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 national news.

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 again.

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 conference

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 homework.
Quotes form: Hertsgaard, Mark On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency. Rarrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1989

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