“A History of Public Relations”: World-Class Brazilian Journalists State Large Numbers of Non-Existent Facts!

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Nihil sub sole novum est

A century after the hiring of Ivy Lee as Rockefeller’s PR agent, Brazil is widely recognized as a production center for the thought and techniques used by journalists who work in public relations. –FENAJ (Brazil), “Manual for Public Relations 2007”

Roberto Mangabeira Unger said Lula had “inner greatness and a concern for the future.” In Unger’s view, the future speaks louder than memory does. “I vehemently criticized and hotly attacked his first government,” he acknowledged. —The Apotheosis of Mangabeira Unger

Mangabeira Unger’s excuse: he had made the error of believing what he reads in the Brazilian press.

See also Mangabeira Unger Apologizes; Long-Term Deep Thinker Says He Rushed to Judgment.

The Brazilian national journalists union, FENAJ, has recently ratified a new code of ethics, and a new self-regulatory body to enforce it.

It makes for interesting reading. See, for example,

At the same time, it has developed a new manual for press relations and public relations (assessoria de imprensa).

That makes for interesting reading, too.

If you like historical fiction.

It begins with a preamble broken down into sections on “The History of Public Relations in the World,” “The History of Public Relations in Brazil,” and “The Future of Public Relations.”

The history of Ivy Lee it tells is inaccurate in almost every detail.

Citing now SourceWatch’s article on Ivy Lee:

In 1904, Lee was hired by George Parker and they founded the company Parker & Lee late in the year. They can be considered the third publicity company of the country. The first company in this line of work was created in Boston in 1900 by George V. S. Michaelis, Thomas Marvin, and Herbert Small, was named the Publicity Bureau and sought “to do a general press agent business”. Among their early clients were MIT and the American Telephone Company. The next of these companies was started by William Wolf Smith in 1902 as a response to the mounting attacks on Capitol Hill against consolidation efforts and labor issues of big business. Wolf, who had been a reporter for the New York Sun, felt corporations needed help to balance the attacks coming from the press and regulatory bills.

On the proposition that Lee was hired by Rockefeller in 1906:

Lee went to work for John D. Rockefeller in 1914, managing the public’s perspective of the Ludlow Massacre, which involved the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, whose mines were owned by the Rockefellers.

Here is what FENAJ writes in its revised manual for public and press relations, under the heading “The History of Public Relations in the World.”

Foi o jornalista americano chamado Ivy Lee quem em 1906, inventou essa atividade especializada. Ele abandonou o jornalismo para estabelecer o primeiro escritório de assessoria de comunicação do mundo, em Nova Iorque. Ele o fez para prestar serviço ao mais impopular homem de negócios dos Estados Unidos: John Rockefeller. Acusado de aspirar ao monopólio, de mover luta sem quartel às pequenas e médias empresas, de combater sem olhar a meios, numa palavra, de ser feroz, impiedoso e sanguinário.

It was an American journalist called Ivy Lee who in 1906 invented this specialized field. He abandoned journalism to set up the first public relations office in the world, in New York. He did so to render services to the most unpopular businessman in the United States: John Rockefeller. Accused of aspiring to monopoly, of waging total war on small and midsize companies, of accomplishing his ends by any means, in a word, of being ferocious, pitiless and bloody.

That accusation happens to have been true, of course: Standard Oil was a monopoly.

Lee also reportedly pioneered the philanthropic foundation as a means of improving the corporate trust’s reputation for social responsibility:

Oil monopolist John D. Rockefeller created the family-run Rockefeller Foundation in 1909. By 1929 he had placed $300 million worth of the family’s controlling interest in the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now called “Exxon”) to the account of the Foundation. The Foundation’s money created the medical specialty known as Psychiatric Genetics. For the new experimental field, the Foundation reorganized medical teaching in Germany, creating and thenceforth continuously directing the “Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry” and the “Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Eugenics and Human Heredity.” The Rockefellers’ chief executive of these institutions was the fascist Swiss psychiatrist Ernst Rudin, assisted by his proteges Otmar Verschuer and Franz J. Kallmann.  In 1932, the British-led “Eugenics” movement designated the Rockefellers’ Dr. Rudin as the president of the worldwide Eugenics Federation. The movement called for the killing or sterilization of people whose heredity made them a public burden.

Rudin was decorated by Hitler, his work officially endorsed by the Nazi party, and his ideas put into practice.

On the notion that public relations was invented in 1906, by the way, I read a very interesting little book recently by Scott Cutlip called Public Relations History From the 17th to the 20th Century.

This work describes the strategies and tactics of opinion management that have been utilised in the United States long before the growth of public relations as an occupation.

A very prominent Protestant theologian in 17th-century England, for example, receives generous donations from commercial concerns.

In exchange, he depicts the American colonies as a natural utopia — a paradise on earth, a return to the garden of Eden — in his sermons.

Colonists arrive to find themselves dumped off in disease-infected swamps with man-eating panthers and hostile natives, with insufficient provisions and equipment. They die in droves.

Word gets out.

Eventually, African slave labor has to be resorted to.

Australia is latter colonized by the transshipment of forced prison labor.

Where today we suffer from a gabbling excess of the “rhetoric of the technological sublime” in postmodern PR — the iPhone is “like magic!” — this eminent theologian was a purveyor of the pre- or proto-Romantic “rhetoric of the natural sublime,” I suppose you could say.

FENAJ again.

O serviço que Ivy Lee prestaria era de conseguir que o velho barão do capitalismo selvagem, de odiado, passasse a ser venerado pela opinião pública. Isso se chama mudança de imagem. E a primeira coisa que aquele jornalista fez foi se comunicar, com transparência e rapidez sobre todos os negócios que envolviam Rockefeller. E conseguiu mudar a imagem do barão dos negócios depois de continuadas ações de envio de informações freqüentes à imprensa da época entre outras iniciativas.

The service Ivy was to provide would be to succeed in making the old robber baron of savage capitalism beloved by the public. This is called changing public image. The first thing this journalist did was to communicate, rapidly and transparently, about all of Rockefeller’s businesses. He managed to change the robber baron’s image by continuously sending frequent information to the press at the time, among other initiatives.

The Wikipedia article on the subject notes sketches another side to the story:

Ivy Lee, who has been credited with developing the modern news release (also called a “press release”), espoused a philosophy consistent with what has sometimes been called the “two-way street” approach to public relations, in which PR consists of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics. In the words of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.” In practice, however, Lee often engaged in one-way propagandizing on behalf of clients despised by the public, including Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller. Shortly before his death, the US Congress had been investigating his work on behalf of the controversial Nazi German company IG Farben.

Now, you have also read in these online jottings of mine about a recent flap here in Brazil over alleged historical revisionism and pro-Communist propaganda in an 8th grade textbook. See

Ali Kamel, commander in chief of Globo Journalism Central, actually out and out lied in his article on the subject.

That is to say, Ali Kamel accused the book of a pro-Communist bias by omitting to cite sections of the book.

The book had balanced its account of “the socialist ideal” with a section on “socialism as practiced in the USSR.”

A section which does not at all soft-peddle the nasty disconnect between socialist utopia and Soviet reality. Stalinism, or the Cultural Revolution, is not depicted as a good thing — the way some tech manufacturers will try to sell on the notion that “it’ not a bug, it’s a feature!”

(The book also states that there is no essential connection between democracy and capitalism. That there are cases of capitalist economies that have thrived under authoritarian regimes. Cases are cited. The cases cited are actual cases, described accurately enough.)

It was astonishing.

The top man in Globo journalism is a systematic practicioner of deep intellectual dishonesty.

And it shows up in Globo infotainment programming all the time, too:

And apparently so is FENAJ.

Because this could not be mere incompetence.

Brazilian flacks are renowned the world over for their theory and practice!

I will try to show you that textbook flap in a bit more detail, in the next edition of Current Content Downloads, on NMM(-TV)SNB(B)CNN(P)BS.

If you can suffer through it. There’s a reason I went into print media, as you can tell: I drone adenoidally and am insufferably boring.

At any rate, to complete the thought: FENAJ seems to have a peculiar and simple-minded view of this aspect of its own (dual) profession as well.

Written at about a second-grade level of reading comprehension.

In Brazil, you have to remember, both journalists and public relations professionals are classified, under existing labor law, as “journalists.”

In Brazil, Richard “Rashomon” Edelman, for example, would be known as “Richard Edelman, journalist.”


In Brazil, hacks and flacks belong to the same union.

Note on usage: In the NMM lexicon, “banana-republican” is not a term reserved for republics where bananas are grown. It is entirely possible for a republic where bananas are grown not to be “banana-republican” at all. One hopes. For the sakes of those republics and their citizens.

The term as we use it applies to any social and political tendencies that would be familiar to students of the histories of developing nations run by generalissimos and Porfírios Díaz, or in recovery from other socio-political distortions of that general kind.

Usage example: Under Gonzalez, the Justice Dept. took a banana-republican turn. Fortunately, Gonzalez was eventually borked.

This habit of mind — and institutional framework — may explain the incoherence of the following historical sketch, in which a famous journalist “abandons journalism” for public relations and yet is referred to throughout as a “journalist.”

File under “dumbing it down.”

Franklin’s Poor Richard: Published under a pseudonym, it comes up short by modern ethical and informational quality of service standards.
Then again, the Redcoats tended to put the free press to fire and the sword at the time. The Federalist Papers, on the other hand …


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