THE media is thoroughly imbricated in these elite networks. Journalists, politicians and lobbyists inhabit the same world and mix at the same parties, while PR companies groom, collude with and recruit journalists, turning hacks into flacks with depressing regularity. Businesses use the media to reach policymakers, place stories, conscript third-party advocates and noisily reframe debates on their terms. The use of third-party front-groups is rife: corporations fund academics, scientists, protesters, think tanks, charities, supportive allies, professional bodies, fake institutes, campaign groups – anyone that will take the money and say the right things. Where necessary, companies keep a low profile, suppressing damaging stories while lobbying in private; “for every story fed to the media,” studies find, “there is one being carefully kept out.” Often PR firms work alongside corporate lawyers, using the threat of litigation to snuff out damaging stories quickly and discreetly, while applying extra pressure through “astroturf” (fake grassroots) campaigns on Twitter or via email. The internet poses challenges, but PR firms are moving in, monitoring opponents and even offering a round-the-clock service whitewashing Wikipedia and Google on clients’ behalf.
The result is a well-oiled machine, constantly at work getting monied interests what they want. “We’re in it for money” lobbyist Peter Gummer (Lord Chadlington) admits – and lobbying can prove a very lucrative investment indeed. One study estimates a return of $90bn on an initial spend of $3.5bn; another of between $6 and $21 per dollar spent; another still of $100. “It seems remarkable,” the Economist notes, “that companies would do anything but lobby”.
From Trevor Hoyle