Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
A cultural history of the cigarette might not seem like the most obvious choice for a compelling read. But Harvard medical historian Allan M Brandt’s extraordinary work, ‘The Cigarette Century’ is a book that that strays a long way from the obvious. Brandt is both a meticulous historian and an eloquent writer – the book is reportedly the product of 20 years of research. In charting the rise and fall of the cigarette – from its humble and disreputable origins in the 19th century to its pre-eminence in the 1950s, and its gradual decline, in the face of growing evidence of its deadly effects – Brandt also recounts the evolution of modern American society; the growth of mass-production, the growing sophistication of industry lobbyists in Congress and – crucially – the birth of the advertising and public relations industries.
Drawing on confidential industry documents – many of them released under legal duress following a series of law-suits in the 1980s and 1990s – Brandt shows how tobacco companies deliberately sought to suppress evidence of the cigarette’s harmful effects, and deployed cutting-edge PR techniques to manipulate public opinion, creating the impression that the science around smoking and cancer was ‘unproven’ long after a clear consensus had emerged among experts.
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I show how the techniques developed by the tobacco industry have become the standard tactic for an industry fighting a rearguard action against overwhelming scientific evidence of the dangers of its products.
Ben H Bagdikian’s 1993 foreword to John R MacArthur’s classic PR industry exposé, “Second Front”, nowadays reads somewhat poignantly.
“A lesson we should have learned in the 1960s and 1970s is that when governments… become desperate over a failing policy, they are tempted into that historic folly of nations, self-delusion… Bad news is filtered out before it reaches the top. In the end, as always, the propagandistic government becomes the victim of its own propaganda… In democracies, the self-destructive process of governmental delusion and deception is supposed to have a remedy in independent news… The basic premise is that democracy succeeds to the degree that government has an outside source of information about its own weaknesses and the public has sufficient valid information to judge government performance and reports…
For years the main body of our democratic balancing forces in Vietnam failed… The price of that national tragedy has been painfully high. For the news media, it was supposed to be The Great Lesson. Never again would journalists look the other way or accept at face value official civil and military claims without careful examination.
But the lesson failed. Something went terribly wrong. The military learned its own lesson from Vietnam: keep wars short and keep the news media completely controlled in the opening days of the engagement… By severely limiting reporting by journalists, the government can prolong that controlled public image of a military action until the media move to something else and lose interest in the event…
John MacArthur in this book has laid out in enormous detail how all this happened in the Gulf War… One hopes that, as a result, our major media, four times burned, will be four times shy in accepting future official releases and briefings at face value…”
Lisa Gee is great – and I’m not just saying that because we share an agent. She’s one of these writers who runs directly counter to the grumpy-oddball stereotype – positive, upbeat, outgoing; all those things that an author isn’t supposed to be. Every once in a while a group of us gets together to compare notes. The last time around I was intrigued to learn that Dora, Lisa’s six-year old daughter, had landed a part in the “Sound of Music”, and was playing to packed-out audiences in the West End. Not only this, but Lisa, having found herself immersed in a world of auditions, late nights and the occasional tantrum, was already well on her way to writing a book about the experience of being a “Stage Mum”. Having been lucky enough to see some of the early notes, I’m very much looking forward to reading the final version, which comes out on July 3rd.