Thursday, December 16, 2004

Press releases & wire services

The gap between reality and publicity is well understood, but not really measured. I think we could measure it, and automatically present the difference.

Take the White House press releases for example. These are strict products of the Public Relations industry. Statements are made in front of the press ... packed with cliches like "the role of government". If you do a google search of the White House PR on this cliche, you get some interesting statements:

"... the role of government is not to create wealth, but to create an environment in which entrepreneurs from all walks of life have a chance to succeed."

"Primarily it requires a proper understanding of the role of government to the economy. The role of government is not to try to manage the economy, the role of government is to create an environment in which the capital flows and entrepreneurs feel emboldened to take risk, and to make sure workers are trained for the jobs of the 21st century."

"America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens."

"The role of government is not to create wealth, but to create an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish."

"I don't believe the proper role of government is to try to pick and choose winners when it comes to tax relief. "


Some of the patterns that emerge are clear -- these are "talking points", essentially policy aphorisms, not intended to be true, but intended to sound sensible and, I suppose, "American". They are far from true indicators of policy.

If we identify enough context for this material -- speakers, dates, key phrases, semantic equivalence etc -- we would have a pretty strong model of the publicity strategy. That seems achievable, and interesting.

The reality part is harder, but one could start with legislation (say in the Thomas Library of Congress database) and treaties, proposed and signed -- as well as budget expenditures, which are usually in very formal language.

Then there is reality on the ground. The problem is context, as usual. Reality is very hefty context. But combining the weight of wire services, blogs, etc., real events can be isolated. There is a problem with actual hoaxes ... the Gulf of Tonkin incident for example. But with enough context on the ground (difficult in war, but possible) some picture could emerge to contradict the publicity & point to the real effect of legislation.

Something similar could be done with corporate publicity.

Sometimes, however, there's plenty of evidence in the press. The destruction of Fallujah was front page news. It was obviously an atrocity. It would get added to the list of counter-evidence to the statement "the US government is in Iraq to help the people." Which almost no one in Iraq believes, according to published polls.


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