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Toxic Sludge--You've Read the Book, Now See the Video
The Media Education Foundation (MEF) has produced a video documentary based on the book by PR Watch editors John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry.
The video version of Toxic Sludge is narrated by Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! Like the book, the video shows how PR functions as invisible propaganda, complementing the visible propaganda found in advertisements. It shows how much of what we think of as independent, unbiased news and information has its origins in the boardrooms of public relations companies.
The video features interviews with PR critics including John Stauber, cultural scholar Mark Crispin Miller, and Stuart Ewen, author of PR! A Social History of Spin. It tracks the development of the PR industry from early efforts to win popular American support for World War I to the role of crisis management in controlling the damage to corporate image. It analyzes the tools public relations professionals use to shift our perceptions including a look at the coordinated PR campaign to slip genetically engineered produce past public scrutiny.
One particular highlight of the video is its success in documenting the widely-used but little-known industry practice of manipulating TV news through the use of "video news releases'--entire news stories that are scripted, filmed, edited and produced in their entirety by PR firms on behalf of their clients.
VNRs are designed to appear identical to real news, and sometimes that is exactly what they become. After they are produced, they are beamed by satellite to thousands of local TV stations, which sometimes broadcast them in their entirety without any editing whatsoever. TV stations that use VNRs almost never provide a disclaimer so that viewers know they are seeing a commercial message, and TV news producers often deny using VNRs at all. MEF's video, however, shows a example of a VNR side by side against an actual TV news segment, in which the wording and footage used are verbatim identical.
The video also includes sections examining the PR industry's use of third party advocacy, its role in selling past and current wars, and the chilling effect that PR has had on public discussions and debates.
The video version of "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You" is available to universities for $225, and to high schools and nonprofit organizations for $125.
To order, visit the Media Education Foundation web site or phone 1-800-897-0089.