by Walter Brasch
AR Senior Correspondent
April 29, 2011
CROCODILE TEARS AND CASH-REGISTER PATRIOTS
Editor's note:: Walter Brasch wrote columns, human interest and investigative articles about 9/11, and was one of the first to write about PATRIOT Act violations of civil liberties and the Constitution. Using investigative techniques and inside information, he questioned the Bush Administration on the truth behind its plans for invading Iraq.
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The direct mail ad spoke boldly: "In view of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this is the time for Corporate America and all government agencies to enhance the safety and security of the nation's high profile buildings."
Not exactly a revelation. It didn't take another sentence to underline the company's intent. "Windows and doors are normally the weakest static construction elements in a building," continued the release, "and are therefore the first to fail during violent activities and brute forces of nature. ... Your property needs protection!"
The next few hundred words explained how readers could choose a security level and colored windows to provide that security - "from burglar-proof to hurricane-resistant and ultimately bullet- and blast-resistant."
Thousands of businesses, like the window company, subtly and not so subtly used the tragedy to sell their product.
One investment company told me in a letter that if I followed world events, "you probably know that the prices of commodities and stocks reflect international politics and tensions!" It explained that as the "U.S. prepares its response, tensions could escalate even further in the Middle East. This could have a DRAMATIC IMPACT on the supply of oil and gas, therefore increasing worldwide prices. If this happens, oil and gas companies and THEIR SHAREHOLDERS could be poised to MAKE MONEY from any price increases." To make money from the tragedy, I just had to contact this company to learn which "undervalued" stocks I should buy.
A writer offered newspaper editors about 400 words detailing Osama bin Laden's aura, hoping to lure them into buying her weekly column, "Ask Your Aura," identified as "the personal pull of an advice column, the celebrity appeal of a gossip column, the mystery of astrology." Not surprisingly, she determined that not only is "love, compassion, and spiritual joy [in bin Laden's] heart chakra ... about as big as a donut hole," but that this spirituality is "connected to a preference for evil."
Most corporate America had pulled all advertising from the tv networks and national news magazines for up to a week following the tragedy while they re-evaluated their campaigns. When they returned, they had draped themselves into red-white-and-blue bunting, and told us it's patriotic to spend money in a lagging economy.
A fairly large publicity firm, targeting book authors, ran a small American flag next to its logo, and told us the company "continues to offer our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those touched by the events," that it salutes "the heroism of those who continue to work tirelessly in rescue and relief efforts," and work with the media "to provide our clients with the optimum level of exposure."
In case we didn't understand the last sentence, it told us the time to pull back on advertising and promotion isn't now because "our experience has shown us that events like this, although very saddening, create unique opportunities that might not have presented themselves before."
To take advantage of this "unique" opportunity, the company even developed a program that for only $750-$3,000 would target the media with our message.
One-shot magazines, full of color pictures, began coming off rotary presses within hours after the towers collapsed. Books about the tragedy are being rushed to press; almost any book that has even the remotest tie-in is being hawked.
Fueled by Internet rumors that 16th Century French physician-clairvoyant Nostradamus predicted such a tragedy, thousands of Americans have flocked to bookstores and on-line companies to buy copies of his books, edited by others. One book, with a Sept. 27 publication date, is well within the top 100 titles on mazon.com.
On thousands of fiberglass and plastic highway signs, words of hope trumpet words of advertising. Below "God Bless America," we see "Chili Fries, $1.49." Below "United We Stand," we're told "special prices on carpets."
During the 1960s, war protestors who wore clothes with the American flag design were beaten by "patriots"; now the fabric of America is patriots wearing just-manufactured high-priced T-shirts, pants and bandanas, all with images of American flags and slogans.
A flyer I received at home combined the flag, a patriotic call, a message of sympathy-and my inviolate right to buy sofas on sale. General Motors, trying to sell cars, declared "in this time of terrible adversity, let's stand together. And let's keep America rolling."
A laser eye-surgery conglomerate tried to convince us getting clearer vision was somehow patriotic. Its newspaper images were of an exhausted firefighter, and of someone it claimed to be an FBI agent who praised the company's health plan for federal employees.
A Cleveland mayoral candidate ran TV ads, declaring "If tragedy strikes, who could lead?" On the screen were still photos of the towers and a woman holding a flag.
Perhaps these businesses all mean well. Perhaps they are saddened by the tragedy, and want to let us know they care about the victims and our country. Perhaps we can hope they have been tortured by the magnitude of evil and the shards of the American fragment that will haunt us for a generation. If so, they will realize the best way to celebrate the American spirit is to treat their own workers better, and to absorb a smaller profit this year rather than lay them off.
But as long as businesses try to mix sentiment and hard sell, our traditional red-and-green Christmas season will pour forth in crocodile tears and cash-register patriotism.
AR Senior Correspondent Walter Brasch's current book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution. It is available at amazon.com and www.greeleyandstone.com.