Monday, June 1, 2015

Notice How Opinions are Molded

About 14 years ago police and firefighters were the unsung heroes.  After 9-11 everyone wanted to give them the recognition they deserved.  The ones in NYC who risked their lives in the aftermath of the attack were thought to be typical of all police and firefighters throughout the country.  Now the police are being portrayed as vicious psychopaths who will shoot you in the back at the least provocation, especially if you are a minority.  Armed with a few debatable examples some people want to generalize this to include all cops everywhere.  Judging from some of the following stories, it may be that the police just don’t have a good PR department to counter some of these broad accusations.

The armed forces and National Guard seem to have it figured out.  Many remember in the sixties and early seventies how poorly people in the military were treated.  They were characterized as warmongers and killers by protesters of the Vietnam War.  Even those who never served in Vietnam or who were in the military involuntarily (i.e., drafted) were disdained.  The theoretical solution proposed was that eligible young men should become conscientious objectors or career college students or they should flee to Canada to dodge the draft.  Without fighting men the politicians would be unable to wage war.

Today things are much different.  Although we have an all-volunteer force with no one drafted, people in uniform are celebrated.  Veterans are thanked for their service and given shopping discounts or free meals on Veterans’ Day in November.  Part of this reflects a change in the popular culture; part reflects an intentional political move several years back to paint those with the opposite attitude as unpatriotic – hate the war, not the soldier – but some of this new patriotic fervor may be attributed to the kind of behind-the-scenes PR work carried out by Washington (with our tax dollars).  It seems the tributes to our heroes at NFL games seen on TV and live at the stadium are not spontaneous displays of patriotism, but paid advertising.

This report tells about the various programs, prizes and presentations at NY Jets games in support of the New Jersey National Guard over the last four years.  It was more business than patriotism, as the Jets were paid for many of these events.  But they were not alone.  “The Department of Defense and the Jersey Guard paid the Jets a total of $377,000 from 2011 to 2014 for the salutes and other advertising, according to federal contracts. Overall, the Defense Department has paid 14 NFL teams $5.4 million during that time, of which $5.3 million was paid by the National Guard to 11 teams under similar contracts.”

The Indianapolis Star tells a similar story.  Although the Colts can list many ways they honor the military without compensation, they were the fourth highest paid for some of the activities; and it would be hard for a fan to tell the difference.  What’s real and what’s solicited?  If they (and every other business) couldn't build or enhance "brand loyalty" and future sales with these efforts, both the voluntary and paid support would quickly disappear. 

So while the military continues to be honored both spontaneously and contractually, and the firefighters are still considered heroes by many, the poor police whether good or bad continue to share a tarnished reputation thanks to the few problems driven to the front page by demonstrations and a sensation-hungry press.  As this report shows, police are even blamed for some of their own deaths because of inadequate use of seatbelts and bulletproof vests.  They may need better training and better behavior in some cases, but they definitely need some better PR.

A close look shows that the news and advertising try to shape our opinions and then build on those opinions by promoting whatever is popular at the time and being against whatever is currently out of favor.

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