Installment #7 Bernays and The Invisible Government

In the first pages of Propaganda, Bernays explains his “invisible government concept” by saying:

“Conscientious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions of the masses is an important element of a democratic society. These people constitute the invisible government, which is the real dominating power in our country… In some way men who we have never heard of are the ones who govern us, shape our minds, create our preferences and suggest our ideas. This is the logical result of the way our democratic society is organized. A large number of human beings must accommodate to this if they are to live in a harmonious society.”

The fact is, for Bernays, the progress and development of the United States lies in the power of  active minorities in which private and public interests coincide. “Only through the active energy of an intelligent minority can the public freely take conscience and act according to new ideas.” 

Bernays asks himself, who are these shapers of public opinion? We could write a list of several hundred people, leaders in different activities in society, rulers, politicians, artists, clergymen, university directors, powerful financiers, athletes, celebrities, etc. However, it is well known that some of leaders are “led” at the same time by names that are unknown by many. These types of people represent the kind of “manager” associated with the concept of “invisible government.”

These invisible leaders rule us through their natural leadership qualities, their ability to supply basic ideas and through their significant position within the social structure. Bernays affirms that in almost every act in our daily lives, we are dominated by a relatively small number of people who understand the mental processes and social guidelines of the masses.” However, we rarely take conscience of how necessary this "invisible government” is to maintain the order of our lives in society.

Thus, instead of propaganda, a committee of wise men could choose our rules and dictate the way he behave privately and publicly. However we have not chosen aristocracy as a way of government but on the contrary, as Bernays suggests, we have chosen the opposite method: free competition. For this reason, we must find a way in which this free competition works with “reasonable ductility.” To accomplish this, society as a whole must give its consent so free competition can organize itself through leadership and propaganda”.

Through broadcast media, these “invisible leaders” have a fundamental function and ensure consensus within the masses; a society in which there is no middle ground and is characterized by a discontinuous social link. A society in which the notion of public space has fragmented into several individual spaces, value systems and interests. In his invisible government concept, Bernays gives the “communicator” (public relations consultant) a key social roll”: the shaper. Its no longer only about informing but molding public opinion and leading people towards the “proper path.”  

Nevertheless, Bernays  observes that various elements of this process are highly criticized: news manipulation, and sensationalist propaganda in which politicians, products, services and social ideas are exposed to the masses’ conscience. To confront this criticism, Bernays points out that even though these instruments that reach public opinion can be used incorrectly, “an organization and a similar focus are necessary for an organized life.” 

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Installment # 6 The Bernays School of Thought

Let’s briefly consider the three basic elements that make up the origins of the “Bernaysian”school of thought. These key elements are: his atheism, his confessed Freudianism and his profound belief that an “invisible government” had to exist in order to “direct the flocks” to the “appropriate pens” through a proper use of public relations.

On one hand, the belief that a supreme being that somehow controls human destiny, or in other words, the conviction that man is a transcendent creature (belief that often conditioned his colleagues’ professional development) was not in Bernays’ head.  Despite being born in a Jewish family, Bernays didn’t receive a religious education. In fact, religion rarely appears in his work. To solve this issue, Bernays was determined to believe in himself and his ability to “manipulate public opinion” (the term manipulation always had a positive connotation for Bernays).

This way, Bernays’ work, permeated with an atheism that could be considered “practical”, proposed a “world without God”. This has substantial consequences that affect his conception of public opinion and public relations. Without the existence of a source that rules the world, humanity was irremediably headed to a state of social chaos. In this situation, Bernays sustained that manipulation coming from public relations consultants was justified in the sense that it created “gods created by men” who could ensure social order and prevent chaos; a chaos which sooner or later would end up condemning society without the role of these “manipulators”.

In fact, Bernays affirms that if public relations didn’t exist as an ordering force of society, the world would be controlled by capricious forces defined by fate. In a world governed by chance, manipulation is beneficial because it helps prevent error, increase investments from businessmen and avoid accidents.  With this conviction, Bernays shamelessly established a strong defense in favor of the public relations consultant and public opinion manipulation, in a stronger way than professionals like Ivy Lee who operated under ethical and religious concerns.

The second important aspect of Bernay’s way of thinking is his vital and scientific relationship with Sigmund Freud, and more specifically, Freudianism. Beyond their family ties and how they worked in favor of his self-promotion, his early identification with his uncle’s stream of thought was crucial for Bernays’ intellectual development. The practical application of Freudian concepts applied to public relations is seen clearly throughout Bernays’ work during the first decades of the 20th century. However, some of these concepts partially steer away from Freud’s original ideas.  These “Freudian” concepts marked his notion of public opinion, mass and ultimately his anthropological conception.

The third key to understanding Bernays’ thought was his belief in an invisible government. Under this “Bernaysian” concept, these invisible forces could not escape their social responsibility of leading the masses and constructing social order in a world constantly on the verge of chaos. This could only be accomplished through the proper use of public relations. These “puppet men” standing behind the scenes are the only ones capable of existing between the order and chaos of society. Olasky sustains that public relations, under Bernays’ concept don’t need to be protected as if they were developed by sinners in a damned society. Quite on the contrary, public relations are exalted and proclaimed as a great social service done by "saviors" within a sinful society.

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Installment # 5: Doris Fleischman, the Mother of Public Relations

Doris Fleichsman’s professional talent is undeniable. Even though she didn’t have direct contact with clients, (which is why Bernays always took credit for their accomplishments), Doris’ role in their business went down other lanes as equally important for the success of the firm.

For instance, when talking about Crystallyzing Public Opinion, Scott Cutlip affirms that Bernays developed the basic principles of Public Relations through discussions he had with his brilliant wife.

Doris Fleischman found in clients an actual impediment to develop her work freely. This is what she says in A Wife is Many Women:

“Slowly, throughout the course of my work with Eddy, I learned that men aren’t entirely happy about women in the professional world. In the initial stages of public relations, I was the exception for a world dominated by men. Silk manufacturers and travel article producers and scientific institutes always received me with a courteous surprise. Gradually, however, I became only one of the many women trying to compete with men. You had to cross barriers. Men didn’t take orders from women very well.  They didn’t even like receiving orders from other men, but a woman’s advice was degrading for. I learned to back off from situations in which the gender of the public relations consultant was a factor or where suggestions were supposed to be detached from gender. If ideas where considered first in terms of my gender, they could never be judged by my own merits.”

The facts revealed by this investigation allow us to affirm that Doris E. Fleishman’s influence was vital for her husband’s professional development. In this sense, Cutlip says that during her years of partnership with Edward, she contributed with a her points of view, common sense, clear writing and firmness; In sum, great stability for the firm. Bernays himself expressed it this way:

“She has played an equally important role as mine, except that her insights and judgement are better than mine. Her writing skills are exceptional, as you might have already seen in her books.”

And in his autobiography, he pointed out:

“She has contributed deeply in the politics and strategies we have given our clients. Her balanced judgement was very important not only in the base and principles that regulate the public relations profession, but also in the development of a more general perspective on persuasion in today’s society.”

In sum, the "hidden life" of Doris Elsa Fleischman, who in search of her own success kept her work private and helped her husband in silence, highlights the current obstacles professional women, wives and mother dace in a highly competitive world. 

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Installment # 4: Public Relations Consultants

In 1921, the small consulting firm had grown and the Bernays moved their offices to the New Straus Building in the center on Manhattan. As mentioned in Bernays’ Crystallizing Public Opinion, that same year they began using the term “public relations consultants.” This was not just a mere change of name but a different activity in focus and execution. From the “one-way information and persuasion from the client to the public,” it evolved into “two-way conversations.” Public Relations Consulting laid its foundations in resolving the interaction between companies and the public.

By adopting the “public relations consultant” term, Bernays and Fleischman borrowed the word “consultant” from the legal field, hoping that its professional implications would be translated into its core activities. Evidently, it was not an easy task for the new concept to be publicly accepted.

In 1921 Doris created, edited and published Contact, a four page house organ inspired by the dissemination of the functions and characteristics important in the field of public relations.  The first publication, dedicated entirely to public relations, was distributed by mail without charge to a select list of people linked to the media, business and opinion leaders. This is how Edward Bernays defined the objective of this publication:

“One of the first things we did to disseminate our point of view was to publish Contact. This four page house organ became the most important element that helped us seek public recognition in the public relations field and naturally, our activity.  We published 46 editions until 1939. During 19 years we sent 15.000 copies by number, which brought us fascinating letters, publicity, and I guess many clients. My wife had the discipline and audacity to take small published squibs and with a few words, give them relevance.”

Contact consisted of a compilation of short articles, editorials and summarized information extracted from newspapers, magazines and collaboration agencies, all with a brief commentary written by Doris. They talked about topics regarding public opinion and the importance of public relations.

The idea of looking at events through the “crystal eye of public relations” was a new idea and Contact became an immediate success. The writings were presented in an honest and open way, with a conservative design format, aiming to inspire an image of respect and moderation. It is important to note that for many people, the public relations consultant term still lacked public validation that gave it legitimacy. The only reference the public had was a similar task done by press agents, so often vilified in newspapers. This was precisely the image Bernays wanted to get rid of.

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Doris the Writer

Installment # 3 of Federico Rey Lennon's book is about how Doris’ intellect can be seen through her numerous articles, chapters and books concerning public relations and topics on women’s issues published throughout her life.

The first of these works, however, is a result of her husband’s effort. In 1927, Bernays edited An Outline of Careers: A Practical Guide to Achievement by Thirty-Eight Eminent Americans, and Doris was one of the thirty-eight contributing authors. The manuscript is a guide for those aspiring to specialize in careers that raised public relations to the same level as other careers, granting the profession legitimacy. Fleischman wrote the final chapter, Concerning Women, about the career opportunities for women and their problems in the workforce.

A year later, an addition to the volume was edited by Doris, under the title: An Outline of Careers for Women. It comprised a collection of 43 articles about careers from women going to graduate school. In its literary section, the New York Times talked about how each article was written in an “imaginative and thoughtful way”.

An article published by Doris on January, 1930 in the Ladies’ Home Journal, called Women in Business sparked up quite the controversy. In it, the author talked about the problems women faced in order to succeed in the professional world. The article was widely commented by the New York Times.

In 1937, continuing with a campaign to promote public relations, Bernays published Universities – Pathfinders in Public Opinion, a study that describes the different career paths available in American universities. In 1939, he re writes An Outline of Careers under the title Careers for Men: A Practical Guide to Opportunity in Business written by thirty-eight successful Americans.

In 1955, Doris published A Wife is Many Women, her most important book. Its main topic is the description of different roles a modern woman must play when she is married. It is a book in which personal reflections and autobiographical episodes combine.

That same year, in collaboration with Howard Walden Cutler, manager for the Bernays’ consulting firm, Doris wrote the chapter “Themes and Symbols” for The Engineering of Consent, a book about Public Relations edited by Edward Bernays which builds a strategic planning model for institutional communications.

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Doris & Eddy: The Waldorf-Astoria Incident

Doris and Edward got married September 16, 1922 in a municipal chapel in New York. According to what Doris would later write, they got married without the traditional wedding rings because they considered them to be a taboo or a symbol of a woman being tied down by a man.

Their wedding got a lot of publicity because that same night, Doris, an early feminist and member of the Lucy Stone League, insisted on registering at the Waldorf-Astoria with her maiden name. However, according to Susan Henry and Bernays’ autobiography, Doris’ decision to sign with her maiden name was driven by him. Apparently, she did not care as much about the matter. On the contrary, Bernays did seem to want to maintain their separate names and thought they would both benefit from being treated as independent people by others.  This may partially explain Bernays’ aberration for the institution of marriage. Lets not forget he was convinced that he would never get married, an opinion which was very strong for him. His brother in law even took the Bernays name to keep the family name for more generations. In his autobiography, Bernays said:

“I have an inner fear that marriage… would take away some of my liberties as an individual if there were always a Mrs. added to my name.”

On another note, Bernays was emphatic on the social advantages this situation would give them, and he believed they would both be able to interact better with the opposite sex if their marriage was unknown. He also explained the importance of his decision in the following terms:

“I think a woman should retain her identity…is very important to her own development, and I think it is equally important to the man’s own independence not to be treated in terms of her, but in terms of himself.”

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Doris & Eddy: By Federico Rey Lennon

In search for more information on the life of Doris Fleischman, the Museum of Public Relations found a book by Federico Rey Lennon called Doris & Eddy, Pioneers of Public Relations. The edition is entirely in Spanish, so we took the job of translating it to an English version. We will be publishing excerpts of the book that praises the life and work of both Doris Fleischman and Edward Bernays. This following passage introduces Doris and her early years. 

“Beautiful, Smart, Charming and Ingenious”

Doris could and should be baptized as “the mother of modern public relations”. During the 1920s she supported Bernays’ concept of “consultant”, to replace the “press agent” term of the time.

This is what the New York Times said about Doris Fleischman during that time: “She has acquired an important position in a man’s world as a public relations consultant.”

Doris was born July 18, 1892 in New York in a middle-class family. She was the daughter of Harriet Rosenthal and Samuel E. Fleischman, a prominent lawyer with clients such as the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith. His friends included figures such as Andrew Carnegie and William Howard Taft. He was a rigid and authoritarian man who was very controlling of his wife’s and children’s lives. Doris had two brothers, Ira and Leon S (a journalist associated with Edward Bernays), and a sister named Beatriz, married with Martin Untermeyer. 

Despite being a strict conservative, Samuel Fleischman encouraged Doris to study and read. She finished her studies in the Horace Mann School of New York and received a degree in Barnard College in 1913. Her calling for journalism came at a late age. At first, she studied music, aiming to become an opera singer. Susan Henry affirms that when Doris left Barnard, she didn’t think she was suitably prepared for a serious career, or even educated enough. She said she was interested in psychology and music. However, despite her initial preferences, she ended up working as a journalist in the New York Tribune.

Doris and Edward met and began flirting since the moment he moved to New York after finalizing his studies at Cornell. In their early days, Bernays described her as a “beautiful, smart, charming and ingenious” woman.

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Belle Moskowitz: The first Woman to Serve as Political Consultant

As a PRWomanWhoChangedHistory, Belle Moskowitz is virtually unknown in the field. Yet, in the 1920s she became the first woman to serve as a political consultant and the first woman to open a PR firm. (The only other known woman PR professional at the time was Doris Fleischman, Bernays's wife and behind-the-scenes business partner.) In contrast to Fleischman, Moskowitz was highly visible, working as campaign manager for the politician Al Smith and then opening her own PR firm, Publicity Associates, 1928. Her first client gave her even more fame: the Empire State Building. Moskowitz began her career as a highly influential social activist, working to bring attention to the poverty-stricken lives of immigrant families on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

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Betsy Plank: The First Woman President of PRSA

In the 1970s, PR Pioneer Betsy Plank became the first woman president of PRSA, the first to head a division of Illinois Bell and the first to head the Publicity Club of Chicago. This extraordinary PRWomanWhoChangedHistory™ was also a co-founder of PRSSA, the largest organization of PR students in the US. She advocated for improved PR education, leadership training, and mentorship. The Plank Center at her alma mater, Univ of Alabama, is a lasting tribute to all she did to support the success of others, inspire young people and pave the way for future generations of women in PR.

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International Women's Day

"International Women's Day" --celebrated around the world every March 8--was the brainchild of German socialist Luise Zietz and Polish activist Rosa Luxemourg. On Mar 8, 1911, more than a million people throughout Europe protested to end gender discrimination, advocate for economic and political equality, and voice the need for improved working conditions. These PRWomenWhoChangedHistory™ were heavily influenced by the writings of the German philosopher Karl Marx. "In order to forward political enfranchisement of women it is the duty of the Socialist women of all countries to agitate... on behalf of the laboring masses... to enlighten them by discourse and literature about the social necessity... of the political emancipation...of the female sex..."