Introduction: Who Owns the Writer Owns the Words


“Time speeds along the straights, slows at the corners and smashes through the gates. Unknown destinations broaden the mind. Brakes scream where they must.”

Under the Counterculture represents the collected works of writer and journalist Leon Horton originally published by International Times,  Literary Heist, Erotic Review, Empty Mirror, Beatdom, and Beat Scene magazine.

It is a celebration of left-field thinking, from the past until completion – from music, literature, art and philosophy… science, sexual politics, drugs and technology. Mad ideas and strange truths from the underground – back projected from the past, strobe lit for the future…

If you’re not living at the edge,  you’re taking up too much space.



William Burroughs: Destroy the Words

Image by Christiaan Tonnis, via Wikimedia Commons William S. Burroughs may have died almost twenty years ago, but that doesn’t mean his fans have gone entirely without new material since. 438 more words

via William S. Burroughs Drops a Posthumous Album, Setting Readings of Naked Lunch to Music — IT

My Own Mag

“In the introduction to the bibliography of his work prepared by Joe Maynard and Barry Miles, William Burroughs spoke about how the ‘little mags’ were a lifeline for him at a time when he had very few hopes for publishing his work. One of the most important of these independent publications was Jeff Nuttall’s My […]

via My Own Mag — 1960s: Days of Rage

International Times (Back in the Day)



The next edition of IT, International Times hit the streets and shops on this day in 1967. There was an interview with Pete Townshend and a comic strip by Jeff Nuttall, a most interesting man ( John Wilcocks reported from Golden Gate Park on January’s ‘Human Be-In’ which featured all the major Haight Ashbury bands. In that context there was a piece too about the Diggers who established the free food initiative, as HA began to be overrun by kids with flowers in their hair.

There was a variety of other articles including one by joint editor Tom McGrath on racism in Cuba and another by film critic Raymond Durgnat comparing the ‘Rave’ culture with the stiff upper lip but the main focus was on what they called the “newly emerging, eastern inspired ..” influence on the counterculture, art etc. In that respect, a couple of San Francisco’s ‘Beat’ poets contributed…

View original post 94 more words

Jeff Nuttall: Mind Bombs and Mimeographs

by Leon Horton

Nobody knows the future, but anyone who shits on The Establishment can say the worst is behind them.


Poet, publisher, teacher, painter… actor, musician, social commentator – Jeff Nuttall was a polymath and a pioneer, an anarchist sympathizer who grew up in the shadow of the atomic bomb, a jazz trumpeter who blew the changes of the 1960s. An outsider artist, he became a key figure in British counterculture. When he died in 2004, fellow poet Michael Horowitz, writing an obituary in the Guardian, described Nuttall as a “catalyst, perpetrator and champion of rebellion and experiment in the arts and society.”

He wrote over 40 books, acted in films (including the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough), performed in theatre groups and jazz bands in dingy cellars and smoky bars, but Jeff Nuttall is probably best remembered for two things: his self-produced 60s mimeograph My Own Mag: A Super-Absorbant Periodical (where he published, alongside his own material, works by William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi among others) and his seminal 1968 feedback on post-war cultural angst Bomb Culture.

But I knew nothing about him when I went to see an exhibition of his works in March 2017.



Off Beat: Jeff Nuttall and the International Underground was an “art hoard” of image and word, supine under glass in a small annex of the gothic John Rylands Library in Manchester. Truth is, I only went on the promise of seeing an original Burroughs manuscript – but what I discovered was a multiform artist whose life and works were indelibly clawed by the screeching vultures of the times he lived in. “Art lives when values melt,” he once declared. “If you want to exist you must accept the flesh and the moment.”

Jeffrey Addison Nuttall was born in 1933 amidst the dark satanic mills of Clitheroe, Lancashire, but spent his formative years in Herefordshire, where his father worked as a headmaster. After studying at Hereford and Bath art schools, he followed his father’s footsteps into teaching – something he continued to do with a passion and verve throughout his life – but for Nuttall the artist, teaching was only one means of expression.

In the 1960s, conscious of the tumultuous social, political and cultural upheavals occurring on both sides of the Atlantic, Nuttall set out to help engender a global village of countercultural writers and artists – an international underground. Much concerned with the collective fears and neuroses of the atomic age, he found his allies in the Beat Generation writers; in the (then) controversial psychiatric theories of R.D. Laing; and with avant-garde movements such as Guy Debord’s Situationism, which argued that modern life, debased through consumerism, is both alienating and inauthentic.


Buoyed by the possibility of collaborating with such people and creating real social change, Nuttall began publishing My Own Mag, which ran for 16 issues between 1964 and 1967. Writing in Bomb Culture (1968), Nuttall described the magazine as an attempt to “make a paper exhibition in words, pages, spaces, holes, edges and images, which drew people in and forced a violent involvement with the unalterable facts.”

“The magazine, even in those first three pages, used nausea and flagrant scatology as a violent means of presentation. I wanted to make the fundamental condition of living unavoidable by nausea. You can’t pretend it’s not there if you’re throwing up as a result. My hope was that a pessimistic acceptance of life would counteract the optimistic refusal of unpleasantness, the optimistic refusal of life, the death wish, the bomb.”

With an ethos that would hold true for the many punk fanzines that followed in the 1970s, Nuttall elaborated on the magazines’ low production techniques and anti-commercial stance:

“I circulated the first Mag to twenty or so people who I thought might be interested. Better Books [a London bookshop] took the rest and sold them at a penny each. I determined then, and kept to it, that I would run the project as I had painted and played jazz, within the capacity of my earnings as a teacher, utterly independently, ultimately printing, editing, assembling, drawing, writing largely, and distributing the thing myself, always at a deliberate loss so as not to form a dependence of the smallest kind. I got replies from Ray Gosling, Anselm Hollo and William Burroughs.”


William Burroughs, who found it almost impossible to get his work published at this time (he was deep in the throes of his obsession with cut ups and working on Nova Express), was an enthusiastic contributor to many underground newspapers and magazines, including My Own Mag – where he often had his own supplement, Moving Times. In May 1964, he wrote to Allen Ginsburg in New York from Tangiers, urging him to get involved:

“This magazine put out by a friend in London J Nuttall an interesting and seemingly successful experiment in applying newspaper format and reader participation. This issue a sell out and many contributions received. Do send something… J. Nuttall should serve as an inspiration to all editors of little magazines. It takes him an average of two weeks to get out an issue.”

By its own terms, My Own Mag was a success and led to Nuttall’s involvement with numerous other projects and “happenings”, including Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 (a “people’s art centre” based at the Roundhouse in London), Alexander Trocchi’s Sigma Project (a coalition of counterculture artists and thinkers), and the infamous 1965 International Poetry Incarnation at the Royal Albert Hall (where 8000 people gathered to watch poetry readings by, among others, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti).

At the time, the manager of the Albert Hall was reported as saying “I don’t want that sort of filth here”, but Nuttall was elated: “London is in flames. The spirit of William Blake walks on the water of the Thames. Sigma has exploded into a giant rose. Come and drink the dew.” And yet only a year later, in an editorial in My Own Mag, Nuttall wrote:

“After trying to stir various bunches of people into concerted action I am coming to the conclusion that possibly the most hot-blooded insurrectionists hold their role of ‘opposition to a thoroughly secure establishment’ as more important than the overthrow of that establishment. After all, the salaries for steppenwolfs are quite high in some quarters. Up to this point subversion has been the aim of this magazine. Subversion is revolution by infiltration rather than confrontation. I give here a list of individuals, institutions, organizations, magazines which seem to me to be concerned with subversion rather than literature, art, pornography, underground movies, heroin or other quaint rural handicrafts… Nevertheless we all share the clear certainty that the present situation is suicidal. The only real obstructions, as I see it, are the ones so common amongst ourselves – solipsism, professional jealousy and junk. WITH CO-OPERATION WE COULD ALL ACTUALLY WIN. DO WE REALLY WANT TO WIN? ”

Given popularity and momentum, countercultural movements, like revolutions, often implode or are corrupted by the very thing they seek to overthrow. Nuttall was clearly aware of this when he brought My Own Mag to a logical conclusion in1967, and in a formal letter opted out of Trocchi’s Sigma. But he wasn’t done yet. He continued to contribute to International Times, London’s first underground newspaper, and write and perform with theatre group the People Show. He also started writing the book that would become both a manifesto and an indictment of counter-cultural warfare: Bomb Culture.


“The effect of culture has never been so direct and widespread as it is amongst the international class of disaffiliated young people, the provotariat [sic]. Consequently, art itself has seldom been closer to its violent and orgiastic roots,” Nuttall writes in the introduction. Sensing “a shift between 1966 and 1967 from poetry and art and jazz and anti-nuclear politics to just sex and drugs, the arrival of capitalism,” Bomb Culture delineates five central strands of post-war rebellion: Pop, Protest, Art, Sick and The Underground.

Pop discusses the rise of youth in popular culture, of two-fingered teenagers railing against their parents, of jazz hipsters, teddy boys, mods and rockers, Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, James Dean and Marlon Brando – all restlessly seeking something other than a casual acceptance of the bequeathed world of their forebears:

“The people who had not yet reached puberty at the time of the bomb were incapable of conceiving of life with a future… Dad was a liar. He lied about the war and he lied about sex. He lied about the bomb and he lied about the future. He lived his life on an elaborate system of pretence that had been going on for hundreds of years. The so-called ‘generation gap’ started then and has been increasing ever since.”

Protest turns its gaze on political dissonance, agitation and civil disobedience; on the protest song; on Black Power and the American Civil Rights Movement; on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and its ultimate failure to instigate any real change:

“What remains of the anti-bomb movement? The Committee still exists and is still active but activities cling to traditional patterns, march, banner, sit-down, which are known to be safe and ineffective… The eyes of the demonstrators no longer look at the public with defiance and hurt but at one another in a slimy masochism of mutual congratulation.”

Art digs up flowers from the past – the Romantics, Surrealists and Anarchists; the syphilitic ramblings of de Sade and Nietzsche; the drunken poetry of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine; James Joyce, Cezanne and Picasso – and replants them in the present:

 “The destination, as far as art is concerned, is the journey itself. Art keeps the thing moving. The only true disaster is the end of the journey, the end of man and his development… If we get out and on, it will be by art, as always… Art is knit to society by religion. If religion becomes non-religion, corrupt, then art, in order to remain art, must divide itself off from society.”

Sick diagnoses a repressed sexual violence, a moral shame, abuse and paradox in wider society as exemplified by Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, the drugs subculture, the horrific child murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, and the psychoanalysis of R.D. Laing:

“Left with this situation we could, as Burroughs advocated, dismantle the destruction machine, disassemble society. This being the situation, our very sickness and humiliation was a virus which we could spread. We could spread it by inflaming it and acting it out publicly, whereby squares could either recognize it in us and themselves and cure it, cure this terrible destructiveness, or they could contract it, have it spread within and amongst them until they were incapable of human communication, punctuality, honesty, until all sense of property, identity and morality was dissolved.”      

In the final section, The Underground, Nuttall further decries the many failures of his contemporaries – but in addressing them, calls for a future unity of hope, purpose and protest:

“This book is primarily for squares, for the mums and dads who pretend the future is secure, for the politicians who can only stop the disintegration of their society by banning the bomb, for the Beatles fan who never listened to Elvis, for the ageing ted who never listened to Muddy Waters, for the Ivy League hipster who never heard of Bird, for the flower child who never read Ginsburg… for the anti-Vietnik who never thinks about the bomb, for the micro-skirted art student who was never raped by Picasso, for the finger-popping ad-men and the colour-supplement intellectuals, for the pseudo-Leavisites in the Universities and the USAF folk-groups. At different points throughout, the first person plural refers to ‘We, the human beings’, ‘We, of the post war generations’, ‘We, of the anti-bomb movement’, and finally ‘We, of the Underground.’”

Bomb Culture caused something of a stir when it was published in 1968, the year of mounting protests against the Vietnam War, the Paris student demonstrations and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Reviewing the book for The Times newspaper, television playwright Dennis Potter wrote: “Bomb Culture is an abscess that lances itself. An extreme book, unreasonable but not irrational… Abrasive, contemptuous, attitudinising, ignorant and yet brilliant… A book which you must read, as soon as possible.”

Two years later, debating the puzzling attitudes and behaviour of the youth of the day, the House of Commons cited Bomb Culture as a primary source of information since it clearly stated that a “generation that has grown up under the ever-present threat of nuclear extinction could hardly be expected to think or behave as if it had a future ahead of it.”


Jeff Nuttall wanted to make the world a safer place for his children, and fought the good fight until his death in 2004. Bomb Culture is currently out of print, and even a second-hand copy will set you back a tidy sum. But in the current political climate, with powerful sociopaths in North Korea and the US lining up to press the big red button, this extraordinary book is worth seeking out – as pertinent today as it ever was.

In the final analysis, the last words come from Nuttall himself as he signs off at the end of Bomb Culture:

“Let’s not wait for those cripples in the administration to hand out money or land, and let’s not wait for them to grant us the future that they owe us. They won’t. They can’t. Let’s start thinking in terms of permanence now and build our own damn future.”


PR, Propaganda and the Press (Part 2): Between the Lies

By Leon Horton

It is a truism within the the mainstream media that journalists hardly ever report on themselves. Only when they absolutely cannot ignore a story, such as illegal phone tapping by their own masters, will journalists bite each others’ tails. This is one industry where dog eats dog at their own peril, but in 2009 award-winning Guardian journalist Nick Davies did just that with the release of his book Flat Earth News.

Flat Earth

A seminal piece of investigative journalism, Flat Earth News exposes the extent to which the global media has become polluted by PR and propaganda, and is a must read for anyone concerned about journalism. In discussing the influence of PR on his profession, Davies asserts:

“The overt links to the media and the whole well-worn idea of ‘spin’ scarcely begin to capture the breadth and ingenuity of the tactics which are now used by the global industry of public relations. And it is this huge industry of manipulation – targeted at a structurally vulnerable media – which feeds falsehood and distortion directly into news channels.” (1)

What Davies means by a “vulnerable media” is puzzling at first, but in great detail he describes how time and again the press has fallen foul of PR and been caught out reporting unsubstantiated stories as fact. From the anticipated millennium bug crash that never came to pass, to the supposed legality of the Bush/Blair war on Iraq, to the false assertions made daily by the Daily Mail, in Flat Earth News Davies brilliantly captures an industry in crisis and a profession under orders to relay lies and “sex up” the truth.

Journalist Nick Davies

The problem, as Davies sees it, is essentially one of supply and demand: a dearth of supply, exacerbated by serious cuts in the number of journalists, and a constant demand by the corporate owners to maximize output and profits. Media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch have systematically bought up an industry that once prided itself on its duty and freedom to tell the truth, bent it to their own commercial and political wills and made such severe cutbacks in staff that few journalists making a living today have the time or resources to pursue a story through serious investigation.

Instead, they are forced to rely on pre-packaged stories handed down to them by PR companies and news gathering (wire) agencies such as the Press Association or Reuters.

To gauge the degree to which the UK media, and by extension the global media, is reliant on stories coming “off the wire”, Davies commissioned a team of researchers from the journalism department of Cardiff University to investigate a sample of news stories running through the most prestigious British newspapers, namely The Times, the Guardian, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph, throwing in the Daily Mail for good measure. What they found was startling.


Across a total of 2,207 print stories over the course of two weeks, the research team revealed that 60% consisted wholly or mainly of wire and/or PR copy, with a further 20% containing elements of wire/PR to which more material had been added. They were unable to identify the source of 8%, which left just 12% of the stories where the researchers could be sure that all the material had been generated by the reporters themselves. Moreover, only 1% of wire stories admitted their sources, preferring to use the misleading “by a staff reporter” or using a named reporter who had rewritten the agency copy. Further to this, 70% of the stories passed into print without being checked for accuracy.

Davies draws the conclusion that:

“taken together, these data portray a picture of journalism in which any meaningful independent journalistic activity by the press is the exception rather than the rule. We are not talking about investigative journalism here, but the everyday practices of news judgement, fact-checking, balance, criticising and interrogating sources, etc, that are, in theory, central to routine, day-to-day journalism.” (2)

Next, Davies’ team turned their attention to broadcasting and found an equally dire situation in UK commercial news:

“By 2004, the eleven different companies which used to own the ITV network had collapsed into a single monopoly whose regional newsrooms saw their journalists and film crews cut, while young graduate trainees were pulled in on cheap wages to fill the gap. In 2006, ITV announced plans to cut their budget by a further £100 million while giving their shareholders £500 million.” (3)

With such drastic cutbacks to their traditional supply lines, broadcast journalists found themselves in the same unenviable position as their print colleagues – forced to rely on ready-made, pre-packaged material from unsubstantiated sources: PR on a plate.


Surely, though, there is still a corner of news journalism safe in the hands of the BBC, mindful of its public service remit and the security of the licence fee? Not so, according to the Cardiff researchers. After attempting to justify the licence fee by introducing an internal market, in 1997 the BBC announced a huge 25% cut in staff over the following five years. Then, says Davies:

“In March 2005, the new director general, Mark Thompson, proposed another 13% cut, including 12% of the jobs in BBC News and 21% in Factual and Learning. By October 2007, he was announcing the removal of another 500 journalists from News as well the loss of half of the remaining 1,200 staff in Factual and Learning. And all this was happening as the corporation was increasing its news output by moving into twenty-four-hour broadcasting.” (4)

No matter how we look at this picture, either as expedient cost-cutting or as ruthless business practice, the fact remains when you cut away too much fat you start to slice into healthy flesh – and when you do that the whole body goes into shock. For those working within the industry, the “vulnerable media”, who, quite rightly, have a duty of care for their own work and for their readers and audiences, the pain of amputation might be too much to bear.

In his final analysis, Davies concludes:

“The tendency for the new media to recycle ignorance… flows directly from the behaviour of the new corporate owners of the media who have cut editorial staffing while increasing editorial output; slashed the old supply lines which used to feed up raw information from the ground; and, with the advent of news websites, added the new imperative of speed. Working in a news factory, without the time to check, without the chance to go out and make contacts and find leads, reporters are reduced to churnalism, to the passive processing of material which overwhelmingly tends to be supplied for them by outsiders, particularly wire agencies and PR. In these circumstances, the news factory will produce an effective and reliable product for its readers and viewers and listeners only if those outside suppliers are delivering an effective and reliable account of the world. Are they?” (5)

press association office (Credit terry freedman) 

One of the biggest outside suppliers, the UK’s Press Association, has such credibility with British media outlets that it is treated as a reliable source that does not require checking. In December 2004, for example, the BBC issued a notice to news staff that the Press Association could be “treated as a confirmed, single source” (6) that can be put straight out on the airwaves. All of the UK’s national and regional newspapers subscribe to the PA’s news service, as does ITV and the major websites handling UK news.

Unfortunately the Press Association face the same problems as other media outlets: slashing staff, including their own journalists, while increasing output. This problem is compounded by the fact the Press Association, like Reuters, is a news agency not a newspaper. Wire agencies are under no obligation to check whether their stories are true, they simply report what they are told and sell the information on – creating an open door for PR.

Just as the UK media is over-reliant on the Press Association for its domestic news, most international newspapers, broadcasters and websites rely heavily on just two wire agencies: Associated Press and Reuters. Both agencies claim their daily output of news to be consumed in one form or another by more than a billion people across the globe – a monopoly that, left unchecked, is inevitably a target for PR – and both agencies suffer under the weight of staff shortages and increased workloads. On the face of it, who can blame the public relations industry when they choose to capitalise on this?


When necessary, of course, public relations companies fiercely defend their own activities – more so, even, than the reputations of their clients – and will use all the tricks of their loathsome trade to publically attack and denounce their detractors. In 1995, Ron Levy, then president of the North American Precis Syndicate, told PR News its readers should view Toxic Sludge Is Good For You (Lies, Dam Lies and the Public Relations Industry) as being more concerned with selling copies than presenting a balanced view of PR and urged them to see if the book “(a) only says nasty things about the great PR firms, or (b) presents both sides, including how much good the great PR firms are doing… to save lives, avoid blindness and other health tragedies, and help people get more happiness out of life.” (7)

Authors Stauber and Rampton responded to this self-aggrandising, sanctimonious rubbish:

“We know this book doesn’t tell the “whole story” about public relations. PR practitioners are engaged in promotional and publicity campaigns for clinics, schools and deserving charities that benefit the public. The techniques of public relations are not all inherently bad. But positive uses of PR do not in any way mitigate the undemocratic power of the multi-billion dollar PR industry to manipulate and propagandize on behalf of wealthy special interests, dominating debate, discussion and decision-making.” (8)

It might be too late to disentangle the mangled body of mainstream media from the pile-up on the (dis)information super highway. The wheels of the press keep on churning. The concept of a free, independent press, considered a cornerstone of democracy, is a fundamental body counted upon to guarantee our freedoms, to expose injustice and corruption, to hold to account those who would seek to violate our civil liberties and rights.

But when journalists, the very people charged with upholding these self-evident truths, are denied the institutional backing and the raw material to do their jobs properly, when pre-packaged PR is presented as fact, then, as newspaper proprietor Joseph Pulitzer predicted in his 1904 article in the North American Review: “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic, corrupt press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”(9)

Source Notes

(1) Davies, Nick, “Flat Earth News”, (Vintage, 2009), page 167.

(2) ibid, page 53.

(3) ibid, pages 66-67.

(4) ibid, page 67.

(5) ibid, page 73.

(6) ibid, page 75.

(7) Stauber, John and Rampton, Sheldon, “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry”, (Common Courage Press, 1995), page 205.

(8) ibid.

(9) Pulitzer, Joseph, “The College of Journalism”, (The North American Review, May 1904), page 680.

PR, Propaganda and the Press (Part 1): Faking Bad

By Leon Horton

 “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.” (1)

Edward L. Bernays, PR guru (1891-1995)

Vile comments, outright lies, slanderous character assassinations… where would we be without Donald Trump and his ranting midnight tweets? Still in the land of make-believe, if you ask me. So President 45 likes to rail against fake news when he’s not creating it, so what? The powers that be have been doing that since the invention of the printing press. Mainstream media is having a right old time of it selling us on the dangers of fake news proliferating across social media and the internet: “Untrue, untrue, read all about it”, the headlines cry, like bullshit was something new. And the politicians are boiling in their think-tanks: “It’s an outrage! Something must be done! Fake news is a threat to democracy!”

There’s just one problem with this moral outrage: it’s PR spinning myths on behalf of the mythmakers. News reporting is in freefall. The old guard politicians have been caught, to use tabloid vernacular, with their pants down. For too long the media and the “powers that be” have remained complacent about their position of trust and their ownership of control of the lines of communication. Bloated spiders squatting at the centre of their webs, gorging themselves on lies, half-truths and spurious claims, the occupying powers are fat and scant of purpose. So they do what any glutton does when beleaguered: they keep on eating – biting the hand that feeds them with all the stained teeth PR can wield.

The relationship between public relations and the so-called free press is difficult to assess: the blurred line between real news and the self-serving spin of commercial concerns and political agendas is as old as – dare I say it – the Sermon on the Mount. From its accepted origins in the US in the 1920s, PR has extended its dirty, manipulating fingers from the whiskey-sodden ad agencies of Madison Avenue into almost every aspect of our daily lives: telling us how to behave, what to think, what to accept as truth. That many of us recognize when we are being seduced by PR – by its bright trinkets, baubles and dross – brings no comfort when you consider even the most trusted quarters of mainstream media are not only dazzled themselves but are complicit in it.


In these days of disparity, of massive social, political and religious upheavals, of escalating wars and serious environmental issues, we are ever more reliant on the media to explain the times we live in and the problems we face. But this is the age of twenty-four-hour media coverage, of cross-platform access, where journalists and commentators are under increasing pressure to find material to fill the headlines; often at the expense of serious investigative reporting. As a result, hungry media outlets – even the good old BBC – are forced to turn to unreliable suppliers. And that’s when the PR companies knock on the the door, selling their pre-cooked ready-meals.

In their 1985 book PR: How the Public Relations Industry Writes the News, authors Jeff and Marie Blyskal write:

“PR people know how the press thinks. Thus they are able to tailor their publicity so that journalists will listen and cover it. As a result much of the news you read in newspapers and magazines or watch on television and hear on radio is heavily influenced by public relations people. Whole sections of the news are virtually owned by PR…. Unfortunately, ‘news’ hatched up by a PR person and a journalist working together looks much like real news dug up by enterprising journalists working independently. The public thus does not know which news stories and journalists are playing servant to PR.” (2)

But this is nothing new. Consider what Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais say in their 1955 book Labors Untold Story: “One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the pre-eminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinion, and, if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks; they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.’” (3)

He knew it, and we know it: the public relations industry and the mainstream media are virtually indistinguishable. But while most of us are adept enough at spotting damage-limitation and blatant spin when we see it splashed across the headlines, to blithely accept this as the norm is to give credence to the lie that it is a relationship based on collaboration and not corruption. To truly understand the toxic nature of this dangerous marriage, we need to return to a time before propaganda became a dirty word…


New York, 1929. At a time when women smoking in public was seen as unladylike and associated with prostitutes, thirty New York debutantes parade along Fifth Avenue, openly smoking Lucky Strikes cigarettes in an act of defiance and emancipation. Journalists are informed that the cigarettes are “torches of freedom” – that this is women’s liberation in action – and the story is picked up by newspapers all over the United States. Within days, women everywhere are taking to the streets and lighting up.

This was big news in its day. Except that it wasn’t. It was completely fabricated. The debutantes were, in fact, models hired by publicist Edward Bernays – who, in turn, had been hired by George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, to increase sales of cigarettes. The event is regarded by many as the moment that launched a whole new industry: public realtions. That the press had been fooled by this publicity stunt received little complaint – tempered, no doubt, by increased newspaper and magazine sales – and from that day forward the writing was on the wall.


Born in Vienna in 1891, Edward Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and used his uncle’s reputation and theories of psychoanalysis to develop his own reputation as a thinker and theorist. Bernays described himself as a psychoanalyst to troubled corporations, and he furthered this image by authoring several books on the subject, including Crystallizing Public Opinion and Propaganda. He defined his profession as akin to that of a “practicing social scientist whose competence is like that of the industrial engineer, the management engineer, or the investment counsellor in their respective fields.” (4)

In his 1928 work Propaganda, Bernays sets out his mandate:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country…. We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.” (5)


With the rise of the Nazis and their appropriation of propaganda techniques in the 1930s, it isn’t clear if Bernays came to regret his words, but even by the politics of the 1920s they make for uncomfortable reading: “In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons… who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” (6) Bernays was by no means the first practitioner of PR techniques, but within the industry itself he is often considered the godfather.

Today, PR is a multi-billion dollar communications medium in its own right – a vast empire of control, answerable to no one.

In the introduction to John Stauber and Sheldon Ramptons 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You (Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry), journalist and editor Mark Dowie writes:

“The modern ‘account’ managed by a PR/advertising giant can now package a global campaign that includes a strategic blend of ‘paid media’ (advertising) and ‘free media’ (public relations). Add to that some of the other standard services offered by most PR firms – including ‘crisis management’, industrial espionage, organized censorship and infiltration of civic and political groups – and you have a formidable combination of persuasive techniques available to large corporations and anyone else who can afford to hire the services of a PR firm.” (7)

How, then, did PR, with its cache of tried and tested methods for creating pseudo-events, manufacturing free publicity and managing public image, manage to bleed from the adverts selling us cigarettes and mouthwash into the editorials of so-called hard news? How have journalists allowed this to happen? The truth is PR hasn’t merely leaked into the news: it has saturated it. And if journalists themselves can’t tell the difference, then what hope is there for the rest of us? Surely, that’s the real story.

[To be continued]

Source Notes

(1) Bernays, Edward L, “Propaganda”, (Routledge, New York, 1928), pages 47-48.

(2) Blyskal, Jeff and Marie, “PR: How the Public Relations Industry Writes the News”, (New York: William Morrow & Co, 1985), page 28.

(3) Boyer, Richard O, and Morais, Herbert M, “Labors Untold Story”, (Cameron Associates, New York, 1955).

(4) Bernays, Edward L, Public Relations”, (University of Oklahoma Press, 1957), page 4.

(5) Bernays, Edward L, “Propaganda”, (Routledge, New York, 1928), page 9.

(6) ibid.

(7) Dowie, Mark, Torches of Liberty”, introduction in Stauber, John and Rampton, Sheldon, “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry”, (Common Courage Press, 1995), page 3.


Bred For War: Animals at Arms

By Leon Horton

Since time immemorial man has used other species to fight his battles. From Hannibal and his elephants crossing the Alps to ambush the Romans during the Second Punic War, to the doomed horse-mounted Light Brigade charging entrenched Russian artillery in the Crimean, animals have long been unwitting conscripts in our ever more determined efforts to wipe each other from the planet. In this technological age of remote-piloted drones and wire-guided missiles, we might be forgiven for thinking that animals have finally earned an honorable discharge from the horrors of the battlefield. The truth, sadly, is a horse of a different colour…

We all know of the role horses have played throughout the history of warfare (there must be a statue in almost every city across the globe to commemorate the fact), but who among us knows about the use of bat bombs, nuclear chickens or terrorist-seeking gerbils? And if you think that sounds crazy, what about snake grenades, surveillance squirrels and remote-controlled sharks?  If it wasn’t true, you’d have to make it up. But make it up is what the men in white lab coats continue to do, and what sounds like the stuff of fiction – of Hollywood at play – is more often military hardware.

It’s nothing new, of course. Much has been written about Hannibal and his use of elephants, but few people know of his serpentine naval tactics. In 190 BCE, while working as a mercenary for Prusias I of Bithynia (in modern day Turkey), Hannibal was engaged in a battle at sea against Eumenes II, king of Pergamum. Hopelessly outnumbered by the approaching Pergumese fleet, Hannibal had to think outside of the box.

Confident of impending victory, what Eumenes didn’t know was that Hannibal had ordered his men to collect as many poisonous snakes as they could find and load them into thousands of clay jars. When the enemy was close enough, the jars were hurled like grenades – smashing on the ships’ decks and releasing their venomous payload among Eumenes’ terrified sailors. The result: pandemonium. The outcome: glory for the Carthaginian underdog. Hannibal, it seems, had a knack for biological warfare.

The Dogs of War

History is littered with the military use of animals, both as beasts of burden and as weapons of war; but it is to the technological age that we must look to find the most bizarre, not to say ill-conceived, attempts to militarize other species for our own ill-gotten gains. Even man’s best friend, the faithful and ever loyal canine, could not escape the call to arms.


Dogs, like horses, have been drafted into the armed forces since they were first domesticated. History records that the ancient Greeks, Romans and Celts all used them, and their use was manifold: as scouts, couriers and sentry guards they were unsurpassed; as front-line warriors they were indispensable, proving their bravery time and again. But all that is as nothing, when you consider how the Russians ill-treated their four-legged friends.

During World War II, the Soviet Union attempted to use dogs to fight German tanks. Dogs with explosive packs strapped to their backs were trained, Pavlov-fashion, to seek food under tanks; where they were then detonated. In the battlefield, however, many of the dogs – who had been trained using stationary tanks in a fuel-saving measure – quite sensibly refused to engage moving machinery under heavy artillery fire and, terrified, ran back to their masters… with devastating consequences. The Soviets claimed the program had helped destroy over 300 tanks, but whose tanks remains a mystery.

Bombs in the Belfry

Not to be outdone by their Soviet allies – and with the atomic bomb still on the drawing board – the US government was coming up with its own far-fetched ideas. After their air force had been decimated at Pearl Harbor, the White House was desperate to find an effective way to attack Japanese cities – desperate enough to listen to dental surgeon Doctor Lytle S. Adams, who proposed that Mexican bats could be turned into small incendiary devices and dropped behind enemy lines from planes.


Adams suggested strapping small bombs to Mexican bats, which can carry three times their own body weight, loading them into cage-like shells and dropping them over designated targets. The bats, he theorized, could be released from the shells mid-drop and, following their instincts, would find their way into factories and other buildings where they would rest until the poor things exploded. Since Japanese buildings were built primarily from bamboo and paper, the resulting fires would be devastating.

The government took the idea seriously enough to invest an estimated $2 million, and despite an initial setback (the exploding critters set fire to the Air Force base at Carlsbad, New Mexico) the project looked set to go after they successfully destroyed a mock-up of a Japanese city. Ultimately, however, with the atomic clock ticking, the government turned their hopes and fears towards Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.

Doctor Adams continued to lament the death of his pet project, insisting that his bat bombs would have caused just as much structural damage as the dropping of two atomic bombs, but with less cost to human life – a bold assertion, but little comfort to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Rodent Roll Call

Rodents are extremely intelligent creatures, but not so clever as to dodge the draft. Since World War II, when the British Special Operations Executive filled dead rats with plastic explosives, in the hope that the enemy would shovel them into factory furnaces, causing them to explode, many species of rodents have received their call up papers.


Although the exploding rat idea was canned on the grounds that it was impractical, that didn’t stop MI5, the UK’s counter-intelligence service, proposing the use of live rodents when it came to airport security measures. During the 1970s, when the hijacking of planes was fast becoming a serious global concern, the organisation considered employing a team of trained gerbils to sniff out potential terrorists before they could board.

According to Sir Stephen Lander, MI5’s former director, the Israelis had already put the idea into practice at Tel Aviv airport. It must have looked bonkers, but the gerbils, with their keen sense of smell, were installed at security checks – where they could detect high levels of adrenaline in passengers and bring it to the attention of guards by pressing a lever.

The idea was never implemented in UK airports, and the Israelis abandoned the system after it was discovered that gerbils couldn’t discern between a sweaty would-be hijacker and someone who was just scared of flying; or, for that matter, terrified of rodents.

One of the most unlikely rodent tales to hit the headlines came about in 2007, when Sky News – take it or leave it – reported that Iranian police had arrested 14 squirrels on suspicion of spying.

Citing the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNC), Sky claimed the squirrels were rounded up near the Iranian border and found to be kitted out with surveillance equipment, quoting the Iranian national police chief as saying “I have heard about it, but I do not have precise information.” A UK Foreign Office source dismissed the claim as “nuts”.

Nuclear Fried Chicken

The cold war brought with it a whole raft of further bizarre attempts to use animals for military and espionage purposes. During the 1950s, the British government, fearful that West Germany might one day be overrun by Warsaw Pact forces from the east, initiated the Blue Peacock Project.


The plan was simple: to bury nuclear bombs in the ground, at strategic points along the North German Plain, for possible detonation later should the Soviets ever invade. Just one problem: the primitive electronic devices used in nuclear devices at that time were considered to be unreliable in frozen ground, and so an alternative had to be found.

Some of the brightest minds in Britain were tasked with finding a way of insulating the bombs. Working around the clock, discarding one idea after another, scientists eventually came up with the solution: chickens. Yes, that’s right: chickens. Simply keep a chicken inside the bomb, they said, with enough food and water to last out the German winter, and it will generate enough bio-genetic body heat to keep the bomb functional.

The British never went through with the plan, not because it was plainly ridiculous, but only because they feared the diplomatic implications of nuclear fallout on allied territory. The story was thought to be an April Fool’s joke until it was declassified in 2004. A spokesperson for the UK National Archives was reported as saying: “It does seem like an April Fool, but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes.”

Kittens in the Kremlin

Anyone who has ever owned a cat will tell you they don’t take orders, but the CIA was clearly ignorant of that fact when, in 1961, they instigated Operation Acoustic Kitty. The idea to medically modify moggies, at an estimated cost of $15 million, came about when America’s secret service realized that cats see better in the dark than humans.


If there was a better way to spy on Russian embassies, the CIA were blind to it, and so contracted the services of Animal Behaviour Enterprises (ABE) and their facilities at the IQ Zoo in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Bob Bailey, general manager of ABE, had previously worked on the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program and seemed the logical choice to lead up the research. “We never found an animal we couldn’t train” he told the Smithsonian.

According to Bailey, the unfortunate cat was surgically implanted with a microphone in its cochlea (inner ear), which was connected to a battery and transmitter in its ribcage. “We found that we could condition the cat to listen to voices,” Bailey was quoted as saying. “We have no idea how we did it. But we found that the cat would more and more listen to people’s voices, and listen less to other things.”

The cat’s movements could be directed with ultrasonic sound, but it had a tendency to wander off when hungry – prompting further surgery. Finally, after five years of research and intensive training, the cat was deemed ready for its first field test and was driven to a Soviet compound on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington DC, where it was released from a parked van across the road.

No amount of research or development could have predicted what happened next. According to ex-CIA official Jeffrey T Richelson in his book The Wizards of Langley, the cat dutifully padded off on its first mission… and was run over by a taxi. The project was declared a feline failure and cancelled in 1967, but it only came to light when the relevant documents were declassified in 2001. Cats, they revealed, couldn’t catch a cold war.

 Navy Seals

Many modern attempts to train animals as weapons or tools of war have failed on land and in the air, but in the water there have been several successful stories.

Dating back to the 1960s, the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has been instrumental in training seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins for military service – most successfully with the Californian sea lion and the bottlenose dolphin.


Both species, with their superlative underwater vision and agility, can be trained to perform a variety of tasks: to spot enemy swimmers; to alert nearby crew to the intruders’ presence; and, in the dolphins’ case, to detect and retrieve underwater mines. Sea lions can even attach a clamp to a swimmer’s leg, restraining the enemy from going any further, before deploying a floating buoy. These animals’ ability to dive to great depths also enables them to help with tagging and recovering objects from the seabed.

Arguably, the most disturbing use of dolphins came about during the Vietnam War under the United States’ Swimmer Nullification Program. Initially, dolphins were trained to seek out Vietcong divers, tear off their facemasks and air tubes, and drag them back to the navy for interrogation. They were so successful at this that the order was given to arm the dolphins by attaching knives to their snouts. They could then swim headlong at the enemy and drive the knives into them, killing them at source.

If that wasn’t murderous enough for the Marines, what happened next was truly sadistic. This time hypodermic syringes filled with pressurised carbon dioxide were fastened to the dolphins’ snouts. Any diver injected with this would ‘blow up’ like a balloon and burst. In all, 40 Vietcong were said to have died in this manner, but the Marines’ sympathies lay more with the two US divers who suffered the same fate by mistake.

In 1976 a partially declassified CIA document revealed that the Soviet Union was also conducting research into dolphins: training them to carry explosives towards enemy warships where they could be remote detonated – turning them into suicide bombers. The program was officially abandoned due to lack of funds, but marine mammals continue to be used for military purposes to this day. In 2003, sea lions and dolphins were sent to the Persian Gulf to protect U.S. and British warships during the Iraq War.

 Jaws 2, Enemy nil

As if there wasn’t enough death in the water, in March 2006 New Scientist reported on a bizarre project funded by the US Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create remote-controlled sharks. In a move reminiscent of a Bond villain, scientists at Boston University, led by biologist Jelle Atema, implanted neural electrodes into the brains of dogfish sharks. The implants stimulated the sharks’ sense of smell with an electrical current, fooling the poor animal into believing a source of food was nearby. This, in effect, allowed the scientists to steer the sharks where they wanted.


The experiment – one of a number around the world to receive ethical approval to develop implants that can manipulate animal behaviour – was developed to improve our understanding of how animals interact with their environment, and to help further research into human paralysis. Controversially, however, the Pentagon was already looking further out to sea at the military potential of this scientific breakthrough, with DARPA at the helm.  According to New Scientist, DARPA, armed with a $600,000 grant, was “aiming to exploit sharks’ natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails.”

It won’t be all plain sailing, mind you, as the magazine reported: “As wild predators, it is very easy to exhaust them, and this will place strict limits on how long the researchers can control their movements in any one session without harming them. Despite this limitation, though, remote-controlled sharks do have advantages that robotic underwater surveillance vehicles just cannot match: they are silent, and they power themselves”.

It remains debatable what the Pentagon has in mind for remote-controlled sharks, but a bomb with a nasty bite is a safe bet.

Soldiering on…

It has been difficult to write this article without a sense of irreverence, since much it is so outlandish it belongs in a Hollywood movie. But our ability to find new ways of killing each other, and our willingness to use other species in order to do so, in an age where technology affords us the ability to wage war without committing soldiers to the field, it seems doubly perverse that we continue to press-gang animals into doing our dirty work.



The Singing Detective re-evaluation

(UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2 Ten cents a dance, fella p John Harris, Kenith Trodd d Jon Amiel w Dennis Potter ph Ken Westbury ed Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt m Stanley Myers art Jim Clay Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), […]

via 40. The Singing Detective (1986) — Wonders in the Dark