AND THE BANDITS
OR, THE WAR AD COUNCIL
There is a difference between evil and
crazy. One can be crazy without being evil, but, it might be argued,
one cannot be evil without being, in the final analysis, crazy.
Or, put another way, there is something fundamentally insane in the
concept that lying can be both beneficial and malevolent. That the
truth can be distorted either for good ends, or for bad ends.
Whether that is evil or crazy remains to be seen.
There is a bit of a tempest in the University teapot here in Eugene.
George Beres -- a writer who obtained a journalism degree, worked as a
"sports information director" for most of his career at
various universities, and then, after he retired, got back to
journalism -- well, George has raised an issue that gets to the fundamental heart of
journalism as it's practiced in this country.
The University of Oregon Journalism school also comprises the Public
Relations school. Beres argues -- nearly irrefutably, I'd suggest --
that journalism and public relations (OK: let's call a spade a spade
here and call it propaganda. "P.R." is a PR euphemism)
that journalism and propaganda are diametrically opposed to one
another: they are antitheses, opposites, irreconcilables.
The current and former heads of the department replied with glib
sophistries, saying that it's great that propaganda students study
with journalism students, so they can learn how media works, and
THAT THE PROPAGANDA STUDENTS WILL, BY OSMOSIS, PICK UP ON ALLA THEM
HIGH-FALUTIN JOURNALISTIC ETHICS. (emphasis to paraphrasing added).
Propaganda means lying. The most effective propaganda, the gurus of
Madison Avenue insist, is to tell as much of the truth as you can.
But the determining factor is: "what do you mean, 'that you
PR (or propaganda, or "spin") is a form of deliberate
lying to a purpose. It means that you require the recipient of the
information to make the decision that you want them to make.
In its current manifestation, propaganda appeals directly to the
reptile brain: sex, territory, dominance. Thus, you chew spicy
gum because you will mate with a fashion model. This is absurd to
the rational brain, but to the reptile brain, this is a truth --
utterly illogical though it may be -- and men buy the gum. And women
buy the gum. (You'll note that I didn't note the gender of the
Public Relations means never having to say that you're sorry --
unless, of course, saying you're sorry about one thing will distract
from a bigger thing, or sell more gum.
Journalism is purportedly about finding out the truth and presenting
that truth to the public. Superficially, at times, the twin pursuits
might seem compatable, mostly because they make use of the same
office equipment: copiers, printers, typewriters (word-processors),
photographic hardware and software; and they use the same means of
transmission. They show up at the same events. They often quote one
[click the animation]
I once typeset for military contractors in Orange County,
California, and one manufacturer of TOW missile parts -- to help push
their budget requests and increase congressional orders -- wanted a
headline story torn out of the NEW YORK TIMES above their budget
request data. Chop-chop, because the hearings were a day or two
away, so they would have to airlift the two-hundred print run (they
printed for very small audiences of Washington insiders) to D.C.
A US helicopter had shot down something or other ... using TOW
MISSILES! (A free bathtowel with every missile purchased! Start your
collection today!) There seemed and still seems something vile and deplorable in selling killing machines based on death headlines: selling death like soap.
But quoting journalists to further PR ends is as common as dirt. As
is quoting press releases (the original "P.R.") ubiquitous
in the "truth" seeking world of journalism. Lazy newspaper
writers and magazine editors crib large chunks of press releases,
uncritically, all the time.
Which is why siting a propaganda school in lockstep with a
journalism school is like hiring the fox to guard the henhouse.
Worse, it's training the lockpicks alongside the locksmiths. The
lockpicks have several lovely years of learning to understand
EXACTLY how the locksmiths create their locks, without the lockpick
ever having to reveal any of their tricks.
But this is common practice across the U.S.A. The term
"communications" is spot-welded to "journalism"
and voila! You have a modern media school. Only problem is that the
quaint notions of "truth" and "facts" go by the
Which is, I would argue, the endemic pestilence of our body politic.
We no longer argue about the "truth." We argue about the
"spin," with one notable yahoo going so far as to call his
propaganda show (think of Joe Pyne) the "no-spin zone."
And, of course, he merchandises t-shirts, caps, coffee mugs, mouse
pads and a whole mountain of ephemera with the "no spin"
Spinning about not spinning is a feral sort of Zen: an infinite
regression in which the dual casualties are truth and balance.
After all that spinning, who can keep their balance, after all?
And the dizzying array of public relations spinning arises to
vertiginous heights, defying any attempt to chronicle: one can only
Once upon a time, youngsters, we were engaged in a desperate two-
ocean struggle against Japan and Germany. And we called it World War
Two (although "World War, Part II" might have seemed a
better and certainly more accurate title).
And propaganda was desperately needed, to keep up public morale, to
inform and to instruct. You've no doubt seen the posters, many of
which have been photoshopped into anti-Bush posters. "Loose
lips sink ships," was their first poster/campaign, and,
thereafter, those sorts of things. One was a sad-eyed cocker spaniel
puppy staring out at the viewer from behind a window display of a
gold star on a blue field. That symbol -- which everyone understood
meant that the household in question had lost a son in the war -- was
artfully juxtaposed with a sad, impossibly cute puppy.
The appeal was utterly emotional. How could you turn down that newly
widowed (un-mastered?) puppy, blond and petit bourgeois? Symbol of
home, hearth, mom, apple pie and baseball.
That came to us, as did a bewildering array of posters, ads, movie
spots (no TV, then) and radio "PSA"s (Public Service
Announcements) from something called "The War Ad Council"
-- a group of advertising men put together to coordinate and
generate war propaganda.
During the last years of the war, they were asked to -- and dutifully
obeyed -- create an advertising campaign against forest fires. Some
say it was because so many city folks were camping in the forests,
and leaving fires that grew into forest fires that a war-depleted
country didn't have the manpower to fight.
The first poster showed one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,
Death, a skeleton in a cowl, riding through a forest exploding in
flames, with a torch. "DEATH RIDES THE FOREST ... WHEN MAN IS
CARELESS," it read.
Another poster showed Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo in grotesque
caracature with the legend: "OUR CARELESSNESS ... Their Secret
Weapon! Prevent Forest Fires."
It was probably effective, but just a little too spooky for a nice
homefront propaganda campaign.
So, the next year, still during the war, they came up with a new
approach, and a new poster. According to
Walt Disney's motion picture, "Bambi" was produced in
1944 and Disney let the forest fire prevention campaign use his
creation on a poster. The "Bambi" poster was a success
and proved that using an animal as a fire prevention symbol would
work. A fawn could not be used in subsequent campaigns because
"Bambi" was on loan from Walt Disney studios for only
one year; the Forest Service would need to find an animal that
would belong to the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign.
It was finally decided that the Nation's number one firefighter
should be a bear.
On August 9, 1944, the first poster of Smokey Bear was prepared.
The poster depicted a bear pouring a bucket of water on a
campfire. Smokey Bear soon became popular, and his image began
appearing on other posters and cards.....
"Smokey Bear" or "Smokey
I will note here that there exists a longstanding controversy in
schoolyards across America: "Smokey Bear" or "Smokey
THE Bear"? Here, the authoritative answer:
In 1952 Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins wrote the anthem that would
cause a debate among Smokey enthusiasts for the next several
decades. In order to maintain the correct rhythm, the writers
added a "the" between "Smokey" and
"Bear." As testament to the song's popularity, Smokey
Bear became known as "Smokey The Bear" to many adoring
fans, but in actuality his name never changed, and he is still
known correctly as Smokey Bear.
But I grew up in a Forest Service family, and have always known that
the cartoon mascot that the War Ad Council dreamed up was called
"Smokey Bear." Indeed, from 1960 onward, we -- my brother
and I -- probably owned every kind of Smokey swag that the
government put out: comics, book covers, pencils, books, pocket
protectors, etc. etc. Instead of a teddy bear, I had a Smokey Bear,
whose hat mysteriously disappeared years before the plush
pseudo-animal ended up at a garage sale.
So I grew up in the Cult of The Bear.
[During] World War II ... in 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced
near the coast of Southern California and fired a salvo of shells
that exploded on an oil field near Santa Barbara, very close to
the Los Padres National Forest. Americans throughout the country
were shocked by the news that the war had now been brought
directly to the American mainland. There was concern that further
attacks could bring a disastrous loss of life and destruction of
property. There was also a fear that enemy incendiary shells
exploding in the timber stands of the Pacific Coast could easily
set off numerous raging forest fires.... With this is mind, the
Forest Service organized the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention
Campaign with the help of the Wartime Advertising Council.
Posters and slogans were created by the War Advertising Council,
including "Forest Fires Aid the Enemy," and "Our
Carelessness, Their Secret Weapon." By using catchy phrases,
colorful posters and other fire prevention messages, the
Advertising Council suggested that people could prevent accidental
fires and help win the war.
And, as noted, they came up with Smokey in 1944, the alleged
brainchild of one illustrator, Rudolph Wendelin, who, though rumored
for years to have been a Disney cartoonist (thus, garbling the whole
Bambi-to-Smokey PR transition by the War Council) was a Forest
Artist Rudolph Wendelin helped conceive and draw the U.S. Forest
Service mascot and spokesman "Smokey The Bear" for 40
years. Mr. Wendelin took "Smokey" from bear cub to
animated protector of U.S. Forests.
Wendelin began his career in 1933 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the
U.S. Forest Service as a draftsman and illustrator. He transferred
to the Washington D.C. office in 1937. Serving in the Navy during
WWII, he rejoined the USFS again as illustrator back in D.C.,
helping launch the Smokey Bear project and painting Smokey in
hundreds of situations that highlighted natural resources
conservation and the prevention of forest fires.
Then, having proven that cartoon characters (Bambi) could be
effective, and having generated their own (Smokey), the propaganda
flacks seized on a bear cub in New Mexico.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, because we're talking
about the War Advertising Council, not Smokey Bear (Or, as I called
him before I could enunciate properly: 'MO-ki-bear). Having been so
successful in their various wartime propaganda efforts, the liars of
the War Ad Council decided to contribute their professional
mendacity to serve the public good. They became the Ad Council.
You might remember some of their campaigns: This is your brain-this
is your brain on drugs; the crying chief, Iron Eyes Cody pollution
ad; McGruff the Crime Dog, Woodsy Owl, and the various Smokey
wannabes (they may well have created, and then MURDERED MOST FOULLY
Mr. Zip). Virtually any time you hear a Public Service Announcement,
you'll hear at the end, "Brought to you by the ***** and the Ad
But you know what? It still ain't journalism. It's propaganda. And,
most perniciously, it's propaganda "in the public
interest" or, in their own words: "As the leading producer
of public service advertisements (PSAs) since 1942, the Ad Council
has been addressing critical social issues for generations of
Their "addressing" of critical social needs consists
solely of taking a position, and then ladling on the propaganda.
We'll get to what's running right now in a minute, but first, let's
see what these cynical manipulators of public opinion did to Smokey.
The cartoon character did his job for six years, toiling in the
public sector -- later protected by Congress from Public Domain
exploitation as an "exclusive" property of the Forest
Service, rather than a public domain property, like, say Apollo moon
landing photographs and movies. We paid for Smokey, but, in a very
real sense, we don't own him. Still, the USDA licenses its
merchandising rights to Smokey pell mell, and finding, say, a Smokey
beach towel is no problem. [click on photo]
And then the propagandists got a stroke of luck: A little bear was
rescued from a forest fire. It had that "White Chick missing in
Aruba" ambience, and the media jumped all over it. Here's the
ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES!
Smokey the Bear (sic)
In the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, a black bear cub found
himself in a forest surrounded by flames. To escape the fire
burning around him, he climbed up in a tree. By the time the fire
fighters found the scared and hungry cub, the forest was charred
and blackened. The firefighters, park forest rangers and the
warden were so moved by the bravery of this little cub that they
named him Smokey. They put him on a plane and sent him to the
National Zoo in Washington, D.C. to live.
"Smokey the Bear" becomes a symbol for forest fire
[Note that the website uses the incorrect "Smokey THE
Bear" appellation. And note that it is MYTH. "Brave"
bear? "Found himself surrounded"? How could anyone know
this? Was the bear debriefed after the fire? Well, consider for a
moment how EASILY these rational absurdities slide down the mental
gullet, anaesthetized throughout our lifetimes by endless PR and
But take a look at the longer version, and bear in mind (pun
intended) that the Lincoln National Forest fire was in 1950, and
that Smokey allegedly gushed forth from Wendelin's pen in 1944.
Smokey Bear: A Legend Is Made By Cesar Rodriguez
In May of 1950, a blazing inferno ripped though the Lincoln
National Forest, engulfing everything in its path. Acre after
acre, the forest was rapidly consumed by a ghastly man-made fire.
Every firefighter from miles away was summoned to help out -- one
of the worst fires in New Mexico's history. Soldiers from Fort
Bliss and school boys were excused from their duties and classes
to help fight the blaze.
The fire burned over 18,000 acres. Amidst the devastation,
firefighters found a tiny bear cub clinging to the top of a
tree.... In 1944, the National Ad Council [sic, it was the War
Advertising Council] came up with the idea of using a bear to
symbolize fire prevention. On August 9, 1944, the Smokey Bear
campaign was born. Smokey was named after a fearless New York
firefighter and hero, Smokey Joe Martin. This campaign was fully
implemented before the little cub was found in the Lincoln
The cub was taken to a veterinarian and treated for burns. He
spent the next couple of weeks recuperating with Ray Bell,
assistant warden of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department....
Kester Kay Flock, Supervisor of the Santa Fe National Forests,
suggested that the cub, then being called "Hot Foot"
because of his badly singed feet, be taken to Washington D.C. The
National Ad Council [sic, The War Advertising Council] wanted to
make him a living symbol of the fire-preventing bear.
[Or, as one writer puts it, rather more succinctly:
"Firefighters found an orphaned bear cub. They called him Hot
Foot Teddy..." -- HW]
Smokey Bear was not one person's idea. The credit actually goes to
three men: Bill Bergoffen, Don Belding and Rudolph Wendelin.
Wendelin, the artist in the group, is the man who drew Smokey ...
So, was Wendelin Smokey Bear's creator? According to the Department
of Agriculture, it was someone else:
the Death of Harry Rossoll,
the Creator of Smokey Bear
Release No. 0077.99
Statement by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman
on the Death of Harry Rossoll,
the Creator of Smokey Bear
February 28, 1999
"I was saddened to learn of the passing of Harry Rossoll. Mr.
Rossoll was the father of Smokey Bear, a beloved national
"Mr. Rossoll's creation proved that public service
announcements can have a significant and lasting impact on our
nation. Smokey Bear, created decades ago, has saved human and
animal lives. America's forests and wilderness are better
protected from fires today, in part, because of Smokey Bear's
successful education efforts.
"We are certainly a better nation because of Harry Rossoll's
creativity. His work will always be appreciated, but he will be
OK. So Harry Rossoll created Smokey Bear???
But what about this?
Early posters featured Bambi, but the campaign soon switched to
America's favorite toy animal--the bear. In 1944 illustrator
Albert Staehle drew the first Smokey, a big-eyed, round-nosed bear
in a park ranger's hat. The bear was named for "Smokey"
Joe Martin, the former assistant chief of the New York City Fire
-- From "Smokey Bear -- A friend of our forests for more than
half a century," by Holly Hartman
OK. There is serious intent here, and we're not going to run down a
complete exegesis of the origins, rumors, myths and half-truths in
the pantheon of Smokey Bear mythology.
Smokey Bear was created by the War Advertising Council, probably by
committee, because that's how Madison Avenue types work.
My point is this: when you begin in lies, and continue in lies, it
is not surprising that facts become flexible, malleable, and quite
The War Advertising Council created Smokey Bear to help with the war
effort. They kept going with Smokey Bear because it served their and
the Government's mutual needs. The Bear himself is responsible for
much good, and little ill, and my purpose here is not to praise
Smokey, but to bury him.
[Note that "Smokey has inspired firefighting animals in other
nations. Ecuador has a firefighting parrot. Japan has a firefighting
squirrel. Australia has a Smokey [the] Koala." --
"Improving its citizens, whether they desired improving or
So, what is the problem with propaganda?
I'm harping on it, because there is a fundamental dishonesty in the
whole Smokey campaign that exactly mirrors the dishonesty of nesting
Public Relations studies in Journalism departments.
And because, sooner or later, the temptation to use those
'benevolent' lies becomes overwhelming. How many people know that
the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement still hasn't been paid to
local residents? That Exxon may well have spent more on their PR
campaign after the oil spill than it did on the spill itself? That
Exxon continues to order single-hulled tankers rather than the
mandated double hulled tankers that are required (minus a compliant
congress) in 2012?
Of course not. You've been watching the Public Relations department
putting out how environmentally friendly Exxon is, while the
Journalism department has been hitting the bong rather heavily for
more than a decade. They are absent without leave.
Are you old enough to remember how we "free" Americans
used to sneer, as a matter of course, at the "poor" people
of the Soviet Union, constantly bombarded with Communist propaganda,
fed a steady diet of lies in the "official" paper, PRAVDA
(which translated ironically as "TRUTH")?
We snickered because we weren't being bombarded with a
steady stream of propaganda like those poor dupes. We were soaking
in FREEDOM and the free exchange of information, and the
"robust public debate" that the Supreme Court so often
cites in First Amendment cases. Yes, siree, none of that lousy
propaganda for us. Well, if you don't count that Ad Council stuff as
propaganda, of course.
If you need a contemporary example of WHY it's important to know the
difference between what you know and what you THINK you know (which
may not be, in fact, true), just look at the self-hypnotism of the
Bush Administration in going to war with (not a threat) Iraq, and
breaking off our pursuit of Osama bin Laden (definitely a threat). [CLICK
Propaganda may do good things, but, ultimately it hides the facts
from view, stifling debate and killing the fundamental ability of a
free people to soberly and seriously decide their own fate.
Propaganda is antithetical to self-governance; and it is
antithetical to the facts, whether the facts are relevant or not.
As a propagandist, I could whip you into a frenzy by telling you
that one of my employees, who was clearly against the way that I run
my business, poured sand into one of my machines. I could tell you
all sorts of things that would color that fact. That fact would be
readily admitted even by the employee.
But, unless you knew that the machine in question was a
cement-mixer, you might think poorly of that employee. We all agree
on the facts. But the interpretation is the bailiwick of the
The problem with the "Smokey" campaign is that it creates
a whole morass of unintended consequences when the original goal was
in making people aware of how easily humans can start forest fires.
And the (War) Ad Council has been deciding what our moral and social
issues are ever since World War II. Quite aside from the obvious --
What the hell business is it of YOURS to improve my figure, morals,
habits, behavior, language, etc. etc. -- the fundamental dishonesty
of propaganda forces us to "behave" without allowing
debate of the issue involved.
So, what happens when it's NOT an issue on which there is broad
consensus (which, in the case of most of what the Ad Council
promotes, there generally IS)?
The temptation to abuse the power and begin to propogate an
unmandated political agenda becomes almost irresistable, as the
reach and influence of the propaganda expands.
There are two current examples of the Ad Council's propaganda
running presently that are a little disturbing.
You might recall that in 1986, there was a legitimate debate in this
country as to how to address the drug issue. Ever since Nixon's
commission on drugs had presented its findings (and, ironically, it
was Nixon's resignation that derailed the implementation of those
findings) the nation had been moving towards less criminality and
more rehabilitation -- exactly as the Commission had recommended.
The upshot had been that our numbers of incarcerations diminished,
drug use was going down, and rehabilitation clinics were doing their
"power of the market" thing by proliferating.
And then, Nancy Reagan launched -- or was the spokesperson for
launching -- the "War on Drugs." Suddenly the nation was
galvanized into action. No politician could afford to be
"soft" on drugs; congresses and legislatures outdid
themselves in heaping on draconian measures to "win" the
And the Ad Council began churning out anti-drug messages by the
score. The debate was ended, and the whole mindless "just say
no" campaign failed miserably.
And, ever since, the Ad Council has dutifully churned out an endless
series of PSAs about frying eggs and brains, with little effect,
except to draw the snickers of a whole generation, and more. (Now, it's talking cel phones and mp3 players)
And yet, that propaganda was effective. The whole question of taking
the sane path or the punitive path was over, as far as the Ad
Council was concerned, and America marched boldly forward, eternally
improving its citizens, whether they desired improving or not. [CLICK
I like to think that the debate on HOW to best treat the epidemic of
drug use OUGHT to have taken place. And yet, we are inextricably set
on a road that favors bullets over hospital beds, prison over
recovery, and slogans over rehabilitation.
And then the resource gates were thrown wide open. Ecology was
"nutty," and pollution and clear-cutters were invited to,
well, pollute and clearcut with impunity.
And the [War] Ad Council has thrown in its two cents worth.
You have, perhaps heard the commercials. I once wrote a reductio
ad absurdam in NEW WEST Magazine back during the Carter
Administration entitled "Why The World Won't Work," but it
was mere circular reasoning as humor: there's a hole in the bucket,
Dear Liza, Dear Liza.
But the Ad Council has come up with ads for -- of all people -- The
American Red Cross that basically puts forward an "all
ecologists are NUTS" agenda while eventually asking for the
noble cause of donating blood, using circular arguments to prove
I won't recap the radio commercials here, but what I WILL do is show
you the print ads that I'm sure a lot of you haven't seen.
Click here: http://www.hartwilliams.com/images/treehugger.jpg
What you see is a clearcut forest strip, with one "treehugger"
environmentalist chained to a slightly taller stump. The protestor
is dwarfed by the immensity of the sterile swath of the clear cut.
Take a close look at the "treehugger" -- and note that the
downloadable .PDF file from the Ad Council site entitles the file
-- and tell me what's being communicated: It's pointless. Give up.
You can't stand up against the giant trucks that obviously ravaged
the land with you on it.
This is a particularly shocking image. It's meant to be in
"fun" one would suppose that the rationalization goes. But
the meaning is clear. Oh, by the by, if you care, give blood, which
will DO MORE GOOD than protesting.
And this propaganda is supposedly a freebie to help the Red Cross --
about which no one has a beef. Like firemen, the Red Cross is
sacrosanct. Everybody loves them.
But the War Ad Council has decided to make its point by derisive
images of "idiots" who try to stop pollution. One radio ad
talks about a fellow who's trying to stop stores from carrying
sweat-shop jeans. Then the "humorous" denouement when all
the letters he's written have funded a kid clear-cutting a
rain-forest to earn enough to buy a pair of sweat-shop jeans.
Another variant has an "Erin Brockovich" type woman
getting a plant shut down that has been, literally, killing and
deforming, and giving cancer to children. The "humorous"
irony is that when the plant is shut down, the cancer-stricken
children can't get medical care because plant employees were the
only people with health insurance, and they've all been laid off.
Yeah. Kids dying of cancer and mercury poisoning is FUNNY? That's
just the knee-slapper to end all knee-slappers. Just remind me NOT
to offer any of these fellows the Thanksgiving prayer. Lightning
would surely smite us all.
Here is the print ad. http://www.hartwilliams.com/images/pollution.jpg
You see a woman standing, again, in an utterly desolate parking lot,
outside a plant whose multiple smokestacks belch pollution. The
barren parking lot covers more than half of the portrait's vertical
space. The smokestacks dwarf her. By creating a sense of
Brobdingnagian immensity, the poor Lilliputian female protester is
consigned to irrelevancy.
See the closeup view:
The legend reads: "Saving the world isn't easy. Saving a life
is." And beneath it, in smaller type: "Just one pint of
blood can save up to three lives."
Sorry, but that's "Loose lips sink ships," and that Cocker
Spaniel puppy with the Gold Star all over again. There is a
brutality in the assault on the sensibilities that it presents, and,
worse, the campaign attempts to refute the entire history
of American activism, protest and social change.
Were this ad to have been hatched in, say, 1950, when Smokey was
morphed into a "real" bear, the ad might have looked like
A lone black man in a giant stadium. The seats are filled with white
sheets, all wearing hoods, and each holding a noose. Now, shoot it
wide angle, to EMPHASIZE the smallness of the black man, and the
immensity of the White Sheets, and now let's add that Ad Council
"Saving the world isn't easy. Saving a life is." And
beneath it, in smaller type: "Just one pint of blood can save
up to three lives."
"That great honey tree in the sky
Is there a strange irony that Smokey Bear, created as a war
propaganda symbol by The War Advertising Council celebrated his
first birthday with a nuclear firestorm over Nagasaki, Japan?
Perhaps it is a metaphor. It is a synchronicity that defies simple
Combine it with this:
June 2001 Marketing and Advertising: Peddling Smokey the
"The U.S. Forest Service is installing an animatronic
Smokey Bear in the lobby of its headquarters building, a $55,000
Disney-like creation designed to greet visitors."
We have blurred the line between fact and fiction, to our own
peril. And, while the Deans of the University of Oregon Journalism
School engage in public opinion spin to justify the inclusion of
Public Relations in the journalism department, the War Advertising
Council continues to target whomever they decide that Hitler,
Mussolini and Tojo might be, whether litterbugs, drug users,
mothers who don't teach their daughters math and science,
"Smokey Bear has been one of the most successful
public-relations campaigns in the country. In 1941, forest fires
burned 30 million acres. Nine out of 10 fires were caused by
"Since Smokey came on the scene, wildfires caused by humans
have been reduced by half, even though 10 times as many people
use the national forest as did in the 1940's. In 1990, 5.4
million acres were destroyed by fire.
"And his words of wisdom are as widely recognized as the
opening of Genesis. A survey a few years ago by the National Ad
Council showed that 95 percent of adults and 77 percent of
children ages 5 to 13 recognized his words of wisdom:
'. . . only YOU can prevent forest fires'."
So it's difficult to quibble with the seemingly positive effects
of propaganda. But it's still lying, no matter how benevolent.
And, too often, it turns malevolent.
Meanwhile, a Smokey Bear robot sits at a desk in Washington, D.C.,
greeting visitors to the Forest Service headquarters.
bear was buried in secret, in the dead of night. But then his grave was turned into a
New Mexico State Park:
WELCOME TO SMOKEY BEAR HISTORICAL PARK
CAPITAN, NEW MEXICO
"THE BIRTHPLACE OF SMOKEY BEAR"
Completed in 1979, the Park was established to honor Capitan's
favorite son Smokey, the little bear cub that was found with
burned paws after a 17,000 acre forest fire in 1950 on the
Capitan Mountains near Capitan, New Mexico. After living in the
National Zoo in Washington D.C. for 26 years, Smokey passed away
and was returned to the Village of Capitan to be buried at what
is now the Smokey Bear Historical Park.
Except that there's spin even in that:
"By 1975, Smokey Bear had exceeded his life expectancy, and
plans were being made to send him back to his hometown of
Capitan, N.M. Before plans were effected, however, he died.
Smokey was transported at night back to Captain and buried in
the forest in an unmarked spot. There was little publicity about
this burial because officials did not want to take attention
away from the fire prevention issue."
Buried in an unmarked grave, the original cartoon lived on beyond
his namesake. And, in deference to his namesake, a State Park
opened, to offer worshipful reverence for a dead black bear named
"Hot Foot Teddy" by his rescuers, and exploited by the
former War Advertising Council -- now The Ad Council -- for the
remainder of his natural life. But it could have been worse:
Smokey II, like his predecessor, was a cub rescued from a forest
fire. However, Smokey II didn't catch on with the public. When
he died, the Park Service didn't know what to do with his body
-- so they burned it.
When the lie is all, the truth means nothing. It is incinerated as
And perhaps that's the metaphor. (Or, in the grand guignol
version, the Forest Service as Burke & Hare).
When I visited the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. in 1974, the
pandas were out of order (there was literally a traffic barrier
with a sign saying that they were indisposed in some manner) but I
did get to see Smokey Bear. He was an obviously sick animal,
covered with mange, on a concrete floor with some hay thrown down,
lying in his own urine and excrement. The stench was so powerful
that I can remember it to this day. He was not a happy bear.
And I thought: Dear God, this is a national icon, lying in his own
waste like an ignored resident of a cut-rate old folks' home.
(Or, like the veterans of Vietnam and now, Iraq. They're
consistent, if nothing else.) And
I also thought: If Washington D.C. can do this to Smokey Bear,
what treatment can we expect from it?
In March of 1974, Rep. Harold Lowell Runnels, the Democratic
congressman from Lovington, New Mexico introduced a "sense of
the Congress" resolution, 93rd Congress:
SPONSOR: Rep Runnels (introduced 3/20/74)
SUMMARY AS OF:
Expresses the sense of Congress that when Smokey the Bear [sic]
goes to that great honey tree in the sky it is just and fitting
that he shall be returned home to his place of birth, Capitan, New
Mexico, for proper burial and a permanent memorial among the cool
green mountains where he was born.
OFFICIAL TITLE AS INTRODUCED:
Concurrent resolution to declare the sense of Congress that Smokey
Bear shall be returned on his death to his place of birth,
Capitan, N. Mex.
Runnels introduced the resolution twice more, and, finally,
Concurrent Resolution 564 finally passed:
H.CON.RES.564 [Runnels' Resolution 560 had,
similarly, failed in the early summer, aided by several cosponsors
of both parties.]
STATUS: Floor Actions
7/16/74 Referred to House Committee on Agriculture
7/31/74 Reported to House, H. Rept. 93-1245
8/5/74 Measure passed House
8/6/74 Referred to Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
8/29/74 Reported to Senate, S. Rept. 93-1129
After I visited Smokey that summer of 1974, the Congress expressed
its wishes that the body be returned to New Mexico.
9/5/74 Measure passed Senate.
Congress had spoken.
There were no cosponsors, nor a great honey tree in the sky in the
final version. So, I had arrived in time for the funeral
arrangements to have begun.
But the public-serving lie valiantly marches on. The real bears
have been unceremoniously dumped, as soon as their utility ceased
as collateral on the governmental SpokesCartoon. But now
"Smokey's" corpse is worshipped by visitors to his
A brass plaque bears the legend: "This is the resting place
of the first living Smokey Bear. In 1950 when Smokey was a tiny
cub, wildfire burned his forest home in the nearby Capitan
Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. Firefighters found the
badly burned cub clinging to a blackened tree and saved his life.
In June 1950, the cub was flown to our Nation's Capitol to become
the living symbol of wildfire prevention and wildlife
conservation. After 25 years, he was replaced by another orphaned
black bear from the Lincoln National Forest."
Knowing Smokey II's fate lends a ghastly cast to the testimonial,
however. If you're not a beloved Symbol, you're garbage, like Hans
Christian Andersen's poor Fir
So, is it crazy or is it evil? Or is it both or neither?
NOTE: You really OUGHT to read "The True Story of Smokey
Bear," the original 1954 comic that has been read by
generations of American children. (You can still get it today,
usually as a Forest Service freebie.) You can "read" the
whole thing at:
And pay careful attention to the manner in which the cub
"Smokey" is morphed into the cartoon "Smokey"
without ever actually telling an untruth. Just walking VERY, VERY
near the edge. Which is the point of propaganda:
"That's perfect! We'll name him after the symbol of forest
"Well, how do you like your name -- SMOKEY?"
"THE NAME STUCK..."
Which is almost a ... well it isn't exactly TRUE, is it? And
that's the point.
This has been a public service essay from his vorpal sword and
nobody's advertising council. But give blood anyway. And be
careful with matches. OK? OK.
© 2005, 2007, 2010 Hart