A Bureaucrat's Guide For Managing The Troublesome Public
by Richard Hugus
Rules and Guidelines
• If confronted with an inconvenient question at a public meeting, praise the questioner for his/her contribution and, with apologies, defer it to a later item on the agenda. By that time there will be no context for the question. If discussion must be avoided beyond this, close the meeting before the question can be re-visited, or simply ignore the questioner if he has raised his hand again.
• If confronted by a group of people with chronic annoying questions, invite members of the group to form a “study committee.” Make sure the “study” takes as much time as possible so that the original interest in the issue at hand is long forgotten by the time any results are published. Ensure that the results are either positive or inconclusive, or of such narrow interest that no one will care anyway. If it appears the study group cannot be manipulated, form an outside group, on the model of the “blue ribbon panel,” which will be chosen by you and which will directly serve your interests.
• Study groups may be formed for the purpose of using up the time of those citizens who have been most vocal and troublesome. Such a group may be called an “action team,” “community assistance panel,” or “task force.” Members of the group should be given just enough attention to make them think they are being taken seriously, but all important decisions must be left to officials which you have told the group it has been set up to advise. See to it that you are appointed chairman of the committee so that no other member of the group may attempt to speak for it, or otherwise take control. Any unpleasant conclusions arrived at by the group can and should be ignored by the official the report is submitted to. Ideally, that official would be your boss.
• Give the public the impression that they are involved in a “decision-making process.” Then, should things go wrong, the public can be blamed for the failure.
• Outspoken people who would be unlikely to cooperate with a study committee, task force, or panel must be excluded. The same is true of unwanted individuals or groups applying to use a venue. One effective method is to tailor membership or application requirements so that these people specifically will not qualify. The eligibility gambit has uses across the bureaucratic spectrum. The important thing to remember is to find out the profile of the applicant before announcing guidelines, not the other way around. This way the guidelines can be changed so that whoever you want to exclude cannot claim discrimination. A good bureaucrat can always say, "Sorry, these are the rules and we have to follow them."
• If it is not possible to exclude a person or group through manipulation of eligibility rules, and if the issue is their use of a meeting space, the person or group may still be excluded by burdening them with increased rental costs, asking them to pay for security, charging them a large amount of money for a cleaning crew, or requiring that antidiscrimination goals be met. Many political individuals or groups can be prevented from using a space by organizing a few people to call the venue to accuse them of "hate speech." These people should make it clear that they will be affected by this hate speech. Just two or three callers can stop an audience of thousands from appearing.
• A good way to appear to be involving the public without really doing so is to open up a "public comment period." Offer several opportunities for the public to provide written and oral comments on the given project or proposal. Make sure to publicize the fact that you are seeking comments so that it will appear that a democratic process is taking place. Members of the public who actually believe they are taking part in such a process, and who believe that their comments might change the outcome of the project or proposal, will put time and energy into making comments. This is time well wasted. When all comments have finally been submitted, ignore those which are in conflict with your goal (even if they are the vast majority) and accept the ones which conform. If there are no conforming comments, create them anonymously. A perfunctory reply to negative comments can be given in a final report, where there will be no opportunity for anyone to respond. The pubic comment process is a good way of avoiding dialogue and accountability. No matter how damning the comment, no one has to answer it.
• If several members of the public begin asking annoying questions, identify competing interests among them and exploit those interests in order to divert their attention. Get them fighting amongst themselves.
• In order to avoid direct and honest speech, cultivate an important-sounding vocabulary so that when annoying questioners and the general public don’t understand your answers, they’ll think it’s their fault. Your projection of complete confidence and self-assurance is the key.
• Every once in a while, display leadership by announcing a new “program.” Make sure to say you are “excited" about the program. Encourage people to think they are working together as a “team” in order to achieve “goals” laid out in the “program.”
• If all else fails, answer annoying questioners by saying you just don’t know, and can’t be expected to have all the answers. Show your sincerity by referring the question to someone not present who does know. Then the issue is between the annoying questioner and some individual who may or may not answer. Or, just say, "I don't have the information. I'll have to get back to you on that." In either case a public answer will be avoided, and any answer that is provided will only go to the one person who asked the question.
• If public outrage breaks out in any given dispute, manage it by firing a low-level employee, making sure all the blame stays with them. This is called creating a scapegoat. The public will sometimes be assuaged when a bureaucrat is sacrificed. That bureaucrat should obviously be transferred later to an equal or better position elsewhere.
• Be careful not to distance yourself from regular people. When speaking, for example, drop the “g” occasionally in words ending with “-ing.” Yes, you’re an important authority, but this does not mean you can’t loosen your tie and roll up your sleeves, if there is political profit to be made out of it. Even a project administrator can look like a member of the working class.
• If annoying questioners in the community are admired, adopt their ways and manners to show that you’re no different from them. Identify all the ideas that give your opponents popular appeal, then adopt those ideas as if they were your own. Begin emphasizing the fact that you serve the same “community” and want to be a part of it, even if your home is a thousand miles away.
• In public hearings, if an annoying question is asked, answer it briefly and go immediately to the next question, preferably from a moderate, so that the first question will be diluted and quickly forgotten.
• If involved in a protracted foot-dragging operation for a study, investigation, or program, NEVER mention firm dates of completion. The best investigations are the ones that take the longest, and have no discernible conclusion.
• See to it that studies are continued for as long as possible. The large majority of annoying questions can be put out of commission, meeting after meeting, year after year, with the simple response: “We’re waiting for the results of that study.”
• If damaging information must be presented because irrefutable evidence has appeared from another source, obscure the evidence with a wealth of relevant but unimportant facts. Or, divulge the information with such matter-of-factness that any questioning of it would seem impertinent. Or, express outrage, and vow to begin an “investigation” to get to the bottom if it.
• To avoid questioning about policy matters, limit public presentations to people without authority–e.g., technicians; people who can only speak about the job they do. Make it clear that real policy questions can only be dealt with by high officials in distant cities (like Washington, D.C.). See to it that channels of communication with the officials in these distant cities are so complicated that large amounts of the troublesome public’s time will be taken up trying to find even the right secretary to talk to, much less the relevant "official."
• High priority policy decisions which affect many people are bound to meet with controversy. The best way to avoid controversy is through a maneuver called the fait accompli -- that is, implementing the policy and building the infrastructure before the public is even told about it. When the public does find out, so much work will have been done beforehand that they will have no hope of undoing it. Secrecy among the right group of powerful decision makers is key to the success of the fait accompli. Once the facts have been created, it is very difficult for the public to challenge them. Eventually, the pathetic fools will say, "this is the way it has always been."
• In a similar manner, controversial policy decisions may be implemented by creating a "consensus." A consensus made up of only a few public influencers can be sold through the media as if it came from a groundswell of public opinion. Once a "consensus" has been created, it is a simple matter to attack and destroy anyone who voices skepticism about what are now well-established facts. After enough skeptics have been made an example of, very few will be willing to object. The most outrageous policies can be implemented in this way -- the more outrageous the better. Incidentally, influencers are to be considered a "force multiplier" and should be generously compensated (see Special Accounting for Discreet Payments).
• Also in the area creating consensus, if a policy decision has to do with a scientific theory, simply declare that "the science is settled" or "97% of scientists/doctors/etc. agree . . . " In other words, close the door firmly on the idea that there could be any alternative to your policy, and vigorously pursue any skeptics as "deniers." Deniers can be isolated by calling their judgement and even sanity into question, by impugning their character, by destroying their reputation, by having them fired from their job, or all of the above. The more you punish skeptics now -- with full publicity -- the less you will have to deal with them later.
• In public meetings, videos, overheads, and slide presentations can be used to great effect to put potentially troublesome audiences to sleep. Audio-visual aids take up lots of time and there is no context for interrupting or questioning them. They should be brought out during the early part of a public meeting, so as to take up as much as possible the critical first hour and a half when people are still paying attention. Also, the public is unlikely to have prepared audio-visual aids, or have the equipment to show them. The fact that you have prepared them, and have the equipment to show them, establishes you as the authority.
• With difficult questions, there may be no choice but to change the subject entirely. Appeal to the sympathy of your listeners by bringing up and elaborating at length on personal or family health problems. Be sure to relate sufficiently intimate details that members of the audience would be embarrassed, or feel it rude, to return to the actual topic. Further questions on the actual topic will then seem insensitive. If handled properly, this procedure will also convince the audience that you have brought them specially into your confidence. You will thus gain their trust while at the same time completely diverting their attention. Indeed, any time you can make an objective question seem like an insensitive or personal attack, take advantage of the opportunity.
• It is possible to confound a suspicious public by accusing those who have been the victims of being, instead, the victimizers. You have not attacked them; they have attacked you. This is called “turning the tables.” Likewise, if accusations have been leveled against you, repeat them in detail in public, blame either a third party or the accusers themselves of being guilty, and concoct a dramatic condemnation. You didn’t rob the store; the store robbed you! In some cases a humble rather than strident condemnation is best.
• If someone complains that certain key points have been left out of a public forum or panel, you should reply that many points of view have to be covered and it is impossible to cover them all. Limit debate to parameters acceptable to you. Suggestions for representation of points of view outside those parameters should be denied as unreasonable and outside the scope of the panel or forum. If necessary, intimidate the complainant — imply that they are not being “realistic,” and that they are persecuting you and others who have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to be fair.
• Responses to difficult questions from the public should be met with obsequious flattery and thanks directed toward particular people for their “interest” and “involvement.” With sufficient flattery, dissenters will feel uncomfortable raising further questions, and a direct response from you will be avoided. Your skill in this is not unlike that of the magician, who diverts the attention of the audience while sneaking in the trick. In other words, you flatter the audience while making fools of them.
• If a community group has organized an opposition, plant an infiltrator in the group. See to it that the infiltrator works loyally for you while appearing to act in good faith with, and consistently inform on, the target group. The infiltrator must be a seasoned prevaricator able to subvert even the most just cause without qualms. Undercover police officers or informants seeking relief from prosecution are recommended. Once the infiltrator has gained the confidence of key members of the target group, he can be used for a wide range of purposes, from providing basic intelligence, to sowing division, to setting up troublesome leaders for outside harassment and arrest. If the community group stages a public demonsrtation, the informant can be used to good effect by resorting to violence or destruction of private property, thereby instantly discrediting the group.
• Intelligence gathering is vital. Recent advances in legal surveillance have made it easier then ever before for bureaucracies, in alliance with police agencies, to find out what members of the target group are doing and saying among themselves. E-mail, social media, and telephone conversations can be easily intercepted, and no one will know the difference. This makes it possible to predict, plan for, and forestall any planned protests or actions, and to take any countermeasures necessary, in cooperation with appropriate police agencies. When protestors appear on the scene, the police will be ready and waiting, and the press release will already be written. Yes, preparation for the press should happen before the event, so as to guarantee that your version of what happened will be the first that anybody hears.
• If you are faced with a troublesome activist who is not intimidated by surveillance, police power, attacks in the media, or harassment through the judicial system, try a shift in tactics: invite the activist for a private meeting with a high official, president, police chief, or executive director. Offer the activist a chance to have a “dialogue” in a “non-confrontational” setting. In some cases a long drawn-out battle can be prevented by a single meeting. In this meeting, be prepared to offer one or two concessions which will cost your institution nothing. Do your best to convince the activist that he or she now has a personal relationship with you, and that though your institution may be holding charges against them, you at least are a reasonable and likeable person. Make sure you record the conversation, just in case the activist says something that can be brought against him or her in court later.
• Remember, truth is relative. What normal people call “lying,” the police officer, the professional bureaucrat, the project manager, the public relations expert, and the administrator call “perception management.” It is not a lie if you are serving your institution and the greater goals of society or protecting hard-won privilege from attack. You own the media, and you have the resources to staff large offices with personnel who have the skills even to turn reality upside down. Don’t worry, there will be no consequences — there are no courts to try you, because you own those too. It is your absolute right to lie, and to do so with impunity. Do not abuse this privilege — never back down from a lie, and never admit a lie. At all times, and in all places, use your power without apology, and advertise it to the world.
Shifting the Blame
If you are accused of wrongdoing, whether rightly or wrongly, turn the tables on the accuser. It is important that this be done with a display of complete self-confidence and self-righteousness — the same that is displayed by those who ARE innocent (and every bureaucrat should become familiar with this behavior type).
In all cases, follow the rule: The victim must be turned into the aggressor. You did not attack them; they attacked you. You acted in self-defense.
If political censorship must be exercised in a public space which you control, present the event organizers with one or more unreasonable demands. This will provoke them to act in such a way that you can then blame them for their bad behavior, not for the original issue. For instance, suppose you have had complaints about a political activity or event from a significant member of the power structure you are working for. Suppose further that you must act on those complaints in order to protect your well-paying job and other advantages which accrue to you for serving that power. In this case, tell the organizers that their event must be postponed until those complaints are answered. Make sure the complaints are anonymous and say that you cannot reveal the identity of those making them, or their number, or their justification. When the event organizers finally take their case to the public, tell them they have committed a breach of trust and can no longer use the space. The issue is thus turned from YOUR curtailment of their free speech to THEIR breaking of basic rules about trust and cooperation.
Subsequent protests from the event organizers and supporters must be answered in unison and without variation: the issue was not free speech, it was the failure of the event organizers to abide by ground rules on use of the space -- rules which any reasonable person would understand. Declare that the last thing you would want would be to curtail free speech. The issue is not politics or the power to say who shall do what; the issue is that rules were broken.
A note about “rules”: the accomplished bureaucrat will always find a rule to justify his actions and persecute his opponent. If the rule doesn’t exist, it must be invented. If the case goes to the public, you can then point to this rule as the reason for any action you have taken. It is especially effective if this rule is written in a “document.” This enables you to refer to it as if it were a law which you had no option but to enforce: i.e., it wasn’t you; it was the law. This also sidetracks people into looking for the document, whether it exists or not.
Rules which are unwritten also have advantages, since they can be changed to fit any occasion. Indeed, they can be completely made up! What matters is to convey the impression: Rules are rules, and they can’t be broken. Whether invented or written down, or both, they are the basis upon which all bureaucrats must appear to function. Keep in your own mind, however, that the real rules are dictated by the power you work for. These rules are never written and their source can never be revealed.
No matter how insistent, angry, or insulting the questioning of your actions becomes, remember at all times to “cover your ass.” To do so, take the following steps:
— Do not respond in kind. Be polite and maintain your original lie. Do not change or alter your original lie, no matter how absurd it is. Any change, even a minor adjustment, will open the door to questions about your consistency. Politeness will also protect you from any accusation that you were unfair or that your arguments were not logical. A note here: the word ‘lie’ is defined as “an apparent falsehood told to the public either for their own good or because they are not sophisticated enough to be told the truth.”
–To continue, maintain your original lie by using alot of words that don’t really say anything. The size and number of the words far outweigh any meaning they might have. The point is to use language to intimidate and mystify the audience, not to convey information. But you must look as if you ARE conveying information, and respond with visible hurt to any accusation that you aren’t. (See “Perception Management” and “Acting 101” for related issues.)
— Insist that you and your fellow bureaucrats have done everything in your power to “resolve the issue.” Make a good show of your sincerity. A bureaucrat who appears to be sincere doesn’t have to be right — nowhere near it. People will always side with the one who claims he is “making an effort” and “trying his best” to come to an agreement.
— Keep all important discussions behind closed doors. Avoid public meetings at all costs. Confronting the public will require an entirely different set of skills and is a high risk because, by its nature, the outcome of a public meeting cannot be easily controlled. The public is your enemy. Manipulate it, control it, but do not under any circumstances get into a one-on-one confrontation with it.
– A good way to keep a dispute out of the public view is to invite your opponent into “mediation.” The opponent can be pressured into mediation by making it look like he is being intransigent by not accepting a mediation offer. Once he agrees, be sure that groundrules are established at the beginning that 1) all discussion is confidential until the mediation process is over, and 2) that both sides will continue with the process until a joint statement can be made. In both cases, mediation is an effective way to waste the opponent’s time and keep the dispute out of the public eye. It is also an advantage if the mediator is being paid by you, just so he knows which side his bread is buttered on. A process of long and numerous meetings is good both for your paycheck and the mediator’s, and bad for the opponent, who has no paycheck, and is no longer communicating with his supporters.
— When publicity comes, control it by pro-actively going to the press yourself. Get your story out first so as to create an impression which will undermine later disorganized reports from the other side. You or your public relations office should already have a list of contacts in the press to call. From our earlier chapter, “Controlling the Press” you will have learned to Start At The Top — don’t go to the reporter; go to the publisher. If time permits, ask one of your employers to speak to the publisher tactfully at his golf club or business luncheon. If this is not possible, make a quiet phone call. Remember, no news is even better than controlled news — get the story killed if possible so that no one will hear anything one way or the other. There will always be people who doubt what they are told, but there will never be people who doubt what they are never told.
— Finally, delay and the erosion of memory are the bureaucrat’s stock in trade. No matter how egregious your cutting down of a political opponent, time will eventually blur the deed. This is why endless committee discussions are important. This is why agendas are set so as to either exclude or allow only a miniscule amount of time to your opponents. This is why actions taken pending a later decision never actually get to that final decision. Delay, delay, delay. You are not stopping democracy; you are merely putting it off until a meeting can be held on the subject at “a more appropriate time” — i.e., never!
The Smear Campaign
When you don’t have the arguments to win a debate, attack your opponent in personal terms. Get your staff or perhaps an investigator to find out damaging facts about the opponent’s personal life, and quietly leak those facts to your friends in the press. Start rumors, sow discord, and work in all possible ways to discredit your opponent’s character, so that no matter what his or her logical arguments may be about a given social issue, your exposure of their personal flaws will ruin their credibility. The more dramatic the flaw, the better. It is also within your purveiw to make up such flaws if the opponent doesn’t actually have them.