Edward L. Bernays


"The modern master of the propaganda game was PR genius Edward Bernays, Viennese-born nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays took propaganda seriously for his career work: he combined individual and social psychology, public opinion studies, political persuasion and advertising to construct “necessary illusions” which filtered out to the masses as “reality.”

"Bernays proudly referred to this all-important social process as the “engineering of consent.” All of this had little, if anything, to do with real democracy. The objective for Bernays was to provide government and media outlets with powerful tools for social persuasion and control. As a matter of fact, so impressed was he with Bernays’ early works Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels relied heavily upon them for his own dubious inspiration in the 1930s. Apparently, that Bernays was a Jew mattered little to Goebbels....

"Bernays and journalistic giant Walter Lippman came to Woodrow Wilson’s aid in 1917 to reverse negative public sentiment about war. These two behind-the-curtain wizards were indispensable in helping the president whip gun-shy America into an anti-German frenzy to go “over there” for WWI. Bernays created the patriotic war slogan “Make the World Safe for Democracy”—an irresistibly patriotic mantra that America embraced..."

(above comes from "Propaganda: The Art of War", by James Sandrolini at Chicago Media Watch.)


"...Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) on April 13, 1917. According to a must-read study by Aaron Delwiche at the School of Communications, University of Washington, (4) "Under the leadership of a muckraking journalist named George Creel, the CPI recruited heavily from business, media, academia, and the art world. The CPI blended advertising techniques with a sophisticated understanding of human psychology, and its efforts represent the first time that a modern government disseminated propaganda on such a large scale. It is fascinating that this phenomenon, often linked with totalitarian regimes, emerged in a democratic state." "Invoking the threat of German propaganda," the study continues, "the CPI implemented 'voluntary guidelines' for the news media and helped to pass the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The CPI did not have explicit enforcement power, but it nevertheless 'enjoyed censorship power which was tantamount to direct legal force.'"

"The tools, techniques and processes developed by the CPI to manipulate the collective attitudes of the public did not disappear with the termination of [WWI]. The heads of the organization went on to apply the lessons learned in time of war to a country at peace. These former CPI agents moved on to Madison Avenue, joined the nascent Public Relations firms and became lobbyists.

""Two years later," the study states, (5) "the Director of the CPI's Foreign Division argued that 'the history of propaganda in the war would scarcely be worthy of consideration here, but for one fact — it did not stop with the armistice. No indeed! The methods invented and tried out in the war were too valuable for the uses of governments, factions, and special interests.' Sigmund Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, took the techniques he learned in the CPI directly to Madison Avenue and became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic government. 'It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind,' wrote Bernays in his 1928 bombshell Propaganda. 'It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace.'"

"The intelligent few....regimenting the public mind... Edward Bernays [1891-1995] is also known as the Father of Spin (6) and the godfather of modern public relations (the "father" of public relations is Ivy Lee whose firm, Ivy Lee & T.J. Ross, was hired for $25,000 a year by the German conglomerate, I.G. Farben, which invited him to meet Hitler and Goebbels. His son, James Lee went to work for Farben in Berlin.)

"The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, founded in 1937 to educate the public about the nature of propaganda, identified "seven basic propaganda devices: Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon."

(the above is from Propaganda: Then and Now, by Gilles d'Aymery at Swans.)


"Bernays was a press officer for Woodrow Wilson at the peace conferences in Europe following World War I, his job being to present Wilson in the most favourable light possible in order to boost his popularity with the American public. By this time the word propaganda was already gaining a sinister implication in the West due to its association with communism, and Bernays coined the term Public Relations as a positive alternative. Back in America Bernays set to work for major corporations, with one of his most spectacular successes being to help break the taboo against women smoking. He paraded a group of attractive young ladies through New York smoking and bearing the slogan 'March for Freedom'. Anyone criticising the idea of women smoking would now appear to be against freedom, and the numbers of women taking up the habit shot through the roof.

"After this success Lehman Brothers and other big New York banks financed the development of department stores, confident that they could use the techniques pioneered by Bernays to persuade people to purchase a range of products that left to themselves they may very well not have bothered with. This period also saw the introduction of the techniques of product placement and psuedo-scientific product endorsement so familiar to us today. All of this dubious activity in the capitalist economy was one of the main factors leading to the bubble which ended in the Wall Street crash of 1929.."

(The above is from BBC's Century of the Self, a review by Paul Shepherd.)


Colby Glass, MLIS