George and Laura Bush with Karl Rove. Rove is the evil genius who has successfully run many Republican campaigns. But, as it turns out, he may have learned his fine art of political propaganda from Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter.

A Look at Jill Lepore’s New Yorker Article, “The Lie Factory”

By David E. Roy

The True and Original Modern Masters of Deceit

Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s article, “The Lie Factory: How Politics Became a Business,” was published in the Sept. 24 issue of the New Yorker Magazine. As I read it, I realized that the couple that was Campaigns, Inc., not only formed the world’s “first political-consulting firm” (Lepore) but also developed all of the key techniques still being used—all guided by an intelligence and a ruthlessness that gives permission to do whatever it takes to win or, rather, to make sure you smash your opponent beyond recognition.

George and Laura Bush with Karl Rove. Rove is the evil genius who has successfully run many Republican campaigns. But, as it turns out, he may have learned his fine art of political propaganda from Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter.

Although I’ve detested Karl Rove for years for his cunning and inventive genius, it turns out he really is just an astute copycat of something that began here in California in 1933 when Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter formed their company. (Lepore did not mention Rove at all; I have no idea whether she would agree with my assessment.)

The only difference is that this couple did not have computers, so it took them a bit longer to do some of their work. They learned the art of thorough research (e.g., reading every single word of everything written by and about their target), twisting and distorting the target’s positions to put them in a light guaranteed to be disliked by most voters, and repeating their key messages over and over and over.

They instituted a form of niche or micro-marketing, which is much easier today due to computers and all the data generated by millions of computer purchases and searches. They also were involved in providing news content (much of it free) by a separate company and distributing tons of paid political advertising, making “independent” newspapers cozy partners in many cases.

They helped defeat Upton Sinclair’s quest to be governor by taking his words from speeches and novels (!) totally out of context and making him sound simply awful. The Los Angeles Times ran these quotations in a box on page one every day for 100 days until the election.

The Earliest Assault on Universal Healthcare

They were successful in thoroughly destroying the initial efforts for universal healthcare—a proposal initiated by Gov. Earl Warren, who was a conservative Republican at the time. The plan of attack included such familiar items as inventing scary enemies and (shades of the Tea Party) managing to turn the proposal into a diabolical government takeover. The government wanted to control you, to force you to pay for something you didn’t need. Worse, it was supposedly modeled after a “system…born in Germany” when the United States was at war with Germany. (Lepore)

When President Truman sought to create national healthcare, Whitaker and Baxter, through Campaigns, Inc., were hired by the American Medical Association to kill it. And they did.

This is but a small sample of the kinds of things these two people did, approaches they initiated. The article is worth reading (and rereading). It can add to our knowledge of the kinds of things that need to stop being practiced. Interestingly, Lepore suggested that the whole field of advertising actually emerged as a subset of what corporations were doing to get their way politically. This is still true.

I urge you to take the time to read Lepore’s article. It is essential background for our struggle for truth, authenticity and the common good.

You can find it at the following link:

Being the Harvard scholar, she has a brief but useful description of her sources (including various recommendations) at


Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at or 5475 N. Fresno St., Suite 109, Fresno, CA 93711.


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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