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on 20 August 1999
Must reading for everyone. I bought a bunch of copies and am giving them as gifts to my friends.
I used to wonder why I heard so much contradictary news in the major media pertaining to health and the environment. First, a news item quotes an authority saying a food is safe, the next year the same newspaper says it's dangerous, and the next year after that they claim it's good for you. After reading this book, I know why. There are thousands of environmental and health , and scientific organizations. According to this book, many (but not all) of these organizations are not much more than clever PR fronts, funded mainly by industry. For example, I have often seen and continue to see information provided by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in the major newspapers and magazines. The media usually takes this organization at its word as a credible scientific source.
According to this book: The ACSH is an industry front group that produces PR ammunition for the food processing and chemical industries. They praise the nutritional values of fast food and receive money from the fast food industry. They claim pesticides are very safe and take money from a host of pesticide manufacturers. The list goes on and on.. Yet the journalists usually take the ACSH words almost verbatim as fact and print it in their newspaper. Most journalists don't check their sources, or they're puppets of industry. Then the public reads this stuff as if it were scientifically proven fact. Public policy and law often gets decided on the basis of this "knowledge." Of course, some readers of these "facts" are skeptical, but no one seriously challenges the ACSH's credibility. Thus the ACSH continues to operate as if it were an objective science institute. Thousands of front groups worldwide use many of the same techniques. It then becomes obvious why so many people have a mistrust for science and don't know what to believe.
I used to think this country was a democracy, but now I know who really pulls the strings on many key issues. It's not the PR firms, it's the companies who hire the PR firms. Don't miss this book. For related info on health and environmental issues, I recommend "Our Stolen Future" by Theo Colborn.
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on 18 January 1999
This is a great introduction to the tactics and influence of the PR industry. It could have gone in to more depth, offered more analysis, and been more 'objective' whatever that is, but that wasn't the point. Toxic Sludge brings attention to an industry that has been manufacturing the consent of the public for corporate america and other monied interests. I think it was weakest in it's suggestions about what to do to combat the PR Industry. Their assertion that the only successful activism is NIMBYism is not only wrong but dangerous in that it doesn't lead to a larger movement to reign in corporate power. This book is a must read for anybody who wants to understand where the media is coming from and what corporations are doing to manage their image.
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on 5 July 1999
This book was required reading for my Public Relations seminar class. As a p.r. major, I wondered why this was assigned, since it seems to do nothing but malign the whole industry. As I continued to read, however, I began to see why it was assigned: We as public relations professionals need to know what the opposition is saying about us.
This book is great because it shows p.r. people what NOT to do when practicing the trade. As stated before in the previous reviews, this book is one-sided, but, as you can tell by the title, that's what it sought to be. However, it's unfortunate that the author's didn't explore all the positive aspects of public relations, since many p.r. campaigns help keep the U.S. economy healthy.
So, as I said before, every p.r. professional should read this book to get a feel for the history of public relations, but they should also take into consideration that this doesn't cover the good aspects. Just as the book said public relations people only show the positive attributes of their clients, this book only shows the negatives of the industry.
Toxic Sludge is very well-written and informative, and I commend the authors for a book that makes the required reading list.
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on 17 February 1999
Which came first American culture or corporate science? Who really holds the politics, and the economy of our country in check? How much power does each individual express with each and every purchase? Employing humor and real life situations, Toxic Sludge encourages us to question the story behind the story. This is am absolutly wonderful book, laced with current and relevant nuggets of information about how corporations have tapped into the behavioral sciences for their gain.It's a quick read and worth everyone's time to explore.
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on 15 March 2010
Public relations are the means by which power, whether economic or political, maintains and expands its privileges in a Democratic society. In "Toxic Sludge is Good For You" John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of the Centre for Media and Democracy deal with this issue in a commendably straightforward and readable manner.

The book deals with a number of issues including (i) the origins of the PR industry; (ii) the tobacco industries use of PR to minimize the effect of the links between smoking and cancer in order to protect their very profitable activity; (iii) the role of PR in the nuclear power industry; (iv) the corporate use of PR in the face of the green movement that rapidly grew from the late 1960's; (v) the Christian rights use of PR methods; (vi) foreign policy and PR; and (vii) how PR has affected the media, with particular regards to the growing use of PR materials in the media in lieu of the more expensive practice of investigative reporting.

It deals with the full gamut of PR activities from the press release to the more controversial use of spies and agent provocateurs, the formation of fake grass-roots movements (known as astro-turf) and the methods used to subvert and divide real grass roots movements. These processes, and much more, are illustrated with examples that make clear the damage PR has done to democratic participation in decisions about how our societies function.

The PR industry knows no borders, and has expanded across the globe even to "communist" China, so while the book is rooted in U.S. experience, it has relevance for readers everywhere. Essential reading if you are interested in immunizing yourself from corporate or political propaganda, even more so if you're an activist in any shape or form. For a book that is more specific to the British experience, but also deals with PR's U.S. origins, one can't go wrong with A Century of Spin. Nick Davies's excellent Flat Earth News includes a lengthy section on how PR gets in into the British media.
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on 26 February 2004
This book is a great read. It is interesting, funny and shocking. If you want to know about the secrets of mutli nationals and the american electoral process this book will not disappoint. It is an interesting read for anyone that feels decieved by the marketing and public relations industry as well as politics. Get an inside view of modern day campaigning and public oppinion shaping.
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This is the sort of book that should be essential reading for everyone. Even if you are aware to some extent that our media (and government) plays to the tune of the corporations with the most financial power, and is anything but a source of actual unbiased news, this book is an enlightening and fascinating read.

This book explains that 40% of all news flows virtually unedited from PR companies, that there are more people working in PR than in journalism, and that most of what you see on the news is not news. It explains that those making US health care reform so difficult are lobbyists for the insurance and drug industries (obviously!). It also explains that there is no limit to how low corporations will go to protect their bottom line, subvert genuine activism and the state of knowledge in the general population on a topic.

There are also interesting parts in this book which discuss the way in which polluters and other groups organise campaigns against genuine advocacy efforts, such the book 'Silent Spring' and others. Negative articles and reviews may often even be written before the books are released. Nothing is left to chance. The books are systematically rubbished and denigrated and so are their authors.

It also writes brilliantly about the worrying rise of pretend 'grassroots' activist groups, AstroTurf groups, and how they are manipulating and subverting genuine advocacy attempts. It also discusses some of the shocking ways in which groups have planted fake members into real groups, with sometimes devastating personal effects for the individuals involved and also worked to co-opt genuine members of groups to completely turn against what they stand for. It tells these people that they aren't selling out, but just being 'realists' and persuades them to see the non-sellouts who want real change and refuse to compromise away the truth as being 'extreme.'

This book explains so much about so many truly terrible 'activism' groups out there!

This book talked about something I had long suspected, which is that the big 'advocacy' groups have in many cases been bought out or subverted by the vested interest groups they were created to bring to account. They are not even remotely working to push for real change. So groups which started with the aim to promote real change become a main reason why change does NOT occur, by doing nothing useful themselves and sucking up all the money and attention there is on a topic - leaving genuine small groups that are actually after real change with none.

Again, this explains so much.

Why we don't know about all this is because the media doesn't really report on itself or on PR. So the myth of a crusading media which holds groups and individuals harming the public to account, and whose work leads to government action, remains.

As someone says in the book, this book 'explains exactly how the magic of modern PR transforms the favoured policies or the rich and the powerful into incontrovertible common sense.'

And 'This is a war of the powerful against society.'

Understanding the concepts in this book is central to having a true understanding of our time and so books like this one are really important.

I wish more people knew to really question the really big health, environmental and other advocacy groups and the bogus information they support.

I also hope that people come away from reading this book prepared to look twice at all the issues that our modern media have told us are 'just obvious common sense' but where we are being hugely played and lied to.

The area of health is particularly surrounded by misinformation. Even worse, people are far more accepting of the health related news propaganda as being truthful. But science reporting is anything but black and white. Every news story on health is on the news because someone has paid for it to be there! It is not because it is genuine news, or because their 'breakthrough' really is so very important or because it really has been proven that non-drug therapy 'x' is completely useless in treating anything.

On a practical note, however, I do have to note that this book was VERY hard to read due to its being printed in light type that was very small and perhaps 9.5 point. The title and content are excellent. If only it had been better typeset! It gave me eyestrain!

The book could also have been improved by having some sort of a summary of the key points at the end, possibly.

I came away from reading this book grateful that the authors had written it, and also in absolute awe of all those amazing individuals that have stood up to these corrupt groups and corporations in various ways and have lost everything by doing so; their careers, their houses and all their money, and their reputations. Such sacrifice is awe inspiring, although the fact that it is necessary is maddening.

In a nutshell, be wary of big 'advocacy' groups whose bottom line is their own bottom line, and support small genuine advocacy groups that are working for real change.

Beware too of 'experts' and commonsense unquestionable 'facts' - look at the facts logically and follow the money!

Jodi Bassett, The Hummingbirds' Foundation for M.E.
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on 8 April 2002
A wide-ranging exposure of how US industry and government use PR to cow the many into supporting the unscrupulous vested interests of the few - so good I'm surprised it is still available!
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on 4 May 1999
This is a fantastic book. No - much more than that - it's a truly *important* book. And it will change you.
It has changed me: I am now a much more critical reader. Let me give you an example.
The recent reviewer from Denver (5 March), who seems intent on damning the book with faint praise, claims that the authors are "biased". If "bias" means "left of centre" then I agree, but that's neither bad in itself nor relevant. If, however, "biased" means irrational or unscientific, then these authors are definitely *not* biased.
But - and here's how I've changed - I couldn't help wondering whether our 5 March reviewer is the one who is in fact "biased". How, for example, could someone be so dishonest as to say "I enjoyed reading it, up until the point they started defending Saddam"?
Here's what the book actually says:
"[By the time of the Gulf War] Hussein had been a US ally for nearly a decade. From 1980 to 1988, he had killed about 150,000 Iranians, in addition to at least 13,000 of his own citizens.... [But] this time Hussein's crime was far more serious than simply gassing to death another brood of Kurdish refugees. This time, *oil* was at stake..."
"Viewed in strictly moral terms, Kuwait hardly looked like the sort of country that deserved defending, even from a monster like Hussein...."
"... The American public was notoriously reluctant to send its young into foreign battles on behalf of any cause. Selling war in the Middle East to the American people would not be easy. [President] Bush would need to convince Americans that former ally Saddam Hussein now embodied evil, and that the oil fiefdom of Kuwait was a struggling young democracy..."
If that amounts to "defending Saddam" then I am a Chinese spy.
So why the misrepresentation? There are two possible explanations, both of which are relevant to the thesis of this book.
The first possibility is that our 5 March reviewer is in fact a PR person himself/herself. When you've read the book, I think you'll agree that's highly likely.
But let's we give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Here's the other possibility: the campaign to convince us that Saddam is indeed the embodiment of evil - run by the giant PR firm Hill & Knowlton! - has been so wholly successful that an ordinary thinking person can read the above passages and interpret them as "defending Saddam".
Needless to say, I certainly don't want to believe the latter alternative. But either way, you can see why you must read this book.
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on 22 April 1997
If you want to understand the mechanisms by which companies like Dow Chemical and Monsanto succeed again and again in creating markets for and undermining regulation of products that poison their workers, injure their customers, and generally wreak expensive havoc on our society, you won't find a clearer explanation. The person who compares their tactics, resources, and motivations to those of environmental activists is either a comedian, clueless, or cynical beyond words.
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