By Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight, October 29, 2009
Do you ever wonder why so many of the Fraser Institute’s right-wing commentaries get into Canadian daily newspapers? Perhaps you’ve been disturbed by the spate of articles about the inevitability of Canada forming closer ties with the United States. Maybe you’re troubled by the constant media attacks on medicare or on the scientific consensus about global warming. In Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, former SFU communications professor and occasional Straight contributor Donald Gutstein explains how Canadians are being duped by a sophisticated, broad-ranging, and reactionary public-relations assault financed by some of North America’s largest corporations.
This ambitious, well-researched book details the rise of the market-fundamentalist ideology espoused by economists Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, as well as the continuing influence of philosopher Leo Strauss, who argued that ruling elites should use deception to protect citizens from themselves. Gutstein shows how wealthy Americans such as brewing magnate Joseph Coors and newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife funded several think tanks in the 1970s to spread a libertarian message of deregulation and lower taxes, which countered the consumer revolution led by Ralph Nader. The author weaves all of this together with an illuminating history of propaganda, culminating in the Canadian business community’s use of what Australian sociologist Alex Carey described as “treetops propaganda” that targets elite media commentators and bypasses the citizenry.
At the core of the book are three case studies showing how think tanks have worked with sympathetic Canadian journalists to hijack the national debate around climate change, medicare, and continental integration. “An effective propaganda campaign using the guise of debate creates an appearance that the propagandist has the audience’s best interest at heart,” Gutstein writes.
He names names and reveals what the Fraser Institute proposed to British American Tobacco in return for $120,000 in funding. It’s heady stuff for anyone who admires the muckraking work of Naomi Klein, John Stauber, and Sheldon Rampton, who’ve written several books exposing the public-relations industry, and David Brock, author of The Republican Noise Machine and Blinded by the Right.