Toxic Sludge is Good for You is an accumulation of real life PR situations that depict the worst of the worst in the American public relations industry. The authors tell one side of the story by naming names and revealing how they worked their magic to manipulate and deceive the public. The book exposes bogus news, made up ‘grassroots” organizations, public relation spies, and other methods to demonstrate how information that comes from corporations, politicians, and other governments can be skewed and controlled before it reaches the masses.
Toxic Sludge is designed to shock readers by stressing the negative side of each circumstance; even though the information presented is a left wing point of view I do believe the work is a justifiable criticism of the PR industry because the tactics used were harmful to American democracy and in some cases the health and wellbeing of the public at large. According to an analysis by Dr. Donn Tilson, accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), not all PR practitioners utilize such tactics, however, many do and that type of PR poses a threat to democratic values, he goes on to state, “it is ultimately a manifestation of the deeper contradictions in corporate America...the road back to a truly democratic society lies in educating ourselves about the power of propaganda in our lives” (Tilson, 1997). As the general public continues to educate itself about the practices (good and bad) in the field of PR it is even more important that our firm maintain professional procedures that are in-line with the PRSA code of ethics.
The authors do eventually (pg. 205) acknowledge that some may see the book as trying to enrage the public just to sell books. In fact, Ron Levy, President of the North American Precis Syndicate, questioned the motives behind the decision to present just one side of the story. Levy wrote there is a “conflict of interest” between the authors “moral obligation to tell the truth” and the authors “interest in writing so the book will sell well.” (Swift, 1995) Rampton and Stauber state in the beginning of the book and again in the final chapter that they realize this book doesn’t tell the “whole story” about public relations. Others in the PR field observe the one-sidedness but add that many PR professionals engage in high ethical practices and that the techniques of PR are not inherently bad. Yet the good practices do not in any way “mitigate the undemocratic power of the multi-billion dollar PR industry to manipulate and propagandize on behave of wealthy special interest, dominating debate, discussion and decision maker (Swift, 1995). Swift also makes reference to Stauber and Rampton as an offshoot of watchdog Ralph Nader!
Toxic Sludge identifies several examples of poor PR behavior spanning from WWI through the mid 1990’s. Even rural towns in Montana are not strangers to being on the other end of PR negligence; consider the W.R. Grace Corporation, which...