corporate and think-tank researcher

Donald Gutstein

01 Oct '09

Book Describes How Business Propaganda Subverts Democracy

Roy LaBerge.  CCPA Monitor.  Oct 2009.  Vol. 16,  Iss. 5,  p. 5 (1 pp.)

Not a Conspiracy Theory: How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, by Donald Gutstein, Key Porter Books, 376 pages, $22.95, paperback.

Readers who suspect that major corporations heavily influence the mass media will find their suspicions fully confirmed in Not a Conspiracy Theory, How Business Propaganda Hijacks Democracy, by Donald Gutstein.

Gutstein exposes “the incestuous relationship” between the mainstream media and big   business. He writes that, because of the success of its corporate propaganda, business is not just one voice among many in the democratic debate: “It controls the debate.”

He provides a comprehensive report on how, for more than three decades, business has carried on a highly successful campaign to change people’s minds on issues of social and political life.

And he relates how that campaign is propagated through dozens of business-backed think-tanks in Canada, the United States, and most other countries. (Canadians are fortunate to also have a few think-tanks that are fully independent of business, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which is primarily funded by its members, not by government or big business.)

Gutstein recalls how people were surprised by the recent economic crisis “that seemed to tear through the market like a sudden storm…

“‘How could this have happened?’ we wonder in disbelief. We now better understand, however, that the source of our confusion could be laid at the feet of media that for months and months merely parroted the ‘All is Well’ message of Wall Street and its Big Business cronies.”

This “massive anti-government, anti-regulation exercise in corporate propaganda” worked, he says, because the media did not report the story. Instead they were part of it.

Not a Conspiracy Theory reports in detail how the integration of Canada with the United States has grown against the wishes of the Canadian people, through an outpouring of business-backed studies, reports, conferences, and newspaper opinion pieces. Many of them were supported by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives which, over 30 years “has perfected its methods of pushing public policy in the directions desired by business.”

The book also describes the membership and activities of many other federal and provincial right-wing organizations and their propaganda campaigns, including those aimed at delaying action on climate change, weakening Medicare, and increasing Canadian-US. integration.

“It is not difficult to understand why Canadian bankers and business leaders want integration with the U.S.,” he writes. “The more integrated the economy, the more money they will make because of lower wages paid to their employees and less stringent regulations applied to their operations – and the money they will be able to keep because of lower taxes.”

Gutstein provides a history of propaganda dating back to the French Revolution, and discusses how big businesses own and control the major Canadian media.

“In Canada, the National Post and the Fraser Institute, a major think-tank, were the primary channels for global warming denial,” he points out. “Their role was to re-package for Canadian consumption material written mostly by industry-sponsored American denyers. They also extracted maximum mileage out of Canada’s own hearty band of naysayers,”

Gutstein also relates the successes of Fraser Institute initiatives under which it is cultivating a network of thousands of young people who are “informed and passionate about free-market ideas.” More than 17,000 students have had contact with these Fraser Institute projects.

“Canadians who believe that government flaws and all – has a vital role to play in their lives need to realize that they are engaged in a war of ideas, and they’re losing,” he maintains. “Corporate power is in the driver’s seat. It has the money, organization, and access to the media….

“It has polarized and oversimplified the workings of the economy: market good, government bad, it says incessantly.”

He recommends substituting the term “progressive” for the terms “liberal” and “left,” which “have been thoroughly demonized by conservative storm troopers.”

He points out that Canada’s progressive world is inhabited mainly by single- issue organizations with narrowly focused goals, and that “to challenge market fundamentalism, progressives need to create a single movement or at least come together in a common campaign.”

“Two values can help to bring them together,” Gutstein writes, “a holistic approach to unbridled corporate power and a desire for justice. These are the opposite of the values espoused by market fundamentalists: a hostility to government and a desire for corporate freedom.”

Not a Conspiracy Theory is solidly researched through a wide range of sources, including major news media, business periodicals, interviews with academics, published academic reports, conference reports, statements by and interviews with business leaders, business-supported think-tanks, and independent think- tanks, including the CCPA.

Gutstein’s text is supported by no fewer than 858 endnotes and 21 pages of bibliography.

Donald Gutstein is a well positioned authority on the media and business propaganda. He is a senior lecturer in the School of Communications at Simon Fraser University and codirector of NewsWatch, a project of the school that conducts independent research on the diversity and thoroughness of news coverage in the Canadian media.

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