Reading: Wendell Potter’s “Deadly Spin” and how it relates to NOM

I’ve covered Mr. Potter her on the blog in the past. He’s the former PR veep from CIGNA who left his job to challenge the myths of PR spread by the insurance companies using front groups, and other messaging methods.

I bought his book “Deadly Spin:An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans”

I’ve only read about a  quarter of the way through the book so far and am at the part where Potter discusses the Institute for Propaganda Analysis’s eight rhetorical tricks used by propagandists. the IPA was disbanded during WW II because it was not only good for exposing the propaganda of the Axis powers, but if applied against the American propaganda of the time, it’s could have had disastrous consequences. Yes, consequences like Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher from NOM prefer to use for fear mongering.

They’re ordered quite differently in Potter’s book, he ranks fear as the number one trick.  I’ll list the tricks and post my responses below the red block of text. Because NOM uses EVERY SINGLE one of these. We need to use them too.

1. Name-calling – involves the use of insult words. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is reported to have used this technique very deliberately, circulating a list of negative words and phrases that Republicans were instructed to use when speaking about their political opponents-words such as “betray,” “corruption,” “decay,” “failure,” “hypocrisy,” “radical,” “permissive,” and “waste.” The term “junk science,” is an obvious use of this same strategy. When name-calling is used, the IPA recommended that people should ask themselves the following questions: What does the name mean? Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the name? Is an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed through giving it a name I don’t like?

2. Glittering generalities – is a reverse form of namecalling. Instead of insults, it uses words that generate strong positive emotions-words like “democracy,” “patriotism,” “motherhood,” “science,” “progress,” “prosperity.” Politicians love to speak in these terms. Newt Gingrich advised Republicans to use words such as “caring,” “children,” “choice,” “commitment,” “common sense,” “dream,” “duty,” “empowerment,” “freedom,” and “hard work” when talking about themselves and their own programs. Democrats, of course, use the same strategy. Think, for example, of President Clinton’s talk of “the future,” “growing the economy,” or his campaign slogan: “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

3. Euphemisms – are another type of word game. Rather than attempt to associate positive or negative connotations, euphemisms merely try to obscure the meaning of what is being talked about by replacing plain English with deliberately vague jargon. Rutgers University professor William Lutz has written several books about this strategy, most recently Doublespeak Defined. Examples include the use of the term “strategic misrepresentations” as a euphemism for “lies,” or the term “employee transition” as a substitute for “getting fired.” Euphemisms have also transformed ordinary sewage sludge into “regulated organic nutrients” that don’t stink but merely “exceed the odor threshold.”

4. Transfer – is described by the IPA as “a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept. For example, most of us respect and revere our church and our nation. If the propagandist succeeds in getting church or nation to approve a campaign in behalf of some program, he thereby transfers its authority, sanction, and prestige to that program. Thus, we may accept something which otherwise we might reject.” In 1998, the American Council on Science and Health convened what it called a “blue-ribbon committee” of scientists to issue a report on health risks associated with phthalates, a class of chemical additives used in soft vinyl children’s toys. People familiar with ACSH’s record on other issues were not at all surprised when the blue-ribbon committee concluded that phthalates were safe. The committee’s real purpose, after all, was to transfer the prestige of science onto the chemicals that ACSH was defending
5. Testimonial – is a specific type of transfer device in which admired individuals give their endorsement to an idea, product, or cause. Cereal companies put the pictures of famous athletes on their cereal boxes, politicians seek out the support of popular actors, and activist groups invite celebrities to speak at their rallies. Sometimes testimonials are transparently obvious. Whenever they are used, however, the IPA recommends asking questions such as the following: Why should we regard this person (or organization or publication) as a source of trustworthy information on the subject in question? What does the idea amount to on its own merits, without the benefit of the testimonial?

6. Plainfolks – ia a device that attempts to prove that the speaker is “of the people.” Even a geeky multibillionaire like Bill Gates tries to convey the impression that he’s just a regular guy who enjoys fast food and popular movies. Politicians also use the “plain folks” device to excess: George Bush insisting he eats pork rinds; Hillary Clinton slipping into a southern accent. Virtually every member of the U.S. Senate is a millionaire, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they present themselves.

7. Bandwagon – is a device that attempts to persuade you that everyone else supports an idea, so you should support it too. Sometimes opinion polls are contrived for this very purpose, such as the so-called “Pepsi Challenge,” which claimed that most people preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coca-Cola. “The propagandist hires a hall, rents radio stations, fills a great stadium, marches a million or at least a lot of men in a parade,” the IPA observed. “He employs symbols, colors, music, movement, all the dramatic arts. He gets us to write letters, to send telegrams, to contribute to his cause. He appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd.”

8. Fear – is a device that attempts to reach you at the level of one of your most primitive and compelling emotions. Politicians use it when they talk about crime and claim to be advocates for law and order. Environmentalists use it when they talk about pollution-related cancer, and their opponents use fear when they claim that effective environmental regulations will destroy the economy and eliminate jobs. Fear can lead people to do things they would never otherwise consider. Few people believe that war is a good thing, for example, but most people can be convinced to support a specific war if they believe that they are fighting an enemy who is cruel, inhuman, and bent on destroying all that they hold dear.

Read through them thoroughly and you’ll notice something. EVERY ONE of them applies to what NOM is doing. I’ll take it point by point:

1. Name Calling: Every time NOM people  scoff at the idea that a same sex couple could marry, they’re name calling. It couldn’t be any clearer.

2. Glittering Generalities: The Great Arc of human existence, man and woman. Does that sound familiar? It should it’s come out of the mouths of both Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher. They also exalt the mother and father, being necessary for the proper upbringing of children.

3. Euphemisms: More in action than in word, NOM employs this tactic. They try to show off their Christian side by offering water on a hot day, or chatting amiably before they know your position on equality. Or how about the term “Civil Union”. Occasionally they’ll utter that but then change their mind and be against it too. The old bait and switch in play. They don’t just want us not to marry, they don’t want us around at all.

4. Transfer: This one is another clutch point. They transfer the attitudes and dogma of their churches (Catholic and Mormon for the most part, they’re the ones with the deepest pockets) into their arguments against marriage equality. It’s really interesting to watch them do this. It kind of falls flat for those of us who really have no respect for the churches. I.e. does the Catholic church really have any credibility left anymore? Between priests abusing children, the newest communication on condoms to stop the spread of disease even if it subverts a pregnancy? Are you kidding me?

5. Testimonial: I’ve noted this on the local and national levels. NOM tends to use the public for their testimonials but they trot out the priests at hearings, etc. As I say in the part on Transfer, sorry, I don’t buy it. But we’ve all seen the attractive family, or the groups of people doing their best to tell us that “The Storm is Coming”. It’s all bullshit. Every last bit of it.

6: Plainfolks: In reference to the Testimonials they try to extract from the alleged ‘victims’ of the homosexual agenda. The parents whose son read “King and King”, or the church in New Jersey who was forced to permit gay people to use their PUBLIC pavilion. But that’s the thing, this is ALL NOM and the other SPLC groups seem to be able to dredge up. The reality is, that once a state achieves marriages equality, it becomes a non-issue in that state with the exception of groups like NOM.

7: Bandwagon: The Bigot Bus, do I need say anymore?

8: Fear: They’re very good at the fear component. They’re always talking about consequences of marriage equality but they can’t elaborate much more than the issues stated in the sixth point, Plainfolks. ey jThust can’t do it because they have nothing to stand on. But they’ll keep attempting to whip people into a fury of fear with their gloom and doom talk about the destruction of society if we allow gay people to marry the person of their choice. Imagine.

See how many you can spot in the video above and post in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Reading: Wendell Potter’s “Deadly Spin” and how it relates to NOM

  1. Interesting piece, I am a student at one of our local university’s. The book is a required reading this semester. though I am legally blind and listen on audio it seems to me it is evident he has really shocked his old friends in the Insurance field.

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