Industry-friendly experts

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

Industry-friendly experts serve two primary roles in the propaganda and public relations campaigns. In the first category are people who work behind the scenes as advisors, using psychology and other specialized expertise to design PR and advertising campaigns.

In the second category are experts for the public stage who appear to speak as independent, disinterested authorities with regard to a public issue. This kind of expert plays a role in the propagandists use of the third party technique. In some cases, an expert's opinion is directly related to receiving compensation from the industry or interest whose activities the expert advances. In other instances, an expert may already hold a view that is beneficial to industry, thereby having his work receive more attention and attract more funding than if it weren't supportive of the propagandist's cause. This kind of expert may be professionally inept or overly ambitious. Or he may be simply naïve about how he is serving as a tool for the propagandist.

The psychologist R. Clotaire Rapaille is an example of the first category of experts. Rapaille has advised the International Food Information Council, a food industry front group, on how to sell genetically engineered foods with "words to use," such as bounty, children, choice, earth, purity, tradition and wholesome. The U.S. auto industry has also benefited from Rapaille's wisdom. The New York Times Keith Bradsher reported that Rapaille advised Detroit automakers that SUVs that appeal to Americans' deepest fears of violence and crime and should be marketed to take advantage of that fact.

Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health which purports to be "a science-based, public health group that is directed by a board of 300 leading physicians and scientists," routinely dismisses health risks and environmental harm from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, while earning a six-figure annual salary that is largely funded by the chemical industry and agribusiness. Whelan maintains, however, a small degree of credibility in some circles by being a harsh critic of the tobacco industry.

Many experts for hire, such as Steven Milloy, proprietor of, flatly refuse to discuss where they get their funding, and the front groups and think tanks that employ them are not required to disclose their funding sources.

A subtle and often effective form of industry utilizing a friendly expert is by having the expert exert influence in her professional organization or trade association. Often an industry or government will need to gain the support of, or at the very least neutralize, a specific group to carry out activity. For example, in order to build a new prison, certain people and organizations associated with the criminal justice system will have to say that there is a need for a new prison, or minimally, that another prison wouldn't hurt. In order to increase the likelihood of approval for a new prison, the prison industry may try to exert influence through a member or members of a group like a prison workers' union or a policeman's association.

Carrying this third party technique to an extreme, an industry may encourage its expert to take a strong position against some abuse or potential of the field in which they operate. Over time the expert will moderate this position or limit its applicability.

Another kind of expert exploited by the PR industry and propagandists is the use of journalists. PR firms will often create pseudo news, which is essentially a biased message attempting to appear like a news story. Examples of this are video news releases (VNRs), press releases, special advertising supplements, and other kinds of ready to consume media. In the case of VNRs and other visual media, a firm will create a segment that looks like TV news reporting, complete with an actor or a real-life reporter playing the role of an independent journalist.

For example, in May 2003 the New York Times exposed an attempt by a Boca Raton, Fla., production company named WJMK to use CNN's Aaron Brown to host a series of corporate-sponsored videos that look like news. WJMK made offers to Brown and former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite to host a program called the American Medical Review. "Drug companies and other health care companies pay WJMK about $15,000 to have their companies or products featured in the videos, which are two to five minutes long and run between regular public television programming," the Times reported. [1]

PR firms, corporations, and other propagandists also use ghostwriters to draft written materials ranging from medical journal articles to letters-to-the-editor. The article or letter will then be published under the name of a respected researchers or hometown hero – whatever may be most persuasive to the intended target of the propaganda.


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  1. Melody Petersen, "CNN Anchor Backs Out Of Video Deal", New York Times, May 8, 2003.