Thursday, January 05, 2006

Smoke Signals

Why do I have such a bee in my bonnet about the close relationship between government and the public relations industry, a match that keeps getting more cozy as the virtual state matures? After all, rhetoricians since Aristotle have acknowledged that good governance depends upon persuasion, and widespread appeal to the needs and desires of the masses gets the work of civic administration done. Why shouldn't legislators consult with experts to improve the targeting and dissemination of important political messages and create public awareness about major issues?

The point is a valid one, but I also am concerned about how public relations -- unlike traditional lobbying -- is largely an unregulated industry, particularly after reading a year and a half of reporting by the Washington Post about how Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon used public relations firms to divert money from a slush fund that was patently designed for illegal influence peddling on behalf of Indian tribes. It is somewhat astonishing that this story is only now being reported in other major media outlets, given the number of members of Congress involved.

Even just how much of the average tax dollar is spent on various government-funded public relations campaigns is largely a fungible figure at this point!



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