All Commentary
Sunday, July 1, 1956

Book Review: Professional Public Relations and Political Power by Stanley Kelley, Jr.

Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 247 pp. $4.50.

In one of his debates with Douglas, Abraham Lincoln observed, “He who moulds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes or decisions possible or impossible to execute.”

Inasmuch as public opinion is so decisive, anyone concerned with the national scene might well inquire: What techniques are at work moulding this opinion today? An excellent answer is found in Mr. Kelley’s book, which provides a lucid, factual account of the decline of the political boss and the rapid rise, during the past quarter-century, of the public relations man as an influencer of opinion and even as a determiner of political policy:

He stages propaganda campaigns so that legislators will find it easier, or more difficult, to pass particular laws. He works to build men into public figures and to put them into offices of government. He attempts to give political parties advantageous publicity position. He manages campaigns for pressure groups desirous of putting initiative and referendum measures into codes of public law. These kinds of participation by the public relations man in parties and politics are now frequent, and widespread geographically; they occur at all levels of government and are apparently in creasing . . . .

The author quotes a Texas editor as saying, “No newspaper could afford the staff it would take to turn out the vast amount of news that fills the papers every day.” And he cites Fortune’s conclusion that now nearly half the contents of the nation’s better newspapers comes from publicity releases. But the public relations man today is involved in far more than sending releases to newspapers.

Mr. Kelley shows, in a basic narrative buttressed by substantial case histories, how the political publicist helps determine campaign strategy, including size of promotion budget and which issues or ideas should be stressed; and how he makes ingenious use of both advertising and publicity in our enormously-expanding mass media—newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, car cards, billboards and of such varied devices as letters, postcards, handbills, and pamphlets distributed by the millions; as well as specially-written books, sound trucks, mass meetings, fan clubs, and drives for endorsements by national, state, and local organizations.

While the case histories accent the efforts of public relations in behalf of the Republican party and of campaigns to stop socialistic measures (such as the A.M.A.’s crusade against Compulsory Health Insurance), it is also perfectly plain that every artifice of the publicist has been—and will be—used to undermine a free society.

This book will help make anyone less naive concerning the factors at work in the political scene. For the libertarian, it reveals some of the techniques which will be employed to befuddle his fellow citizens (and even himself) into accepting socialism, and what methods are available to aid those engaged in resisting specific collectivistic measures.

Charles Hull Wolfe