The Progress and Freedom Foundation (long but interesting)
Date: Thu, 22 Dec 94 13:46:12 PST
Subject: The Progress and Freedom Foundation (long but interesting)
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Wendell Craig Baker <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Phil Agre <email@example.com>
T H E N E T W O R K O B S E R V E R
VOLUME 1, NUMBER 12 DECEMBER 1994
The future of network politics.
In the December 1994 issue of Wired (page 121) there appears
an ad for something called The Progress and Freedom Foundation.
Under the headline "Cyberspace: It's Nobody's Highway", this
advertisement announces the availability of a "Magna Carta for
the Knowledge Age". Small type at the bottom informs us that
this document ...
... emerged from an August 23-24 conference in Atlanta,
Georgia. Participants included Jerry Berman, Esther Dyson,
John Gage, George Gilder, Jay Keyworth, Lewis Perelman,
Michael Rothschild and Alvin Toffler. Major support for the
conference was provided by BELLSouth and the Competitive Long
Distance Coalition. Additional support was provided by Agorics
Enterprises, Inc., AT&T, Cox Enterprises, J.L. Dearlove and
Affiliates, Forbes, Scientific Atlanta, Video Tape Associates
and Wired. Creative Consulting and Ad Production by J.L.
Dearlove & Affiliates, Chicago, IL.
Regarding the Magna Carta itself, it provides the e-mail address
PFF@aol.com and some phone numbers,
or, if you must, cross your fingers and send POM to 1250 H St.
NW, Suite 550 Washington, DC 20005.
Listen to the language. If you must? It's as though they're
trying to talk jive to ingratiate themselves with the kids on the
street. They don't even have a home page.
So who are these folks? The ad says that:
The Progress & Freedom Foundation believes cyberspace is a
frontier, not a government project.
We can learn a little more by turning to journalistic accounts.
For example, in the 12/12/94 Wall Street Journal's article on
Republican plans for the Food and Drug Administration (page A16),
we read the following:
In September, Rep. [Newt] Gingrich [incoming Speaker of the
House] told a biotechnology trade group that he was launching
a project to design a replacement for the FDA. Leading the
effort is the Progress and Freedom Foundation, whose head,
Jeffrey Eisenach, formerly ran Gopac, Mr. Gingrich's political
action committee. Without apology, Mr. Eisenach acknowledges
that drug companies are financial contributors to the
foundation, and notes that drug companies will be involved in
the project. And he dismisses suggestions that drug-company
involvement could taint the results. "So I should go to Ralph
Nader and do it?" he says. "That's silly".
So the Progress and Freedom Foundation is active on more than
just telecommunications issues. But it is not just an industry
lobbying organization. In particular, the connection to Gopac is
not at all coincidental. The purpose of Gopac has been to train
conservative Republican candidates in the particularly aggressive
style of politicking that Mr. Gingrich pioneered during his early
days in Congress, and the Progress and Freedom Foundation may
contribute to a generalization of this model.
[By 1994] "Newt World" was now far-flung, from GOPAC to the
National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee; the
Friends of Newt Gingrich campaign committee; a weekly TV show
on the conservative cable TV network, National Empowerment
Television, and a think tank called the Progress and Freedom
Its messages were coordinated with talk-show hosts such as
Rush Limbaugh and with Christian Coalition groups. [...]
"The goal of this project is simple", Jeffrey A. Eisenach,
director of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, wrote in a
fund-raising letter. "To train, by April, 1996, 200,000-plus
citizens into a model for replacing the welfare state and
reforming our government." (LA Times 12/19/94, page A31)
What can we expect from this rising army? The Gopac's record
provides some evidence. Much has been written about the tactics
that Gopac suggested to its candidates. An article about Gopac
leader Joe Gaylord (Wall Street Journal, 8 December 1994, page
A18), for example, says:
Mr. Gaylord is one of the brains behind Gopac ... . [He]
wrote its how-to textbook, which urges challengers to "go
negative" early and "never back off". They must sometimes
ignore voters' main concerns because "important issues
can be of limited value". The book suggests looking for a
"minor detail" to use against opponents, pointing to Willie
Horton as a good example. Though it says a positive proposal
also can be helpful, it counsels candidates to consider the
consequences: "Does it help, or at least not harm, efforts to
raise money?" Mr. Gingrich has called the book "absolutely
Even more has been written about the most famous Gopac document,
... a memo by Gingrich called "Language, a Key Mechanism of
Control", in which the then-House minority whip gave candidates
a glossary of words, tested in focus groups, to sprinkle
in their rhetoric and literature. For example, it advised
characterizing Democrats with such words as "decay, sick,
pathetic, stagnation, corrupt, waste, traitors". (LA Times,
12/19/94, pages A31)
In my view, though, the most significant feature of Newt World
is not its language, which is certainly fascinating, or its
association with industry, which is hardly surprising or novel,
but rather its use of technology. Mr. Gingrich is a pioneer in
the use of new technologies to build a political movement. I do
have to hand it to him -- he has worked hard and he has a genius
for political organizing. Having observed in the early 1980's
that candidates spend a lot of dead time on the road traveling
around during campaigns, he hit upon the idea of sending them
videos and other materials about campaigning. This is what Gopac
did. As time went on, they generalized this model to include
scheduled conference calls and video broadcasts in which
Mr. Gingrich and others would provide campaigners with advice
about messages and methods.
How does this model scale to 200,000-plus people? Well, at that
point it starts to sound a lot like the information superhighway
-- a technology for centralized broadcast of programs to a group
that isn't the "mass audience" of conventional TV broadcasting
but is distributed across the country. More tailored programming
could be distributed as well -- to particular geographical
regions, to activists on particular issues, and so forth. It's
not a decentralized model like the Internet, but then it's not
the political vision that normally goes with the Internet either.
It's closer to the asymmetrical distribution model found in the
plans of many cable and regional phone companies -- some of whom,
you might recall, sponsored the Progress and Freedom Foundation's
This is not to say that Newt Gingrich and company are engaged
in a conspiracy against the Internet. After all, Mr. Gingrich
has made some encouraging statements about making Congressional
materials available to citizens on the Internet, and this
is certainly a good and laudable thing. The situation and the
participants' views are often complicated. The point is that
technologies are not neutral. Technologies certainly do not
determine how they will be used, but neither are they simply
tools that can be used for any old purpose at all. Rather,
technologies and social forms evolve together, according to the
affordances of the machinery and the forces of the social system.
None of this coevolution goes simply or smoothly in practice, of
course, nor is any of it inevitable. As the Internet illustrates
extremely well, machines frequently have uses that nobody ever
thought of, and these can often be resources for people wishing
to engage in genuine, bottom-up democracy. The machines can't
restore the health of our democracy, though -- we have to do that
ourselves. And in doing so, we need to be aware of the complex
and ambiguous interactions between the workings of our machinery
and the forms of our political life.
In particular, we should not assume that the Internet's open
and decentralized architecture necessarily makes it a force
for democracy, or that it necessarily levels the field for
all players. The practice of politics on the Internet is
increasingly complicated, with new kinds of players and new
variations on the existing games.
As a case study in these issues, let's consider an organization
called the Wireless Opportunities Coalition. The WOC has
circulated an alert on the net seeking support for a certain
position in a fairly arcane regulatory fight within the FCC
over the rules in certain frequency bands for digital wireless
communications. The WOC's materials are also available on WWW:
The basic idea of the WOC's arguments is that companies with very
sensitive communications devices shouldn't be able to displace
other users of certain frequencies, including low-power digital
wireless communications used for educational purposes, for
example in local community networking in areas that do not have
high rates of telephone service. This certainly sounds like a
good cause, and it probably even *is* a good cause.
But note that the Wireless Opportunities Coalition, is a creation
of a public relations firm called Issue Dynamics Inc, whose
largest clients include Bell Atlantic and a lobbying alliance of
the US regional phone companies. (To be fair, they also include
the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.) I couldn't find
this information by searching through the WOC web pages, but
you can verify it easily enough by aiming your web client at the
As recently as December 9th this page was entitled "IDI Index";
it is now, as of December 20th, called "Policy.Net". Click on
"Issue Dynamics", read down to the bottom, and click on the IDI
logo, which will take you to:
Why is it "idi.net" and not "idi.com"? Never mind. My point
is not that these folks are evil or that they have no right
to speak. My point is that they are a public relations firm
practicing their craft on the Internet. In the future, I expect
that ordinary citizens using the Internet will want to inform
themselves about who's behind all of those slick web pages.
Public relations and its place in society is a fascinating and
important topic, and I encourage everyone to learn more about it.
If you're interested, here is a brief reading list:
Edward L. Bernays, The Engineering of Consent, Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1955.
Bill Cantor, ed, Experts in Action: Inside Public Relations,
New York: Longman, 1984.
Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Beyond Agenda Setting: Information
Subsidies and Public Policy, Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1982.
Jack A. Gottschalk, Crisis Response: Inside Stories on Managing
Image Under Siege, Detroit: Visible Ink, 1993.
James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt, Managing Public Relations, New
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.
Elizabeth L. Toth and Robert L. Heath, eds, Rhetorical and
Critical Approaches to Public Relations, Hillsdale, NJ:
Finally, let me close with a pertinent quote:
"One practice which I believe should be eliminated is that of
the so-called "paper front". A client is advised to finance
an "organization" to promote or fight for its cause under the
guise of an independent and spontaneous movement. This is
a plain public deceit and fraud and of course is a technique
developed with consummate skill and in great profusion by the
Communists. In a free country any interest with a cause has
a right to present its case to the public, to inform and, if
possible, to persuade to its heart's content. But that right
of free speech also carries the obligation that the source of
it will be in the open for all to see. Attempts to fool the
public by making it believe an "organization" existing only
on paper is really a vociferous group favoring this or that
cause have helped to cast a shadow upon the business of public
relations counseling. No counsel who wants to preserve his own
reputation will ever be a party to the issuance of any public
statement by a client unless the source is clearly set forth.
Obviously, when a client is involved in a public relations
controversy, supporting statements are welcomed from every
responsible source. But such statements should be issued by
real-live people or organizations and not phoneys."
This quote is from the autobiography of John W. Hill ("The Making
of a Public Relations Man", recently republished by NTC Business
Books, pages 139-140), who founded one of the largest public
relations firms, Hill and Knowlton.
© 1994 Peter Langston