Friday, April 15, 2011

A claimant speaks -- Part 2 (turns out he reads too)

Wendell Potter, former mouthpiece for the insurance industry, let his conscience be his guide, and became one of our heroes. Mr. Potter has now authored a must-read book, Deadly Spin. Our contributor-claimant read the book and, with our thanks, offers this review:

Deadly Spin: A Review

After reading Wendell Potter's book, “Deadly Spin”, I am struck at how hard it is to suppress my anger and resentment towards the man and focus on the message. This may be proof of its accuracy. There is no other way to put it. Wendell Potter willingly led an evil life. We all have to make choices about how far we are willing to go to earn our living and pay our mortgages.

The book does a solid job of explaining the problems with our for profit insurance system. It could be characterized as required reading for anyone with or without health insurance. Mr. Potter describes the problems of the system and lack of regulation. I felt he did not write enough about his “soul searching” and decision to leave Cigna. He devotes two pages and a few sentences about alcohol which could easily be expanded. I think it is important for society to understand the mind-set of those who believe they deserve power and profits at the expense of others.

I hope he is a changed person. We all deserve a chance to redeem ourselves. Welcome back to humanity, Wendell. I hope you make a difference.

I found the value of this book in its ability to educate the layperson on the tricks, tactics and manipulation techniques of the PR industry. The book provides a guide to alert the consumer when PR is negatively influencing, manipulating them.

(Disclaimer- this is a review intended to present many of the ideas in the book. As such, ideas and concepts come directly from the book. )

PR- A definition

Believe it or not, the PR industry has a Code of Ethics! It has a perverse value system but worth learning in order to recognize when you are being influenced by someone’s agenda.

Wendell Potter defines PR as "the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the public on whom its success or failure depends.” That definition emphasizes the two-way nature of PR. It is in direct opposition to the one-way communication that characterizes both propaganda and advertising. While it’s a nice definition, it’s deliberately misleading.

PR- In Action
Mr. Potter writes that good PR is intentionally subtle and hard to spot. It's about controlling what is said and thought about the client. PR firms know how and where to place their message to reach their target audiences.

In a high stakes fight, PR firms routinely create subversive front groups. They attack and discredit opponents, spread false information, lie, distort the truth and instill fear. In fact, PR firms can be so effective that they have convinced a large segment of the population to vote contrary to their own best interests. Those among us who suffer the most are voting to continue the very system, which hurts them.

The Tools of PR Industry

Knowledge remains power. If we learn to recognize the tactics and dirty tricks, we can fight back. The following is a list of tactics regularly used by the PR industry. It's worth committing them to memory. They will alert you to the fact you are being manipulated!

1. Fear

Organizations with the most to lose are most likely to resort to fear mongering. Their information may mention the loss of jobs, a threat to public health, or general decline in social values, standard of living, or individual rights. It may also vilify a specific cause or even a specific person in order to create the desired point of view.

2. Glittering generalities

This approach arouses strong positive emotions by using words and phrases like "democracy," "patriotism," "American way of life." The tactic is used to either support a cause or destroy an individuals or groups reputation.

3. Testimonials

Celebrities or recognized “experts” are frequently recruited and hired to provide testimonials about a product, cause, company, organization, or candidate.

4. Name-calling

Blatant insults are a proven, effective public-relations tool. The goal is to associate the target of the insults with a negative for unpopular cause or person. Defending against name-calling can be difficult. Negative terms tend to stick, even if they are undeserved.

5. Plain folks

Any time a business executive or politician or other individual poses with rank-and-file employees or customers, he or she is claiming to be "of the people". Being identified with"" plain folks is both good business and good politics. Do you really a billionaire is just like you and I?

6. Euphemisms

PR practitioners often select words that obscure the real meaning of actions or concepts. The tactic is sometimes called to "doublespeak"," Weasel words," or "Spin." For instance, an employee may be "transitioned" rather than fired and a lie may be called a "misunderstanding or misinterpretation."

7. Bandwagon

The bandwagon message is that everyone else is doing or supporting the process. And, you should, too. Opinion polls are created to show a large percentage of people are on the bandwagon, but polls are carefully designed and managed. Polls are shaped in advance by structuring questions to elicit specific responses.

8. Transfer

Similar to testimonials, the transfer of approach involves using the approval of a respected individual or organization. This can be used as a device by which a PR campaign can utilize the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere in order to influence our opinion. They can also include trusted members of society such as teachers, firefighters or activists.

Protecting Yourself: How to recognize SPIN

The book gives some sound advice on how to spot the SPIN and telltale signs of a PR firm.

1) If the message sounds too good to be true, it is. Some examples include: The oil company that wants to reduce dependence on oil. The Health insurance company that wants to keep you healthy or the finance company that wants to help you make money. This is a sign of PR at work.

2) In public debate recognize when PR firm is reframing the debate in order to shift the focus away from their client. They will use misleading information to redirect blame or create controversy.

3) Recognize the affect of PR in advertising. Be wary of any ad that promotes the virtues of a corporation and its contribution to society. This includes advertising that carries a message that a company or industry is making your life better. Be wary of the use of philanthropy to counter negative publicity and questionable behavior.

4) Recognize the affect of PR firms and the use of third-party front groups. For example, the Center for Consumer Freedom is funded by tobacco companies to "protect the rights" of people to smoke in restaurants. Front groups are used to avoid revealing their funding sources. To verify true purpose of a third-party group use Sourcewatch.

Lastly, don’t forget to check out Center for Media and Democracy for validating information.

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