Coda: The Public and Its Problems

Edward Bernays dies at 102 years old in March of 1995.

Bernays was seen as two completely different men throughout his years.

Bernays #1

  • Understood that PR was a necessary response to a society of expanding democratic expectations.
  • He believed that corporate PR must answer to the ultimatums of a public that had become aware of it’s social and economic rights.
  • Understood that powerful institutions could not always govern the dynamics of public expression.

Bernays #2

  • Saw the public as easy to manipulate and posing little danger.
  • Was an expert in influencing the ideas of others.
  • Ordained the enginering of consent.
  • Designed captivating “pseudo-environments” to steer the public mind.
  • Was a master of shaping “news” and “events”.

PR began to change throughout his life as public opinion and the “public sphere” itself changed:

PR after WWI

  • Experts begin to embrace the manipulation of symbols as an effective strategy to appeal to the public mind.
  • Non-commercial media begins to appear (underground newspapers).
  • PR must begin to adapt to the changing social conditions. Discussions begin about the need to acknowledge the demands of the African American population in the U.S.

PR in the late 60’s and into the 70’s

  • Public opinion and behaviors are more by demographic.
  • The idea of targeting differnt groups of people comes about.
  • However, gains for one demographic group were simultaneously seen as losses for another (African Americans and Whites, women and men, homosexuals and heterosexuals).


  • Reinstalled corporate boosterism, free enterprise politics, and self-righteous contempt for poor people.
  • The term public begins to mean institutions that serve people deemed undeserving or undesirable.
  • Extremism of democracy seeks to give everyone a voice and power on every issue, regardless of his merit or ability to serve society.
Philip Lesly voices his opinion and states that the amount of people obtaining a higher education results  in millions of people thinking that they should have a special place in society.

Bernays also acknowledges this same idea also, by stating that, “an educated public will only interfere with leaders’ ability to act.”

The Public

  • The public doesn’t get a say even though they have many physical tools of communication.
  • The public sphere is dominated by corporate interests and the power of businesses. It is managed by PR pros and not the people.
  • Businesses have occupied and imposed on public properties.

A proposed solution

  • They should have to pay rent to the public for intruding. If 15-25% of all advertising expenditures in the U.S. were applied to noncommercial arenas of public education, the crisis in funding for public arts and education would disappear.
  • For a democratic public to be obtained the “great society” must become a “great community.”
  • “For the greater good to prevail, we need to imagine ourselves as a greater public.”


One response »

  1. kylereinson says:

    Please use the correct “Its” — please edit before Dec. 15.

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