The analogy with aspects of modern PR is irresistible. Feeding off media that provide ever more space for report, comment and debate on almost every subject, some PROs have gone for the chaff option of swamping audiences with so much information that truth becomes almost impossible to divine.
The chaos theory of PR reigns, as claim is pitched against counter-claim and diversionary strands of information are planted. The media find themselves bombarded with facts, information, misinformation and theories so diverse and contrary that it becomes impossible for the audience to reach a consensus. Editors and commentators are either bamboozled by the obfuscation or just happy to play all ends against the middle to fill space and sell copies.
The presentation of recent EU treaties is a good example. Successive parties’ spin doctors have spun stories of British vetoes, red lines and all-night battles with Europeans to safeguard British interests. Claim and counter-claim flood the media and the audience is distracted from the main issue of UK sovereignty going into the European pan. In the end, it decides there is nothing it can do. Chaos PR triumphs.
The cost and benefits of the London Olympics are similarly spun all ways. An initial low estimate of cost and high projection of long-term benefits ensures the nation’s support. Then the counting starts and those estimates multiply fivefold to around £10bn, give or take the 17.5 per cent VAT – about which no-one seems certain. Leaks, counter-leaks, a plethora of conflicting claims impenetrable to anyone other than an accountant and the issue is lost in a deliberate haze of PR chaff. Bored taxpayers shrug their shoulders, unwilling to devote more time to unravelling it.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the opposing PR operations being run by the Portuguese police and the McCanns are yielding the same result. Will anyone ever know what happened to Madeleine? Positive DNA samples, identikits of faceless abductors, what Kate McCann did or didn’t say, sedatives, sightings in Morocco. The one certainty from the past six months of feverish spinning to a gripped nation is that there is no certainty about the truth.
PR chaff is more than smoke and mirrors: it distorts reflection into a warped reality and back again, while truth goes up in smoke.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun