"Perception Management"

PR Watch editor John Stauber and Hunter College Professor Stuart Ewen recently participated in a a panel discussion on the topic of "perception management" and managed to make an impression on columnist Danny Schechter's own perceptions of today's over-spun media environment. The influence of PR, he observed, has some unintended consequences for us all. When spin doctors "drive the news agenda" with "pre-fabricated messages," rational public discourse starts to break down. "Think about the messages of the terror war or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Schechter says. "Note how each side defines words differently and uses them to shape core ideas and massage perceptions. I am thinking of hot button words like 'evil' and 'enemy,' 'terrorist' or 'resistance fighter,' 'militants' and 'martyrs,' 'incursion' and 'atrocity,' 'survival' and 'extinction,' 'security' and 'insecurity.' All of these terms are given different contexts. As a result, warring communities lack a common language as well as common understanding. After a while, one only becomes interested in those facts that support one's views. Journalists are distrusted because they/we challenge conventional understandings. And practiced pundits take over with a quick sound bite or smart-ass comment. Soon context and caring disappear. Media becomes more about posturing than informing."