Reagan’s PR campaign on the federal education reforms
illustrates vividly how the Reagan administration ran it’s domestic propaganda
operations. Keep in mind that other issues were given similar treatment, education
being only one of many.
During the administration’s first term, polls showed 2 out
of 3 people disapproved of the federal education reforms. It was decided that this
belief had to be corrected, and a massive public relations offensive was started.
Reagan would make statements about excellence in education, and improving
classroom discipline. The only policy that was executed during the campaign was
to give ‘merit pay’ to a small number of teachers.
Central to the strategy was repetition. Reagan went across the country visiting
schools giving the same speech at each one. All of these visits were covered on
Repetition was necessary because in a modern electronic society, the messages that actually pierce
the static and register on people’s consciousness are those which are repeated over and over
Repetition also drowned coverage of any mistakes made. At a press conference
during the education tour, Reagan was asked by Chris Wallace a basic question about
administration’s education policy. Reagan was unable to answer the question, and had
to refer it to his education secretary Terrel Bell, who was seated behind him. Despite
this embarrassing event, press secretary Michael Deaver was positive about the
a pretty negative story, but the total impact was very positive. I mean there he is in a classroom with
a bunch of kids when he gets his picture taken ... The visual, and repetition, over come the kind of
twist that Chris put on it, because you’ve got one bad story and 20 good ones.
By the end of the campaign, the polls had reversed, 2 out of 3 people surveyed
approved of the reforms.
This is from a research project I did a while ago. Node your
Quotes form: Hertsgaard, Mark On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan
Presidency. Rarrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1989