Meridian Star

Columns

April 22, 2013

Truth management manipulates beliefs

MERIDIAN — Since the earliest days of civilization “truth management” has been practiced by governments, religions, and powerful organizations to further their own interests. Today, the practice of truth management has proliferated to organizations throughout the United States, including Mississippi.

    Envision a persuasion scheme that integrates widespread publicity, rampant disinformation, and tailored “truths.” You get the picture.

    For example, our Defense Department has long practiced “perception management” and “truth projection” to influence beliefs – usually foreign but not always.

    In recent decades well-funded national policy institutes and research centers have emerged that propagate research and analysis supportive of pre-conceived notions, i.e., they tailor “truth” to fit stipulated concepts. Today, these perverted truths are shared with bloggers, talking heads, publicity organizations, and lobbyists who adeptly use them to manipulate the public, politicians and policy makers into believing and proclaiming such as actual truths.

    Consider this excerpt from a study of the tobacco industry published by the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Nursing, University of California:

    “This study adds to the growing literature that draws upon previously secret tobacco industry documents to understand the inner workings of the industry. Previous research has, among other things, revealed how the industry has deceived the public and policymakers about the harms of tobacco, manipulated science, used third parties to promote its agenda, targeted vulnerable populations, and interfered with regulatory and public policy processes. These behaviors are not unique to the tobacco industry; research on internal asbestos and chemical industry documents has uncovered similar actions.”

    The tobacco companies managed truth by getting institutes and research centers, which they funded directly and indirectly, to publish studies showing tobacco usage to be not very harmful. They then used these deceitful studies and powerful publicity to manipulate users and politicians into believing that smoking was safe.

    Senators, congressmen, and their staffs are too busy to do much research. So, they rely on information from institutes and research centers provided to them by lobbyists and interest groups. For example, the NRA recently looked to the Colorado-based Independence Institute, which it helps fund, for an analysis (unfavorable) of the Manchin-Toomey background check proposal.

    Policy institutes and research centers actuated by pre-conceived notions have begun cropping up to shape “truth” at the state level too. Legislators have even less time and resources than congressmen to research complex issues like Medicaid, charter schools, or tax policies.

    Folks, it’s one thing to use facts that support arguments and overlook facts that don’t. It’s quite another to deliberately create and disseminate false truths. And that’s what insidious truth managers do.

So, whether it’s the NRA, AARP, big business, government, or a state policy institute, realize the propensity of such to engage in truth management.  

    Don’t be duped. As Ronald Reagan insisted, verify.

 

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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