“Toxic sludge is good for you!” Book review
‘People who wrote that book must truly hate PR.’. That was my first thought after reading the first chapter of Toxic sludge is good for you !:Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton.
Authors describe how public relations firms hired by big corporations try to manipulate people’s minds, change their way of thinking and sometimes even try to cover up things without caring about common good. Numerous cases are described which show how PR practitioners managed to do that. In almost every chapter we can find references to public relations history and explanations how certain cases started, which makes the book more interesting and it also helps to understand the cases better.
The readers do not have to be specialists in the field of public relations to understand the book, in fact it was written for the ‘unknowing people’ to help them realise how this industry works and how it influences their lives. Well written and a little sarcastic, it is easy and pleasant to read.
Humorous cartoons by Dan Perkins and Kirk Anderson make reading even more enjoyable. Authors are not afraid to use strong words like propaganda or manipulation. They compare public relations industry to the main character from the movie The Invisible Man by Claude Rains, who managed to fulfill his evil schemes by being invisible. According to John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton the main goal of the book is to make this invisible PR man visible to the public. Every chapter unmasks the ‘invisible man’ more. The book ruthlessly exposes public relation techniques and ways of dealing with problematic matters which are widely characterised in the chapter Poisoning the Grassroots. We can read about public relations tactics for nuclear or chemical industries, but chapter three titled Smoker’s Hacks might be one of the most interesting since it relates to something that is common and in one way or another concerns everybody who smokes. In this chapter we can find a broad description of the PR techniques and tricks used to help the tobacco industry.
Surprisingly methods like third party advocacy, junk science and many other pioneered by real legends of public relations like Edward Bernays or John Hill are used even today by PR specialists. Further into the book we find terrifying accounts of how, for years, the tobacco industry mostly because of PR firms, was manipulating public opinion to increase its incomes and deal with a crisis. What is probably the most disturbing is the fact that even after studies in 1950’s, which had shown that there is a direct link between smoking and cancer, tobacco industries through public relation specialists were still using their tactics to play down bad news, researchers discoveries and bad publicity to win customers while promising to find out more about this alarming issue.
What makes the book more credible is that all arguments presented against the PR industry are supported by well researched examples of real cases. However the book does not overwhelm the reader with numbers or data. Paradoxically, even though “Toxic Sludge is good for You”, it is a book which shows the bad and evil side of public relation industry. Public relation enthusiasts find it very interesting and absorbing. All cases put forward are both terrifying and fascinating. It is not only a book to read, but it is also a book to learn from. Many PR techniques,mistakes of others which are broadly described and ethics within public relations industry.
In the chapter” The Sludge Hits the Fan” , John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton explain the idea of the humorous title of the book which refers to the case of the sludge industry described in the book. As we read Toxic sludge is good for you we might get the impression that people working within the public relation industry are cold-blooded creatures and that all they do is make money at the expense of oblivious people. Showing the other good side of the PR industry would not necessarily undermine arguments which are presenting the enormity of wrong that was made, in fact, contrasting could even reinforce the point which the authors are making and make the book much more objective.