinking water, thousands of bankrupted farmers dead by suicide. Best of all, from a PR perspective, is to make this ugly shit disappear entirely, so we can have harmony, prosperity and a good business climate. Yer proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats (except for the many already submerged and out of sight, which goes without saying).
There is a term in the law that excuses a certain kind of blustering lying, it is called “puffery”. Presumably you puff yourself up to make your threat look bigger and more terrible than it is, to make the other party back down. There’s no crime in puffery, nor has any lawyer been punished in any way for what can be justified as mere puffery. Puffery is your proverbial slippery slope down to a trough of shit, and many an outright public lie has been defended as mere puffery.
Public Relations is closely related to commercial advertising, indistinguishable from it, actually. The techniques of Public Relations, creating a desirable one-sided story to influence the public to accept whatever it is you’re trying to do, are identical to the ones used by propagandists. Propaganda, most people believe, is a bad thing, since it hides the truth and makes a false case for things like war, discrimination, genocide.
But Public Relations, you understand, is a completely different field, and basically morally neutral, clean, even its dirty little sibling political advertising. One key thing about successful public relations messages — they should be as ubiquitous as possible. I offer a couple of examples that spring to mind.
I just heard a great episode of Krista Tippett’s insightful On Being. Every week she engages in discussion with someone putting spiritual insight into practice to make the world a better place. She spoke to the co-founder and director of Theatre of War, a group that stages ancient Greek tragedies to foster audience discussion of our own traumas . It is a moving discussion, very pertinent in our traumatic moment in history, and I recommend it.
In thanking her sponsors at the end, Krista reads this perfectly articulated 8 second PR message from a billionaire philanthropist named Charles Koch:
Well-born, iron-willed billionaire engineer Charles Koch has done more than perhaps anyone in US history to bring about a violently divided society where the 0.01% percent have as much wealth as the bottom 80%, enshrining his inherited advantages in perpetuity through canny political action, funding dozens of “think tanks” and other politically influential institutions, aided by an army of lawyers and ruthlessly effective PR. Now, as his death approaches, he wants to be remembered as a generous and courageous collaborator dedicated to discovering and elevating tools to cure intolerance and bridge differences.
Sure, after a lifetime dedicated to hobbling democracy, suppressing wages, fighting integration, destroying the environment and all ecological regulation, creating influential far-right organizations, funding the Tea Party “revolution,” sowing the ground for Trump, packing the federal courts with judges of his extreme political stripe — why not take a bow as a man dedicated to curing intolerance?
Depending on your political orientation you may be sad or happy about the recent defeat of the unionizing efforts in an Alabama sweatshop run by the world’s wealthiest man. It was a one-sided loss for the union advocates. Most Amazon workers in the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted not to unionize, after Amazon spent millions in what many see as a coordinated effort to intimidate its workers. The anti-union effort worked beautifully. Now is the time for continued PR.
The turnover rate for Jeff Bezos’s wonderful, well-paid warehouse jobs (who doesn’t enjoy pissing in a bottle?) is around 100% a year, we learn. These great, very demanding jobs burn people out pretty quickly, apparently. But pay no attention to that, PR to the rescue. You can watch smiling actors of all colors and genders talk about how great it is to work for the world’s richest man, how it has enriched their lives and given them a brighter future. These ads are ubiquitous, as are Amazon’s messages of support for a $15 minimum wage from a wealthy man who already voluntarily pays that large hourly sum to his well-paid, happy workers.
I love the way the Amazon swoosh, as carelessly artless a swoosh as there is in the world of branding, idiotically, and likely unintentionally, slashes and defaces the word “wages”. It also seems to put a crudely drawn question mark at the end. Talk about Freudian slips. But the point is made. A company that clawed back its generous $2/hr hazard pay increase two months into the pandemic, fired and vilified workers who protested against unhealthy working conditions during the pandemic, and paid dozens of expert consultants $3,200 a day to help crush an attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse (success!), is very generous and changing lives for the better for more than a million low-skilled, low-paid workers.
To round out this PR piece, let’s go to former Attorney General Bill Barr and his boss, the former president who, very much like George Washington before him, could not tell a lie.
You will recall that in their attempt to hold on to power leading up to the rigged 2020 election they were working on an American Carnage scenario. Their story was that irrationally enraged Blacks and their radical allies were overrunning Anarchist Jurisdictions, where hopelessly liberal mayors and governors were allowing these massive demonstrations, these riots, and showing terrible disloyalty to the President. The spin was that these out of control mobs, rampaging for absolutely no reason and seemingly enraged at overwhelming police force arrayed against them, were threatening life as we know it and it was likely that martial law would have to be invoked to protect democracy, or some cherished right wing version of it.
Barr sent federal troops to protect a federal building in Portland, Oregon, pursuant to an Executive Order about protecting federal property from violence. Violence escalated immediately, once the anti-riot forces arrived on the scene. You recall the unmarked shock troops jumping out of unmarked rented vans to grab protesters, who they drove around, handcuffed and hooded, and released without charges. It was a radical experiment, to see if federal forces could be widely deployed to put down this threatening Black revolution. Black Lives Matter was portrayed as a violent terrorist group, as was antifa. People who claimed that police killings of unarmed Blacks is a serious ongoing problem in America were themselves the serious ongoing problem in America. These lawless rioters would not be tolerated.
Recall how things escalated in Portland. Trump supporters began staging counter protests in Portland. An armed Trump supporter was shot to death one night by a violent “antifa terrorist”. Four days later, the suspected anitfa killer was found 120 miles from Portland and quickly died in a hail of police bullets when federal marshals staged a raid. The story of the original murder of the Trump supporter, was reported, by the Washington Post, at the very end of the article about the police killing of his suspected murderer, this way:.
The incident came after a caravan of Trump supporters, including members of the Patriot Prayer group, made their way through Portland, sparking skirmishes with those who objected to their presence. Portland has seen more than three months of often violent protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, and the shooting seemed to intensify the persistent tension.
As for the police killing of the suspected killer of the Trump supporter? From that same article in the Washington Post:
A vocal proponent of the far-left antifa movement who was suspected of fatally shooting a supporter of a far-right group in Portland, Ore., this weekend was shot and killed in a confrontation with law enforcement Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service said.
Investigators were seeking to take Michael Forest Reinoehl into custody in connection with the fatal shooting of 39-year-old Aaron J. Danielson on Saturday after confrontations between supporters of President Trump and Black Lives Matter counterprotesters.
The agency said Reinoehl was shot by police near Olympia, Wash., after drawing a weapon as officers tried to arrest him.
“The fugitive task force located Reinoehl in Olympia and attempted to peacefully arrest him,” said Jurgen R. Soekhoe, a U.S. Marshals spokesman, in a statement. “Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers. Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene.”source
The attempt to peacefully arrest him was accomplished when officers jumped out of two SUVs that had sped to the scene, cut off Reinhoel’s parked car and opened fire on the left-wing suspect, killing him in a barrage of 37 bullets. Here’s Barr, about the “confrontation” between Reinoehl and the officers who attempted to peacefully apprehend him and, in his estimation, justifiably opened fire on the dangerous fugitive:
In a statement Friday, Attorney General William P. Barr called Reinoehl a “a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer,” who was shot by law enforcement after he “attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm.”
“The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed, and the actions that led to his location are an unmistakable demonstration that the United States will be governed by law, not violent mobs,” Barr said.
A few days later, a more accurate picture of how admitted Antifa member Reinoehl was killed came out. But not before Trump weighed in. The NY Times reported:
The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment for this article, citing the pending investigation. The agency previously said that it had attempted to “peacefully arrest” Mr. Reinoehl and that he had threatened the lives of law enforcement officers.
President Trump, who has described the racial justice protests that have roiled the nation as the work of lawless criminals, praised the operation.
“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” the president told Fox News. “And I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”source
Kill one of ours, the government will kill one of yours. Hammurabi.
The Times article cited above details what actually happened in the “confrontation” that led to Reinoehl’s killing. Witnesses thought it was a mob hit, or a drug cartel execution. Reinoehl was walking toward his car, holding a cell phone and a bag of candy when the “confrontation” began. Two SUVs sped to the scene, cutting off Reinoehl’s car, four armed men leapt out and immediately opened fire. Nobody heard anyone identify themselves as police or yell anything else at the suspect. An unfired handgun was found in a pocket of Reinhoehl’s bullet riddled corpse, (proof that his killing by government agents was totally justified, as police investigators later found.)
Of course, who are you going to believe, the Lying New York Times, and twenty-two so-called “witnesses” who were interviewed by the paper, or men of unimpeachable integrity like Bill Barr and a president who, try as he might, simply cannot tell a lie?
“Remember,” Bryan Doerries likes to say in both physical and virtual gatherings, “you are not alone in this room — and you are not alone across time.” With his public health project, Theater of War, he is activating an old alchemy for our young century. Ancient stories, and texts that have stood the test of time, can be portals to honest and dignified grappling with present wounds and longings and callings that we aren’t able to muster in our official places now. It’s an embodiment of the good Greek word catharsis — releasing both insight and emotions that have had no place to go, and creating an energizing relief. And it is now unfolding in the “amphitheater” of Zoom that Sophocles could not have imagined.