The power of the press can be used to deliberately lead people astray, and to make them believe whatever propagandists want them to believe. In honor of the first man to use them I call modern propaganda and information-management techniques "Hitler's Legacy".

When Adolph Hitler took power in Germany he also took over the media, and he used it to shape a modern, civilized country to his ends. With full control of the national press his propaganda minister Paul Josef Goebbels developed sophisticated and very effective tools of propaganda to control public opinion in Germany, and even in other countries.

He proved that if you repeat a lie often enough in mass media, most people will accept it as the truth.

That's powerful stuff, and propaganda may be the most dangerous weapon developed in the Second World War. The atom bomb scared so many people that we had mass movements trying to control it, but the general public seems to have missed the significance of the power of propaganda.

While governments spent billions to improve nuclear weapons and to test a very few of them in isolated areas, private companies in the advertising industry spent even more money to develop new propaganda techniques and they tested and used them on all of us.

Now some advertising agencies have bigger budgets and more actual power than Goebbels did. Their power is not as naked as his but, because they control the money, they control the media.

And while Goebbels controlled relatively few radio stations, newspapers and billboards, the power of advertising is exerted over a much more powerful and efficient net of media.

We like to pretend that advertising agencies use their power only to sell commercial goods, but we know they also plan election campaigns for politicians, and "manage" public perception of governments. Politicians pretend that their advertising managers have no political power, but it's obvious that the man who controls the election also controls the politician.

There are some limitations on advertising -- it's supposed to be illegal to use subliminal advertising on movies and TV, for example -- but the limits are not enforceable.

When Vance Packard thought he saw subliminal imagery in magazine advertisements, he wrote a book about them. {Hidden Persuaders} was a best seller, but the images are still there.

Are there other techniques we don't know about? It sounds paranoid, but we have to assume there are techniques that even some advertising people don't know about. We are talking about a multi-billion dollar business in which one agency's secret technique can give it an advantage over another. The only thing we can be sure of is that they have millions of dollars a year to fund research, and that they have good reason to keep their discoveries secret.

But even without secret techniques, advertising in general has effects the advertisers do not plan and may not understand. The problem is that the best way to sell something is to make people unhappy with what they already have.

If I want to sell you a new car my first move is to convince you that your old car -- or whatever form of transportation you're using now -- is no longer adequate for your needs.

It does me no good to prove that the Drof car I am trying to sell is better than the Egdod that someone else offers unless I have already convinced you that you need a new car.

So first I have to convince you that you need a new car, and so do the people who sell Egdods, Kcuibs and other cars.

Meanwhile the people who sell appliances tell you that your refrigerator is inadequate, and so-forth. The message is buried in each ad but it's always there, and the effect is cumulative.

And because of that it's very powerful. With a dozen or more other car makers making conflicting claims I may not be able to convince you that a Drof car is better than the others, but between us all we can probably convince you that your present form of transportation is not adequate.

Other advertisers' claims conflict too, but the one point on which they all agree is that whatever you have now, you need more and will not be happy until you get it. The message is buried as a secondary part of each ad but it is there and, because the media is controlled by the advertisers, it also pervades the supposedly non-advertising component of the media.

Many salesmen will spend more to have some "responsible" journalist spread a message than they will for advertising. A "puff" article is a good investment because a reader may be suspicious of advertising, but may accept the journalist's comments as an honest judgment. That's why some advertisements are disguised to look like news stories.

North American public relations agencies have more employees than North American news media have reporters, and in 1990 a study found that nearly 40% of the contents of American newspapers began with press releases or other information from public relations agencies.

Most reporters would say that the media is not controlled by advertisers and they would think they were telling the truth. When I worked as a newspaper reporter, I wrote what I believed.

But as a reporter I have had some very pleasant vacations in Europe, Mexico and resort areas of the U.S.A. and Canada, and dozens of expensive meals, at the expense of advertisers. They didn't buy my opinions, but they did spend a lot of money to make friends.

And I have seen deliberate manipulation of the news. In the late 1960's I shot free-lance newsfilm for several TV stations in southern Ontario. At that time a pressure group wanted the Canadian military to lend a Hercules transport plane to a group that was trying to get aid to one side or the other in the Nigerian civil war.

CFTO-TV assigned me to cover the group's "demonstration" outside the Air Transport Command station at Trenton, Ont. By the time I got there several other TV crews were waiting, but there were no "demonstrators". On schedule, a car and a couple of small vans arrived. A PR man from the car spoke to us, then to the guards outside the station, then waved his people out of the vans.

For about five minutes about a dozen "demonstrators" marched in circles, waved signs and chanted slogans in front of the gate while we of the press took pictures, choosing our camera angles to make the dozen people look like a mob. Then the PR man asked if we had enough.

The others said okay but I pointed out that there was a Hercules plane parked in the airfield across the road. If I used a long lens and the "demonstrators" marched in exactly the right place, I could get a shot of them marching with the plane in the background.

I did and they did, until I got the shot. Then they all climbed into the vans and went home. The marchers didn't give a damn about the planes or about Nigeria, all they cared about was that they had all been paid to march in front of the cameras.

I told the news editor about this when I handed in my film. He told me that he already knew about it, and that it had all been properly "arranged". So much for the integrity of the press.

That was deliberate manipulation by a pressure group, but the media is mostly controlled by the big advertisers who control it because they control the money. And it's hard to fault them because they spend money where they think it will do the most good, on media that appeals to people who may buy their products. If I advertise cars, I will use media that I think will appeal to people who might buy the kind of cars I want to sell.

If the media looks good to me that's because the publisher shares my view of the world, and he hires editors and reporters who share his view of the world. There is no need for an organized plot because the advertisers hold the purse strings and they decide which media will prosper, and therefore which view of the world will be disseminated.

The view of the world that advertisers like is the one that says you can't be happy until you have bought every single thing they have to sell. Obviously you will never succeed but that's no problem for the advertisers, because you will keep trying.

And you can bet that you will not be content for long with anything you buy, because most modern products have flaws built into them. In earlier years skilled craftsmen built deliberate flaws into their work because the gods might become jealous of perfect craftsmanship. Modern designers do it to avoid the fate of Singer and Underwood.

For more than 100 years Singer made some of the best sewing machines in the world and at one time it was probably the biggest maker of sewing machines in the world. The hitch was that the original Singer sewing machines were so good they almost never broke down or wore out, and after they filled their market with sewing machines the business faded. Singer was taken over and another company now operates under the Singer name. The original is gone.

Until the arrival of computers in the late 1970's and early 1980's newspaper reporters around the world used Underwood typewriters made in the 1930's and 40's. The "number five", made in the 1940's was a special favorite. Underwood typewriters dating back to the 1920's may still be in use, but the company was taken over by Olivetti in the 1960's.

Tire makers did very well in the days when good tires for cars and trucks lasted perhaps 30,000 miles each. Now car tires last 50,000 to 100,000 miles and with retreads some truck tires will last several hundred thousand miles. One-time industry giant Firestone has been taken over by Bridgestone, most small tire companies are dead or dying and some of the big ones are in trouble.

Most manufacturers have learned the lesson and some modern products will last very well, but they won't give satisfaction for long.

In some cases that takes careful design because car makers, for example, can't afford basic flaws in their products. Cars with serious flaws must be recalled, and recalls cost millions.

Car manufacturers can't afford to skimp on basic durability either, because if they did some cars would fail within the warranty period and be very expensive to maintain. In fact modern cars last so long that car makers would have real problems if they didn't build in some petty flaws and minor inconveniences to make their products less than perfect.

Your car may work perfectly well but as it ages some unimportant function will fail and fail again. Petty inconveniences will add up and media hype of the latest gizmos will make you look at the ads for new cars.

The classic example of hype and flaws is the fashion industry. Designers know that almost any change can look good if it's presented in a fashion show with media hype and they all offer completely "new" lines every year. Some do better than others but most prosper, thanks partly to a barrage of magazine articles and TV "news" items which in fact add up to free advertising for the fashion industry.

Mass market clothes follow the same trends, with a bit of a twist. Basic designs may not change much but some products have petty flaws built into them to make sure they do not last, or do not give satisfaction for too long.

Some products are just plain cheap, but modern merchandising can sell them too. In mass-market stores many goods are blister-packed, so you can't actually tell what you're buying. If it looks good it will sell, and you won't find out what it's really like until too late.

These are all petty annoyances but they add up and they help set the stage for another development of propaganda. In a country of happy Germans Hitler might never have taken power but, thanks to economic problems created by the Treaty of Versailles, most Germans were poor and desperate for a change.

We have no Treaty of Versailles but the general low-level malaise and discontent created by the advertising industry and by "creative" merchandising makes us more vulnerable to manipulation.

This next bit is speculation, but it's speculation on the level of "if I jump out of the window I may fall to the ground."

Through the late 1960's and most of the 1970's the US fought a hot war in Vietnam and a cold war throughout the world. We know that there was considerable opposition within the States to the Vietnam War, and we know that Russian intelligence services had access to some very powerful propaganda and persuasion techniques and a spy network that spread through most of the free world.

I have no proof or even evidence that Russian undercover agents taught propaganda techniques to activists at American universities, but if they did not the Russian intelligence service did not do its job.

Idealistic professors also taught propaganda techniques during this period and probably some semi-secret techniques leaked out of advertising agencies. One way and another, the science of persuasion and manipulation made a quantum leap in the years from 1960 to 1980.

And however they learned their techniques I also know that since the 1970's some of the people who protested the Vietnam War have done very well in the social action business. Organizations that began as idealistic crusades for equal rights or to save the whales or the seals or other animals now have budgets of tens of millions of dollars a year.

They're all non-profit, of course, but what does that mean? A private company works for profit, and the management of the company turns that profit over to its shareholders. A non profit organization has no shareholders and is not allowed to make a profit -- so management is required to spend all the income on wages, staff perks and other expenses.

One of the few politicians to worry about propaganda-based businesses is Hamilton-Wentworth MP John Bryden, who published one report on the funding of special-interest groups in 1993 and another on charities in 1996.

The 1996 report says Canada has 73,000 registered charities and another 66,000 non-profit organizations, with total revenues that Bryden estimates at more than $100 billion. The report has to estimate the total because financial information on the 66,000 non-profit organizations is "confidential" -- bureaucratic for secret -- but numbers for the 73,000 "charities" are available.

Between them they share a total income of about $86 billion dollars -- about 13% of Canada's total economic activity -- they have about $109 billion in assets and they employ about 1.3 million people, or about 12% of Canada's total work force. The numbers are not quite so mind-blowing when you remember that hospitals and universities are "charities", but they are still pretty big.

We expect governments to contribute to hospitals and universities but most of the 73,000 registered Canadian charities are neither universities nor hospitals, and some of them are open to serious question. By definition a charity helps people in need but some Canadian charities confine their activities to special groups.

In 1990 the Auditor General reported that one Canadian corporation had donated $5 million to several foundations whose directors were related to the corporation, and that the foundations had immediately loaned the money back, plus interest charges. Because the money was given to registered charities the gifts were deductible for tax purposes, and loans are not taxable.

Financial records for most non profit organizations are a closed book -- Revenue Canada sees them but the information is privileged -- but the salaries paid to top executives of Canadian charities are supposed to be public information. Bryden reports that about 25% of Canadian charities -- more that 18,000 organizations -- do not report the salaries they pay to top executives.

By law a public charity is supposed to devote 80% of the money it receives in donations to charitable works, but most Canadian charities get most of their money from the government or from business, rather from donations, and there is no control on how they spend it.

Bryden reports that in 1994 The Standards Council of Canada received $33,000 in donations, $6 million in funding and $3 million as payment for services. Gross revenues were $8,877,974, management and administration costs were $8,515,864 and the council spent $8,916 on "charitable activities".

A non-profit organization can run on a lean budget and do good work but it can also take very good care of the people who run it. Anyone who understands propaganda techniques can make a very good living at good works, and some do.


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