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Propaganda is the art of persuading people to accept ideas that are not necessarily in their own best interests. This is why propagandists often look for ways to conceal the identity and motives of their client from the people they are trying to influence. This also explains why public relations firms sometimes find themselves enmeshed in conflicts of interest.
Past issues of PR Watch have reported on firms that specialize in working simultaneously for nonprofit organizations, governments and corporate clients, often for the express purpose of achieving what the Porter/Novelli PR firm describes as "cross-pollination" - which helped it persuade the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute to sign letters supporting the position of P/N's paying clients, including produce growers and pesticide makers.
Something similar happens, as Sharon Beder illustrates in her articles for this issue, when utility companies like Enron are able to recruit environmentalists to support their self-serving positions in favor of electricity deregulation. The result is that policies contrary to the public interest are sold to the public under false pretenses. The dangers inherent in conflicts of interest should be obvious, but they often go unnoticed and unremarked until the damage has been done.
The same theme runs through Paul Goldberg's article, "Cancer Firms Still Addicted to Tobacco." Conflicts of interest place PR firms where the action is happening in terms of influencing policy. When PR firm works for the National Dialogue on Cancer, it gets a seat at central command in the war on cancer, with an opportunity to influence key players and policies in subtle ways that the public may never see. And if they get caught serving two masters, they simply apologize and call it an innocent oversight.