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Greens Wage Effective Battle for Public Opinion
By Rich Jefferson
Date Posted: 3/1/2001
When you read the news, do you ever encounter a story that makes you ask: how did that ever come to be reported?
Did an enterprising reporter discover the story on his own? Or did a public relations professional ‘pitch’ the story to the reporter — contact the reporter and persuade him that it was newsworthy — in order to get what is known as ‘earned media’ coverage? When a company wants to promote itself and its products, the company can advertise, but it can also generate articles in the news media through effective public relations.
These questions fascinate me if only because I am one of the people who ‘pitches’ stories for a living. I view the world through a public relations lens, which often drives my friends and family nuts.
The advantage to being a public relations practitioner in this information-crazed world is that I understand how news stories can be generated. What I do not understand, however, is why ‘Extreme Green,’ as the Pulp and Paper Resources Council refers to radical environmentalists, wins so many of the public relations battles. Why isn’t there more balance in the news media between Extreme Green and the forest products industry? So many ‘green’ stories are built on specious arguments; it is hard to comprehend why they obtain so much favorable publicity in the news media.
Think about the public relations successes of Extreme Green. The notorious spotted owl, snail darters and practically the entire application of the Endangered Species Act, the hyper-hyped "Sixty Minutes" broadcast on Alar, ‘Chicken Little’ stories about global warming, fear-mongering about what’s really in your tap water, the Clinton-Gore push to ban roads in national forests, acid rain, etc.
Come to think of it, maybe those specious arguments — used to support allegedly bad news and provoke panic — make for alarming stories that sell newspapers and boost television ratings — both of which help sell advertising and make money.
Making money is not a bad thing, but truth should be more important than artful persuasion, even when it comes to making money in the news business or pitching stories as a public relations professional.
I am convinced that Extreme Green is more concerned with artful persuasion than with speaking the truth. But does Extreme Green win public relations battles because the news media believes more in persuasion than in finding the truth? That’s an interesting question.
It is not too difficult to guess why Extreme Green gets better results than the forest products industry and its supporters. First, they have a name that resonates, and we do not. They are ‘Green.’ And we are what? Anti-green? Yes, but that doesn’t sound like we’re for anything. Are we ‘For Property Rights?’ Most definitely. For wise use? Yes. But, as you can see, we have no catchy name with the auditory ring and political appeal of the word ‘Green.’
Some Greens will undoubtedly contend that we do not lose all the public relations battles. After all, in the 106th Congress we defeated Rep. Don Young’s Conservation and Reinvestment Act, the infamous CARA bill, didn’t we? And we helped get Gale Norton confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of Interior for President Bush, didn’t we?
Sure, those are victories. But they were political victories, not public relations victories.
If you hired a pollster to determine public opinion about "preserving" land for posterity, you would probably find that a majority of Americans still support the anti-private property rights ideas behind CARA. We will see legislation similar to CARA again. Maybe not in the 107th Congress, but sooner or later someone will introduce a similar land-grab bill.
A public relations victory over CARA would have been a change in public opinion on this issue, persuading the majority that private property rights are more important. I don’t think that happened. I think Senators got nervous because just enough votes were at stake in an election year. And those voters were angry and blunt about what they thought about CARA.
A victory is a victory, but we did not win the hearts and minds of the public to our way of thinking. We won a political battle against CARA, but we did not necessarily prevail in the arena of public opinion. If we held a national referendum on the ideas behind CARA, it is a good guess that our side would lose.
One thing Greens realize is that a public relations war never ends. Our side does not seem to grasp this. Greens seem to be willing to fight without ceasing while we would like to win one for the Gipper, then forget about it and go fishing. Why?
It boils down to worldview differences. Generally speaking, Greens are collectivists. They feel that whatever is best for the entire society must be pursued at practically all costs. Who defines what is best for the collective? Who sets the standards we all must meet? The few enlightened leaders who have the true, deep understanding of and sympathy with the environmental issues of global warming, preserving national forests, etc.
On our side, we believe in individual rights and family traditions. Property owners should be able to use their resources sensibly without fear of government intrusion. We don’t believe in the enlightened few. We believe in the educated many. For the most part, we trust the guy next door.
Is it possible for us to win more battles in the public relations war against Extreme Green? I am conducting an informal poll about this. In a month or two I’ll share some responses in this space.
(Editor’s Note: Rich Jefferson worked in the office of the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources from 1994-1995. In addition, he worked at a state agency within the natural resources secretariat; he was public relations manager of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries from 1995-1997. Rich may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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