The Image Makers

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The growth of mass communication provided a new understanding of ways to manipulate images and influence popular opinion. Bill Moyers examines the public-relations campaign designed by Ivy Lee in 1914 to improve the image of John D. Rockefeller. He also talks with Edward Bernays — the man who helped immortalize Thomas Edison and actually coined the term public relations.



BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. Do you ever have the feeling that someone you don’t know is trying to send you a message? Well you don’t have to believe in extraterrestrial creatures to know it’s so. We are all constantly the targets of people who want to win us over, every government department, every major corporation, every organization with a mission employees experts in public relations whose job is to get their message across in the best possible light.

Public relations has become a major industry of the 20th century, product and symbol in a way of our age. This broadcast is about two men who were the first of their kind, pioneers of PR. One gave the Rockefellers a new image. The other turned lights on all over the world.

BILL MOYERS: A century ago, a reporter asked the railroad tycoon William Vanderbilt how the cancellation of his trains would affect the public. And Vanderbilt replied, “the public be damned”. You could get away with such contempt in those days if you were rich and powerful and audacious enough. Plundering potentates like Jay Gould and Jim Fisk built their vast fortunes through fair means and foul and cared not a fig what anyone thought of them.

But that began to change as America moved into the new century. Big business had to contend with the public opinion made possible by the new media of mass communications. But if the new technology helped to create mass opinion on a national scale, it also made possible the manipulation of that opinion.

BILL MOYERS: Men began to master the art of what the historian Daniel Boorstin calls the pseudo event. One that doesn’t just happen, but is contrived, contrived news created for a purpose. The news conference, the press release, the staged event, all became part of a constant drama of persuasion. Offstage, the public relations experts writing the script and directing the actors.

None have ever done it more skillfully to my knowledge than Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. If I had to point to one moment when public relations, as we know it, began to come into its own as a 20th century phenomenon, it would be in a meeting in 1914 between Ivy Lee and his most famous client, a man whose very name embodied the whole capitalist system.


MAN: That’s fine. You’re a good song leader, Mr. Rockefeller.

BILL MOYERS: John D. Rockefeller Senior, with the exception of a few emperors of China, he may have been the richest man this world has ever seen. He lived to a ripe old age, and with age, came honors and respect from America and around the world. The family name was synonymous with philanthropic giving. The old man beloved as a patriarch of American enterprise and a benefactor of humanity.

Here’s how the press and news reels of the day fancied him, that timely friendly elder whose golf scores and folksy homilies could make headline news.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR: The world’s richest sportsmen tees off. John D. Rockefeller Senior, not far from the century mark, drives the first ball on his daily round of golf, which he claims is the chief reason for his health and long life. This year in a jovial mood he consented to a talking picture for exclusive recording by Paramount news.

INTERVIEWER: I hope you’re well.

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER SR: Bless you. I am very well.


JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER SR: I am very grateful to you and to a host of people who are so kind and good to me all the time.

INTERVIEWER: Why because you’re so good to everybody.


INTERVIEWER: You are…(laughs)

BILL MOYERS: But wait a minute, this newsreel was from 1932 and it’s surely not how newspapers and magazines saw John D. Rockefeller 20 years earlier. To the generation before the first World War, Rockefeller was the rapacious Midas, a billion dollar tyrant who would crush anyone in his way. His all-powerful trust, the Standard Oil Company, was broken up by government legislation. Bodyguards had to surround him when he went to church. Even some of his charitable donations were returned as tainted money.

He was, after all, the man who Senator Robert LaFollette called the greatest criminal of the age. No wonder the muckrakers went after him with all the barbs in their quiver. What a target he was and what a time they had. There he was hoarding his money and thumbing his nose an Uncle Sam while robbing the country of its wealth. He was their one man rogues gallery of barnyard images, as greedy as a pig, as slippery as an eel, as vile as a vulture preying on the public.

What in the world happened? How did they change the image of the most hated man in America? What transformed the ogre into the grandfatherly choir master of the news reels?

BILL MOYERS: Well the turning point came in 1914 with a strike by the miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron company in which the Rockefellers were principal shareholders. Rockefeller Sr. turned over the reins of power to his son, John Junior, but in the mind of the press and public, a Rockefeller was still a Rockefeller.

Rockefeller Junior would inherit both the family’s fortune and its problems. In 1914, the problems centered on the town of Ludlow, Colorado, a scene of violent confrontation. They called it a Bloody Ludlow.


On the eastside of the Rockies…

Colorado is rich in coal…

And the story of the miners…

of Colorado, should be told…

Colorado…it was a poor place…

to raise a family in 1910’s

and the miners, of Colorado…

were poor, hard-working men…

GEORGE MCGOVERN: I think you could say that the miners of southern Colorado in that period were among the most painfully oppressed anywhere in the world.

BILL MOYERS: George McGovern, democratic presidential candidate in 1972. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation and a book on the struggle of the Colorado miners.

GEORGE MCGOVERN: They lived in the company towns where everything was owned by the company, the stores where they bought their groceries and supplies, the churches, the schools, even the courts were more or less controlled by the companies in that period. And these miners worked under the most appalling conditions. The mines were very dangerous. It was not unusual for 100 or 200 miners to be killed in a single year. And of course, at that time, they worked at subsistence wages without any union representation.


And the miners, of Colorado

were poor … hard-working men.

Now Rockefeller, he was a rich man

He owned the mines

And he owned the land

He wrote the law books

for Colorado

And the Sheriff was his right hand.

GEORGE MCGOVERN: United Mine Workers moved in an effort to organize the coal fields. When the major coal companies refused to meet with the union representatives, the strike was called and about 13,000 miners and their families moved out of the company towns, moved into tents that were provided by the union.


Well the miners…

They took to striking…

For a union

And a living wage…

GEORGE MCGOVERN: A striker did not have a very high standing in the eyes of the American public when the strike began in 1913. It was just generally taken for granted that if you were on a strike, you were unappreciative, you were undisciplined, you were under the control of sinister foreign influences. You weren’t quite loyal to the nation and therefore, every resource of the police power or private corporate power could be directed at breaking a strike was generally accepted.


Call the militia,

Get vigilantes

We’ll get ‘em guns

Don’t you spare no cost

‘Cause we have got to

show them dirty miners’

That Rockefeller he is

the boss

And so one morning

Without warning

That State Militia

They opened fire.

BILL MOYERS: The soldiers raked the colony with machine guns and then set fire to the tents which housed the families of the miners. The next day, 53 people lay dead. Among them, the charred bodies of 13 women and children pulled from the ashes of their homes. The date, April 20, 1914, the day of the Ludlow Massacre.

It was headline news across the country. For the first time, public opinion sympathized with the strikers. Rockefeller was condemned as the man behind the guns, the murderer of women and children.

BILL MOYERS: The writer Upton Sinclair organized pickets wearing the crepe arm bands of mourning to stand vigil outside Rockefeller’s home, office, and places of worship. Bloody Ludlow would not be forgotten.

Rockefeller Junior was moved to act. The vilification of his family’s name had gone far enough. It was time to refurbish the Rockefeller image. He turned to a former newspaper man with the reputation for clever handling of the publicity problems of big business, a man with the unusual name, Ivy Ledbetter Lee. Ivy Lee’s son, Jim Lee.

JIM LEE: Rockefeller was in serious trouble with the Colorado Fuel and Iron strike and really didn’t know what to do and someone suggested that there was a young man with a tall stiff collar who had a lot of new ideas and he might like to talk to him. So he got in touch with Ivy Lee and this was the beginning of a very long and very interesting association.

BILL MOYERS: Ivy Lee was one of the first of the century’s image makers and a wizard at it. It’s just the art of getting believed, he said. His critics disagreed. They called him Poison Ivy.

JIM LEE: At the turn of the century, some businesses and some people tended to operate without any respect to what the public thought of them. They didn’t care. So public be damned was they didn’t care what the public thought. Ivy Lee came along and said that you can’t continue to exist, to operate successfully, to be thought well off unless you take into consideration what the public thinks of you.

GEORGE MCGOVERN: It was the first time in any American labor struggle where you had an organized effort to use what has become modern public relations to sell one side of the strike to the American people, in this case, the Rockefeller or the management side.

JIM LEE: Ivy Lee said many times that he never changed Mr. Rockefeller. What Ivy Lee did, primarily from Mr. Rockefeller Senior, was to make the other side of the man known.

There were a variety of techniques that Ivy Lee used. It was a total public relations campaign. It included, first of all, a series of fact sheets that he published to give the mine operator’s side of the strike. Everything was done to discredit the strikers morally and to paint them as substandard citizens. Ivy Lee engaged the services of prominent people to sign articles that gave the mine operator’s side of the story.

GEORGE MCGOVERN: He persuaded the governor of Colorado to sign such a public letter that was widely distributed across the country, even delivered personally to the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. This effort on the part of Ivy Lee to put a more favorable interpretation on the strike, as far as the managers were concerned, plus the publicized trips by Mr. Rockefeller to Colorado, his effort to come to know the miners first hand, pictures of him visiting with strike organizers, talking with the miners and their families, asking the mothers about the conditions in the homes, asking the miners about the conditions under ground.

GEORGE MCGOVERN: So this was the general thrust, just frankly to do a snow job for the mine operators and to discredit the union in every possible way. And I must say, that while they didn’t exceed 100%, they were sufficiently successful in it so that they did change the public perception of the mine operators and their responsibility for the strike.

It’s a lot cheaper for Rockefeller and his colleagues to pay Ivy Lee $1,000 a month to give them a new face than it would be to address the grievances of pay that was too low, hours that were too long, mines that were unsafe, housing that was substandard, and all the rest. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that modern public relations in industrial disputes was born in 1914 with the Rockefeller-Ivy Lee marriage and has continued from that day until the present.

BILL MOYERS: Bloody Ludlow changed things. After Rockefeller’s visit to the miners’ homes, and those carefully posed newspaper pictures, working conditions improved. The company’s grip on the town was loosened. Miners could form grievance committees. But one principal demand of the strike was averted. The mine owners refused to recognize the United Mine Workers Union and the miners were effectively denied any real bargaining power.

But not Ivy Lee, his bargaining power soared. So masterfully had he handled the press that his powerful employers commissioned him to undertake a full scale renovation of the Rockefeller name. He did it in part by overcoming the old man’s penchant for privacy. Rockefeller had long given generously of his wealth to various charities and organizations. But only rarely, as in 1913 when he richly endowed the Rockefeller Foundation for learning and research, did he do so openly. He simply preferred to give without fanfare.

BILL MOYERS: Ivy Lee convinced the family it was better to be seen as a philanthropist and take the credit than to leave the public only the critic’s side of the story. This the Rockefellers agreed to do. And Ivy Lee took it from there. He became the man between the family and the press. And slowly, the alchemy of publicity transformed the image. In the mind of the public it emerged if not pure gold, at least with a fine golden lining and it made the difference.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR: John Davidson Rockefeller Senior, once the world’s richest man, was even better known as a public benefactor devoting millions to science, education, and philanthropy. Oil was the foundation of the vast wealth which Rockefeller used to help others. Here is an intimate glimpse of the oil magnet posing for Pathe news. And after his picture was taken, he turned cameraman himself, enjoying every minute of it.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Deeply interested in this fellow men, Rockefeller was particularly fond of little children. And in recent years, became famous for giving them dimes on every occasion. Rockefeller had the real Christmas spirit of giving and loved to present gifts to as many friends and to the children he always was delighted to have around him. Riverside Church with its world famous Laura Spelman Rockefeller carillon is an imposing monument to his faith. And Rockefeller Center, the greatest development of modern times stands as a tribute to the man who devoted his fortune to the progress of humanity.

BILL MOYERS: Before Ivy Lee died in 1934, he had lunch with the only man considered his equal, Edward L. Bernays. There they sat, founding fathers of the business. But Lee was in a pessimistic mood that day and he told Bernays that public relations was a temporary phenomenon that would probably die with both of them. Bernays was to make sure that didn’t happen. He was the first person to say I’m a public relations counselor and he was determined to turn the practice into a recognized profession. He wrote books of theory to make public relations a companion of the new social sciences with special insights into human motivation.

BILL MOYERS: But mostly what he did was to make public relations work and to work well for his clients. What clients they were, RCA, General Motors, the American Tobacco Company, Time Magazine, the Bank of America, the United Fruit Company, the government of India, the city of Vienna, and on and on.

Edward Bernays became successful and wealthy. And far from dying out with its founders, public relations flourished and a day remembers the man who gave it its name.

BOB BUZBY: How do you introduce the man who is the acknowledged father of public relations? Who wrote the first public relations book and who taught the first public relations class? Who is a counselor to presidents? What more can you say about an individual who, to the public relations profession, is a living legend? The Boston Globe quotes a head table speaker at Mr. Bernays’ 90th birthday, at a party held in the Harvard Club in Boston, as saying, “one good thing about becoming 90 years old is that you’re not subject to much peer pressure”.

BILL MOYERS: Edward Bernays, the Public Relations Society of America honors a pioneer.

BOB BUZBY: Public relations embraces what I call the engineering of consent, based on Thomas Jefferson’s principle that in a democratic society everything depends on the consent of the people.

BILL MOYERS: Bernays was born in 1892. In this century, he became one of the first to appreciate the power of public opinion and the ability of the media to create leaders of society and to fashion the legends which inspire our lives.

As the first World War ended, he went to Paris to work as a press attaché for the American government. Bernays was present for the arrival there of Woodrow Wilson, an event which was to profoundly influence his life and to change his career.

BILL MOYERS: Do you remember Wilson’s entry into Paris as the Prince of Peace? Were you there?

EDWARD BERNAYS: I was there. The street was lined and this rather cold looking ascetic man riding in an open Victoria through the plaudits of the stand-up crowds on both sides of this very wide avenue. And being applauded as he rode to the Place de la Concorde where he stayed.

EDWARD BERNAYS: And the day of his coming, my maid, a young peasant woman from the interior of France, came to me in the morning and asked whether she could have the afternoon off. And I said to her, pourquoi, why do you want the afternoon off? And she said, “Je vais voir le bienfaiseur de l’humanite.” I want to see the well-doer of humanity. And obviously, I let her off.

BILL MOYERS: This image of Woodrow Wilson as the living prince of peace owed a lot to official US propaganda. Bernays had been part of a federal wartime agency called the Committee on Public Information. Its purpose was to shape public opinion in support of Wilson’s war policies at home and abroad, and now, Wilson’s crusade to turn the victory into lasting peace. Bernays saw firsthand the power of words and pictures to sway masses of people, what he was later to call the engineering of consent.

EDWARD BERNAYS: The effect of this activity had brought about a situation in which Woodrow Wilson became a godhead symbol.

BILL MOYERS: They believed that he had made the world safe for democracy.

EDWARD BERNAYS: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: They believed that he had fought the war to end all wars.


BILL MOYERS: And you believed your own propaganda? And this was the first time that the government had actually consciously gone into the business of opinion making?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Right. Well they didn’t even call it opinion making at the time. They called it information.

BILL MOYERS: Information of a very special sort. As these World War I posters indicate, this was information backed with a powerful force of emotion. The job of the Committee on Public Information was to change the mass of Americans from an isolationist democracy to an organized war machine, molding a confused and shapeless public opinion to a single purpose. In 1917, the Committee was to turn to a new and untried medium to reach this public, motion picture film. Movie screens across the nation reflected the coming images of war and the US government’s first shaky attempts to propagandize its own people.

EDWARD BERNAYS: The Committee’s work today would be thought of as amateurish, vis-a-vis, modern social science knowledge. But the Committee accomplished a great deal.

BILL MOYERS: So the propaganda was effective along with other considerations of patriotism?

EDWARD BERNAYS: I think the propaganda was very effective and, as I say now, it was propaganda and not “improperganda.” (both laugh)

BILL MOYERS: Bernays “proper-ganda” was still very controversial. Republicans attacked the Committee on Public Information as a partisan propaganda tool for Wilson and the Democratic Party. And the journalist Walter Lippmann worried that we might be seeing the first glimmerings of thought control by which democracy would be at the mercy of the few. But Woodrow Wilson could not sell his 14 points in the Treaty of Versailles to the American people and Congress. The Committee on Public Information disbanded and a young Edward Bernays went searching for a job.

BILL MOYERS: When you came back from World War I, came back from seeing Woodrow Wilson hailed as the liberator of the west, what did you do? Did you decide then to pursue public relations? Had you discovered some new Rosetta Stone?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well after experiencing this world situation and recognizing the importance of ideas as weapons, what Victory Hugo had once said, “it is useless to send armies against ideas”, I decided to open a small office and see whether we could not apply what I had learned in the war to peacetime pursuits.

BILL MOYERS: The 1920s, Bernays came home from war and put his talent to work for American business corporations. He was exactly the right man at the right time. American industry was in a frenzy of expansion. Cars were being sold by the millions and mass produced consumer goods filled the stores. The ’20s magnified our love-hate affair with big business. We loved what it could give us but worried about its social costs, worried about the concentration of enormous economic power in the hands of the few. A new profession was born into this changing world and Edward Bernays gave it its name, public relations. The conscious shaping of public opinion and attitudes.

BILL MOYERS: His wartime experience with applied to the problems of his peacetime employers. Every one from the captains of industry to American presidents wanted his services. Present Calvin Coolidge gave off the impression of aloofness and coldness. And there’s a story that he asked you to come down to advise him on how to project more warmly. Tell me about that.

EDWARD BERNAYS: Coolidge was a Vermonter, and anybody from Vermont was regarded as a cold, frigid human being brought up in the north of New England. In addition to that, Alice Roosevelt Longworth who had an acerbic tongue had made a statement sometime before that Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States, had been weened on a pickle. And the country believed it and certainly it hurt.

And I thought about it. And I had read that the White House indulged in what were known as New England breakfasts. It then occurred to me to bring down actors and actresses and have them have breakfast with him, including Al Jolson, including the Dolly Sisters, and we had breakfast and we had our country sausages.

EDWARD BERNAYS: And there was a man who came to the president and I heard him say, Mr. President, you have a cabinet meeting. The president went right on talking to the actress on the left side of him and another actress on the right side of him, and the poor cabinet meeting had to wait. The next morning I was back in New York and noticed that the New York Times had carried the story on its first page without my having any relationship to the story.

BILL MOYERS: They treated this as news.

EDWARD BERNAYS: They treated it as news, which it indeed was.

BILL MOYERS: Do you remember the New York Times headline?

EDWARD BERNAYS: I recall that they said that Coolidge had breakfast with actors and actresses and almost laughed.

BILL MOYERS: It was President Nearly Laughs. Ed, were you helped by being Freud’s nephew? Did you have an inside track on the workings of the mass mind?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well my mother was his younger sister and my father was the brother of his wife. And at home, contrary to what is done today, the dinner table at night became a discussion forum at which the two parents would discuss what was on their minds and children were seen and not heard. But actually, children listened.

BILL MOYERS: What did you hear?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well I heard about my uncle’s theory of dream interpretation. I heard about psychology as being an important force in evaluating human behavior. I heard of repression and regression and suppression and projection and —


EDWARD BERNAYS: -and taboos and oedipal complexes. And while I never had a course in Freudian psychology, I did help to translate the first book that Freud had published in England.

BILL MOYERS: It’s hardly surprising, given those family ties, that Edward Bernays was the first to apply the findings of sociology and psychology to the commercial needs of his corporate clients. He coined the treasure the academic explorers brought back. Just consider the council he gave George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company. Even at a time of unbridled commercialism, Hill was fabled as a dynamo of will and ambition, all concentrated on one single purpose, to sell more Lucky Strikes. When Bernays first met him, Hill had a new target, women smokers.

EDWARD BERNAYS: Mr. Hill always kept his hat on in his office, m which was the symbol of royalty. He had a crown. And I had mine off and whoever else went there had his hat off. And one day he said to me, we’re losing half of our market. And I said, how is that, Mr. Hill? He said, there’s a taboo against women smoking on the streets. How can we break that down?

BILL MOYERS: How, indeed? Bernays went to Freud’s translator and disciple, Dr. AA Brill for a psychoanalytical interpretation.

EDWARD BERNAYS: He said, cigarettes are torches of freedom to women. They indicate women’s dramatizing men’s inhumanity to women by smoking them because they’re not permitted to smoke. So I called up a young debutante friend of mine and I said, would you be willing to ask some of your debutante friends and obviously the young men to walk in the Easter parade lighting torches of freedom as a protest against men’s inhumanity to women? Well obviously, the young woman snapped it up. And then I said to her, might I suggest in the interest of spreading this gospel that you let all of the news weeklies know about what you’re doing. She said she would be delighted to do that. That was all the activity I had to do with the event, just thinking it up.

BILL MOYERS: What happened on Easter Day?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well on Easter Sunday, this group of young people just walked from 34th Street to 57th, the Pathe and International news films took films of them. And the day after they were on the front page of the Times and to show the effect such an action has, within five weeks of their own volition, the smoking rooms of theaters in New York opened their smoking rooms to women smoking, which had never happened before.

BILL MOYERS: So an age old custom was broken down?

EDWARD BERNAYS: By one action.

BILL MOYERS: Disseminated by the media.

EDWARD BERNAYS: By the media.

BILL MOYERS: 1929, the General Electric Company signs Edward Bernays for the spectacular challenge of his career. It’s the 50th anniversary of the invention of the electric light bulb. GE doesn’t want it to go unnoticed. Does want just an item on the back page of the newspaper, a footnote to history. What can you do for us, Bernays’ asked. What could he do for them? Nothing it turned out but the publicity coup of the century, the media event to end all media events. Bernays would get the mighty and the ordinary to do what he wanted and public relations would come of age.

Let’s talk about this magnificent event you pulled off in 1929, the golden jubilee of light. The golden jubilee for the invention of the electric light bulb was the largest event you ever organized.

EDWARD BERNAYS: It was worldwide.

BILL MOYERS: And it involved everybody from Henry Ford to the President of the United States?

EDWARD BERNAYS: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: But I understand that you sold the idea for eight months. You went around promoting the idea without ever mentioning General Electric.

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well General Electric was a beneficiary and there was no need to mention General Electric because I wasn’t interested specifically in General Electric. What I was interested in was taking a man who had contributed the phonograph, who had contributed motion pictures, and who had contributed the incandescent lamp and giving him the place in the schema of godhead symbols in the United States, who were, for the most part, political. There was George Washington. There was Thomas Jefferson. There was Abraham Lincoln. And I said, it seemed to me that one could take Thomas A. Edison, who was by that time I think almost an octogenarian — I’m a non-octogenarian — and help to make him a godhead symbol. Well the first thing in the development of anything like this in a country as large as the United States, is to have a committee formed which would itself be a godhead symbol of a minor assort. And the first thing we did was to form such a committee, Hoover was the chairman of it.

BILL MOYERS: Herbert Hoover?

EDWARD BERNAYS: Herbert Hoover. The second thing we did was to find a name for it. Light is something that starts in with a Bible. Golden is what everybody wants. And jubilee is a happy celebration. Light’s go in jubilee. We immediately had semantic tyranny in that word.

BILL MOYERS: Detroit, October, 1929, with Henry Ford as host, Light’s Golden Jubilee begins. The arriving celebrities are a who’s who of the industrial age. President and Mrs. Hoover, JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller Junior, Madame Curie, Orville Wright, William Randolph Hearst. And for the rest of the world, Bernays organized a worldwide radio broadcast with NBC star announcer Graham McNamee at the microphone. It was reported later that Admiral Richard Byrd was listening to the program somewhere near the south pole.

GRAHAM MACNAMEE: Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience, this is Graham MacNamee speaking from Dearborn, Michigan where Henry Ford and Edsel Ford are entertaining one of the most notable gatherings assembled in the annals of American history to honor Thomas Alva Edison. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his invention of the first practical incandescent lamp. Tonight is the climax of Light’s Golden Jubilee and what a climax. As you know, the entire world is celebrating this epochal event tonight.

BILL MOYERS: This is Edison’s Menlo Park, formerly of New Jersey, now in Dearborn, Michigan. Earlier in the year, Henry Ford had moved Edison’s original laboratory buildings, complete without outhouses, trees and bushes to create this living museum to his childhood hero. The dignitaries come to pay homage in an old fashioned train, an exact replica of the one on which Edison had worked as a boy. The newsreel cameras of the day record the momentous events and capture as well images of an anxious Edward L. Bernays. Eight months of planning are coming to a climax.

Bernays wanted Light’s Golden Jubilee to end with all the world bathed in its glow. Radio made it possible. With the largest hookup ever, he would signal to the far corners of the globe for citizens, cities, and nations to switch on their electric bulb. The dignitaries approach Edison’s original laboratory to reenact the moment of invention, to honor Bernays’ godhead symbol, the giver of light.

GRAHAM MACNAMEE: Here we are in the laboratory, ladies and gentlemen. Can you imagine how this grand old man must be feel. He’s carried back half a century to the moment of his great triumphs. Oh, if I were a painter, I would like to portray this group about to come.

And now, Mr. Yale is looking at the pump. He’s saying something. Just a moment. He has just told Mr. Edison that he believes the lamp has a good vacuum. Mr. Edison is nodding his head. And it is now ready, as it was ready half a century ago, what critical tests. Will it light? Will it burn? Oh, it’s flicker and died as so many previous lamps had died. All you can hear is a pin drop in the ballroom.

GRAHAM MACNAMEE: Mr. Edison, has the two wires in his hands. Now he’s reaching up to the old lamp. Now he is making the connection. Light! Light’s Golden Jubilee has come to its triumphant climax. And now the lights are springing up on all sides, the modern lights of 1929. Outside we hear the crowd cheering. And I hope that you and your family are entering into the spirit of this great moment in history, the way we are. You can turn on your electric lights and add your personal tribute to that great outpouring of gratitude and personal affections which has made Light’s Golden Jubilee the greatest tribute ever paid to any living man. And now ladies and gentlemen, Thomas A. Edison.

THOMAS EDISON: Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I am told that tonight my voice will reach out to the four corners of the world. It is an unusual opportunity for me to express my deep appreciation and thanks to you all for the countless evidences of your good will. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Good night.

BILL MOYERS: Do you remember what they talked about when Edison and Ford got together for dinner?

EDWARD BERNAYS: I’ll never forget that. I was a not so young man and I was asked to accompany these two gentlemen, both of whom had completely revolutionized America and really the world, and I decided to shut up and listen to the wisdom of these two great innovators. And soon have the lunch began, Mr. Ford cupped his hands this way up to his lips and in a rather loud voice because Edison was slightly deaf said, Tom, what makes you look so good? And Tom answered, my wife gives me Carter’s little liver pills. And Mr. Ford cupped his hands again and said, Tom, how many of them does she give you? And Mr. Edison said, she gives me five a day.

Well the fascinating thing to me of that entire luncheon was that here I was wanting to bask in the reflected glory of two international heroes, the whole conversation revolved around Carter’s little liver pills and I heard no other subject of any kind discussed. And I decided that maybe when I wanted the wisdom, the Revolutionary wisdom of the ages, I had better go to a public library.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve got men like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, and the masses of America to do what you wanted them to do. You got the whole world to turn off its lights at the same time. You got American women to smoke in public. I mean, that’s not influence, that’s power.

EDWARD BERNAYS: Well but you see, I never thought of it as power. I never treated it as power. People want to go where they want to be led.

BILL MOYERS: And where has public relations led us? To a world where just about everybody uses it and defends it. The people in the business say their aim is to inform, as much as to persuade, and persuasion is no dirty word, they insist. It’s the sound of democracy and free enterprise in action. That’s a point. But it is hard to recognize Adam Smith’s rational buyers or Jefferson’s enlightened voters in a public bombarded with contrived events to make someone’s point.

BILL MOYERS: Who’s pulling the string and why? It’s one thing when funny people in bathing suits celebrate eat more potato chips week, another when the answer to some governmental breach of law or a violation of human rights is a highly paid media consultant. Something else, too, when the remedy for shoddy merchandise is a new corporate logo or a press conference featuring a blizzard of facts from hired experts.

And in a world where the rich and powerful can hire more and better persuaders, who has the last word? So the challenge to those who use public relations is one of ethics. To busy citizens caught in this century’s thicket of unreality, the challenge is vigilance. I’m Bill Moyers.

This transcript was entered on April 14, 2015.

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