Part 1: Catherine Waite

It was the early 1920’s, and the first World War had just ended. The war enlightened many to shift their ways of thinking about  public relations. American thought was increasingly turning toward a more democratic, public frame of view. Democratic realists of the 1920’s believed in two essentials according to Robert Westbrook:

1. The capacity of all men for rational political action

2. Maximizing the participation of all citizens in public life

Lessons from the war and social psychology led many to believe that a large scale society such as the U.S. required services of experts who specialized in the analysis and management of public opinion. These experts were referred to by Harold Lasswell as “unseen engineers”.  Lasswell believed that when dealing with an “illogical” public, professionals who could understand the social and psychological factors of public opinion and master methods of communicating them were necessary.

 Harold Lasswell

The problem with allowing ordinary men and women to influence public thought was that there had to be a way to mediate between the “illogical” ordinary citizens’ democratic aspirations and those of the elites who held power. Elites had to be able to govern without the intervention of the public.

Walter Lippmann, an esteemed theorist & advocate of public opinion management laid out his ideas on how to face this problem in his two books- Public Opinion  and The Phantom Public.

Lippmann, once a follower of popular sovereignty, had turned more cynical and utilitarian. He believed that the ordinary person was not able to see the world clearly, let alone understand it. As society became more cosmopolitan, new technologies and networks for transferring ideas were introduced, and people were less frequently using immediate experience to make sense of the universe, and instead turned to mass mediated words and pictures.

“The Manufacturer of Consent”

These words and pictures became credible sources for the average person, a “pseudo-environment” or virtual reality that informed their thoughts and behaviors. The way people saw and experienced the world was nothing but an “extension of their cultural milieu.” All experiences are filtered through a previously existing outlook. These habitual ways of seeing are referred to as “stereotypes”.

“The number of human problems on which reason is prepared to dictate is small” – Walter Lippmann

Lippman theorized that our preconceptions about the world and the things around us determine the whole process of perception. He wondered how people could be expected to act wisely on the world without accurately knowing or understanding it. As new psychology began to analyze dreams, fantasies, and rationalization, Lippmann began to see into how the pseudo-environment was put together.

Lippmann took a systematic approach to how media might be used in regards to public relations. Modern leadership needed specialists who could formulate the ways in which the press would cover an issue. The primary aim here, was perception management.

In order to create propaganda surrounding a pseudo-environment, there must be a barrier between the public and that event. Access to the real environment must be limited.

Lippmann saw great importance in the identification in the psychological life of an audience when trying to capture it’s attention, affections. Pseudo environments had to negotiate between the public’s “fantasy life” and what they believed was possible”.And so,  He turned to Hollywood for inspiration as it was America’s “dream factory“.  Pictures and visualization, according to Lippmann, were the most effective ways into the “inner life”. Photos were, “the most effortless food for the mind”.  The film industry however, was still in the early stages and was working on developing approaches to story telling that would reach the emotions of the public.

Lippmann saw the biggest problem as that of the time that was necessary for the public to pursue rational deliberations. He saw no technique as more effective as a solution to this problem than the use of symbols. According to Lippmann,

“In the symbol, emotion is discharged at a common target and the idiosyncrasy of real ideas is blotted out”.

The use of media images to arouse emotions and influence thought was one of Lippmann’s greatest contributions to the world of Public Relations. Edward Bernays however, at first impressed by Lippman’s Public Opinion, he found his work to be too academic. From here on out Bernays started his work in the public relations field and worked off the accomplishments of Walter Lippman.

Part 2- Sarah Grabar

In his early 20’s Bernays worked as a journalist. A few of his earlier projects were working and editing two medical magazines: the Medical Review of Reviews and the Dietetic and Hygienic Gazette. In fact his contributions to these magazines are some of the primitive examples of “unseen engineering”.

Edward Bernays

Bernays interest in publicity sparked when he was working for the magazines and came across a controversial play still in development.  The play was called Damaged Goods, and it follows the story of a man diagnosed with syphilis and goes behind his doctor warnings and marries to then produce a syphilitic offspring. At this time subject matter concerning sexual health was strictly concealed and not encouraged for discussion even among romantic partners. So the controversy arises when such delicate information is kept a secret.

The goal of the play was to bring public attention to sexual health and education.  Richard Bennett, the director of the play states:

“Sex diseases should no longer be concealed. I hope to interest legislators in the seriousness of the social disease the play discusses and force them to pass reform laws.”

With all projects, Bernays encountered some problems. The play was to be produced in New York and the city was not the place to address such a risky subject. In the past other plays were shut down because they were seen to be too daring.

From this moment Bernays moved from being a magazine editor to “innovative publicist”, which he would later label his career not as a press agent but a member of the counsel on public relations. Instead of handling press releases to reporters and staging ritualized press conferences as other publicist would do his “instinct was to operate more clandestinely, behind the scenes, invisibly staging events  or “circumstances” that the press would-out of habit-consider newsworthy.

Bernays created an organization called the Medical Review of Review’s Sociological Fund Committee and their objective was to advance public knowledge on venereal diseases.  He asked upper-class people to support, join, and make donations. This committee’s endorsement would serve two purposes:

  1. To create a wall to keep out any negative attitudes of from the people who don’t want to address such daring topics. Ewen called these people “Guardians of public mortality”
  2.   It would attract carriage-trade membership, or wealthy patrons. In which these people would make a network and correlate themselves among New York’s high society in efforts to support Damaged Goods in the name of a “worthy cause.”

The organization worked like a charm. There was no negative publicity but the show ended up getting really good coverage. Bernays work behind the scenes exploiting the power of the individuals whose ability to lead the opinions of others, was established.


Bernays looked at public relations as a social instrument. In the hands of disciplined specialists publicity could be used to organize chaos and “Bring order out of confusion and social disarray”. It was also used to advise clients on how to guide their way through the complexities of law and provide effective ways “to navigate an increasingly complicated, often hostile, social environment. “

Lippmann vs. Bernays

Lippmann vs. Bernays

Bernays is considered one of the most important theorists of public relations.  He wouldn’t have gained such acknowledgment without feeding off of his college Walter Lippmann.

In 1922 Lippmann published a book titled Public Opinion, and year after Bernays answered with his own book Crystallizing Public Opinion.

5 years later a year after Lippmann published The Phantom Public; Bernays published a book called Propaganda.

Differences between Lippmann and Bernays:


Wanted to attract attention to people in society who were smart and in command but also apprehensive and conscious.

His books were filled with understandings of the process of human epistemology and how it works with molding public opinion.


Want to attract people working their jobs and wanted them to take advantage of the insights of modern social and psychological thoughts. Bernays books were filled with different accounts

  • Stories of previous campaigns
  • Public relations feats
  • Commonplace sale situations

These were presented on how social psychology and the social scientific approach are used in the work of a publicist.

At this point in time the contributions between Lippmann and Bernays in “nearly indistinguishable”.

With engagement of Lippmann’s contributions to the concept of public relations, Bernays believes there is more to unfold. Bernays moves forward with seeing public relations not as a person and a science but as a group of intelligent people in a democratic society working on a task to govern the public mind. He called these people “invisible wire pullers.”

According to Bernays, To be a public relation expert one has to

  •   be a careful student of the media.

Constantly learning through different means like advertising, motion pictures, circular letters, booklets, handbills, speeches, meetings, parades, news and magazine articles etc.

  •   be sociologically and anthropologically informed.

Know social structure and cultural routines and keeping in mind gender, economics, and geography, education and religion of the public they are working with.

  •   have a watchful student of the public psyche.

Bernays states that public mind and opinion is swayed by emotions and instincts. “Sex, gregariousness, the desire to lead, maternal and paternal instincts.” This is also taken in consideration while creating news.

Lastly Bernays believes that  public relations to work effectively, a specialist has to negate all attempts to reason with the public, but make the news plain and easier to understand. He also states that is has to be “simplified and dramatized”.

Overall a PR specialist has to be ready to analyze reactions of the public and be able to speak their language.

In a little less than a century public relations has transformed into a strategy of social engineering with the works of “unseen engineers.”

From here on out public relations is moving:



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