EVER SINCE JESSICA Lynch was crammed down American throats as a propaganda hero in the War on Terror, citizens have needed to be on the lookout for other cases of media duplicity. So often the news we receive is filtered through so many public relations Svengalis, honed in just the right manner as to tug at our heartstrings, that we believe it without question. Most historic events are reported adeptly by various media, but every so often a public relations genius gets his hands on a tale and twists it unrecognizably. Here are seven alternative histories that may have pulled the wool over our metaphorical national eyes:
1. 2000 U.S. Presidential Election
The “News”: Two political parties bitterly vie through the most contentious U.S. presidential race in history.
The Truth: Neither candidate thought he could win, nor did either want to be president, and both Bush and Gore only agreed to run because they were being paid to do so. The debacle in Florida was not about who should be president, but rather who should NOT be president. When it looked to be close, both candidates conceded victory. A previously unreleased phone call between the two:
George W. Bush: Congratulations, Al.
Al Gore: Congratulations, George.
George W. Bush: I’m calling to concede, so congratulations.
Al Gore: I was just about to call you to concede, so congratulations yourself.
George W. Bush: I was first. This is that concession call. You won Florida fair and square.
Al Gore: You got more electoral votes.
George W. Bush: Hogwash. I don’t even understand how that works.
Al Gore: Congratulations, George, I’m calling to concede.
George W. Bush: Knock it off, Al…I called you.
In swooped public relations masterminds to stall while Bill and Hillary figured out who would make the least-worst president. It wasn’t that both parties wanted their guy in office; neither party wanted either guy, and PR had to put a fresh spin on it so that the Union did not dissolve.
2. Tiger Woods
The “News”: A sex scandal that reduced the world’s number one golfer to a serial adulterer, ruining his marriage and career.
The Truth: Tired of marriage, and sick to death of beating the world’s best golfers week in and week out, Tiger hired a public relations firm with one objective: Ruin his reputation as the world’s greatest human being, then see if he could come back from the bottom. A constant competitor, Tiger always loved the comeback story. But the only way for him to come back was to suffer a horrific setback, which meant either hurling himself into traffic or sacrificing his reputation. Having won the Memorial and AT&T National, sources say Tiger is now preparing for his next challenge: Staging a career-decimating arm severing, then being the first player to ever come back from such an injury to win The Masters, left-handed.
3. The Rapture
The “News”: A prediction by religious leader Harold Camping that the End of Times would occur on May 21, 2011.
The Truth: In this case, public relations would have come in handy. The main difference between the Roman Catholic Church and Harold Camping in obtaining, and keeping, followers is a solid PR campaign. Walking on water, water into wine, arks and floods and whales and giant Philistines that can be pummeled with a stone – say what you will about its priests of late, but the Catholics know the value of stories and good spin. For instance, the End of Times for the Catholics is always “nigh,” some nondescript day in the future, whereas Camping made the mistake – and any public relations intern would have corrected him – of being less ambiguous about when, exactly, the end would arrive.
4. Michael Jackson’s Death
The “News”: The King of Pop’s passing made the entire world nostalgic for cassette tapes, moonwalks and white gloves.
The Truth: Michael Jackson is not dead. So enamored was he with Elvis, he not only married his daughter but chose the same “Michael Jackson Lives” mystery that has made Elvis so marketable decades after his death. He hired public relations to produce his death real-time on national television, along with an excellent “Jacko Sightings” campaign slated to kick off later this year. Michael’s PR team is planning Jackson sightings in Alabama, Nevada and the EastVillage, followed by a Michael Jackson hologram tour, during which he will resurrect himself at the O2 in London in 2013. (Amy Winehouse to open, tickets on sale at Ticketmaster for $6,500 plus convenience charge.)
5. Occupy Wall Street
The “News”: A grassroots political protest highlightingAmerica’s democratic values, hoping to address economic inequality and corporate greed.
The Truth: Occupy Wall Street, also known as Operation Camouflage, is the name of the project that Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s public relations team began in September, 2011. Bankers, sensing that there would be huge repercussions for how they handled finances, assumed people would just start storming buildings and removing their money from bank accounts to keep under the mattress in the future. The PR team created a covert (and fraudulent) protest so that the public would think, “Finally, someone is doing something about this banking nonsense so that I don’t have to remove all my money from the bank, and I can go back to watching television.” OWS protesters quietly earn $12.65 an hour, which is more than a Starbucks barista.
6. New York City Soda Ban
The “News”: Michael Bloomberg, the ever parental mayor, proposed banning large sodas in the name of fighting obesity.
The Truth: Why should Coke and Pepsi reap all the rewards from fat kids? Bloomberg hired a public relations firm hoping to turn this into the Bloomberg Generation. Banning giant sodas is just the start. Next comes the ban on all carbonated drinks. Once the soda industry in New York City is decimated, he will introduce Bloomy’s, the Cola that Cares. The first commercial is slated to air next summer, starring Bloomberg himself. It shows him ordering a dirty water dog, taking a bite, then washing it down with an ice cold, refreshing Bloomy’s. Smiling, he walks away, and the camera closes in on the hot dog vendor, played by a sweaty Alex Baldwin, who touches an ice cold can of Bloomy’s to his brow.
7. Justin Bieber
The “News”: Teenage musical heartthrob who prints money every time he records a new song.
The Truth: He’s actually 47 and has a two-pack-a-day habit. Real name Buddy, Beebs has four children with three different women. All the children are older than his public relations-created persona. Buddy Bieber is also broke. He earns roughly $30 million per year, but his public relations bill is $31 million annually. He cannot afford to keep them on and he certainly cannot afford to fire them. At the same time, he is the PR team’s biggest project, their Moby-Dick of mass audience persuasion, and they cannot afford to lose him. Instead of coming clean, the PR team just keeps working and churning out lies and losing money. A drug overdose has been slated for later this autumn.
–Jon Methven is the author of the novel This Is Your Captain Speaking (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Visit www.jonmethven.com for information.