I have learned so much about Journalism and Public Relations since starting my Media Studies program. I never full realized the extent of how powerful corporations actually are especially when it comes to the news and media distribution. Reading the novel Toxic Sludge Is Good For You by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, especially opened up my eyes as to how sneaky Public Relations is controlling and spinning the news that we so whole-heartedly believe.
Despite the negative aspect of fake news when you look at the Public Relations and media corporations’ side of things, I would actually like to point out the benefits of Fake news. It’s what people like Stauber and Rampton that take matters into their own hands and write a book like Toxic Sludge Is Good For You and expose “little-known mega-firms such as Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Ketchum PR- the “invisible men” who control our political debates and public opinion, twisting reality and protecting the powerful from scrutiny” (Toxic Sludge). Or when groups like The Yes Men who take major issues that had not received any or enough media coverage by creating media spectacles and drawing attention to company ethics using irony and satire. One example that really stuck with me is the Bhopal Crisis.
The Bhopal Crisis was something I hadn’t even heard of until just recently. In 1984 there was a chemical gas leak containing more then 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas that was “released from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal. Union Carbide’s cost-cutting had ensured that none of the six safety systems designed to contain the leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal” (Stanford Amnesty). “In 2001 Michigan based chemical corporation Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide thereby acquiring its assets and liabilities” (Stanford Amnesty). To this day Dow Chemical refuses to take responsibility and clean up the mess they bought into. More than 120,000 residents of Bhopal live with the after-affects of illness from the chemicals and have not been treated because Dow won’t release the other accompanying chemicals that were released, which doctors could easily treat. The Stanford Amnesty site goes into further detail of the procedures that had not been followed by Union Carbide or by Dow Chemical, the results are frightening.
What really bothers me is that I had no idea this had even happened and I had never even heard the effects of the “worst industrial disaster” still going on in Bhopal to this day. This is the part where the Yes Men come in. They have a fake website called dowethics.com with articles that hold cutting edge satire which expose more about Dow Chemical. This is where BBC news had contacted them asking for “a Dow Representative to discuss the company's position on the 1984 Bhopal tragedy on this, its 20th anniversary” (Dow Does The Right Thing). They knew if Dow Chemical sent a representative or spokesperson, they would reiterate the same stuff they did when they had first bought out Union Carbide. Long story short, the Yes Men sent one of their own reps with a thrift store suit, a fake name- Jude Finisterra and planned for Dow to take full responsibility of the worst industrial disaster ever to occur and to finally clean up the mess after twenty long years.
Clearly most reactions to this would be that the Yes Men are creating false hopes for the people in Bhopal. In some ways that could be true but at the same time, as explained on the website: “There are some risks to this approach. It could offer false hope—or rather, false certainty—to people who have suffered 20 years of false hopes that Dow and Union Carbide would do the right thing. But all hopes are false until they're realized, and what's an hour of false hope to 20 years of unrealized ones?” (Dow Does The Right Thing). When Fake news is done well, the outcome is factual. The Yes Men are asking the rhetorical questions that haven’t been asked. When I learn about groups like the Yes Men and think about what the purpose behind something like Dow Does The Right Thing, it makes me feel like there is hope despite the major coporations and public relations companies that dedicate their lives to protecting the rich and powerful from people like you and me learning the truth.
“The public relations industry has stolen our dreams and returned them to us packaged as illusions” (Stauber, J and Rampton, S). That quote reminded me of a situation sort of like sifting through all the junk that accumalates and finally getting to the good stuff, the treasure at the bottom. It has motivated me to become more media concious of what’s being shown to me and hopefully in the near future things like hiding the truth from citizens simply for the benefit of a couple rich old farts (no offense of course) in a big company like Dow Chemical or Union Carbide won’t happen anymore. Maybe companies will attribute moral ethics and take the public’s interest into favor next time instead of calling up their PR spokesperson on speed dial.
Hopp, Erick. "Dow Does The Right Thing". Hijinks Overview. 12 08 2007. 21 Nov 2008.
Amnesty, Stanford. "The Bhopal Disaster". Amnesty International USA. 05 25 05. 21 Nov 2008.