Having honed his propaganda skills since WWI, Bernays would once again provide his services on behalf of the martial ambitions of the U.S. government. He served as an advisor to Eisenhower and believed that the best way to deal with Americans' fear of Communism and the nuclear arms race was to manipulate those fears to support America's mobilization in the Cold War.
In 1954, Bernays assisted the CIA's overthrow of Guatemala's democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, a democratic socialist with no ties to the Soviet Union. The CIA had a propaganda program in place called Operation Mockingbird, in which numerous journalists and editors -- both paid and unpaid -- published and broadcast stories sympathetic to the increasingly aggressive and unaccountable agency. Led by Frank Wisner, Operation Mockingbird was also used to suppress reporting that would expose the agency's nefarious covert activities or present them in a negative light.
Bernays' role was to create a narrative that portrayed the coup as the popular overthrow of a Communist dictator and puppet of Moscow whose removal represented the spreading of democracy. In reality, Arbenz's ouster was to preserve the profits of United Fruit Company, a company that Bernays had worked for in a PR capacity since the 1940's while the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, had made investments in United Fruit in his earlier years as a lawyer at the Sullivan and Cromwell firm which served as United Fruit's corporate counsel.
Bernays exploited the ignorance of most Americans in relation to foreign affairs as well as the Red Scare of the McCarthy era by planting false stories in American newspapers and magazines, providing phony "intelligence" sources to the media, and bringing members of the press on a carefully orchestrated "fact-finding" mission to Guatemala paid for by the United Fruit Company.
As PR Watch noted in a 2010 article, "Bernays' carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita's [then known as the United Fruit Company] interests and was internationally condemned."
Bernays biographer, Larry Tye, commented in Century of the Self:
[blockquote] [Bernays] totally understood that the coup would happen when conditions in the public and the press allowed for a coup to happen and he created those conditions. He was totally savvy in terms of just what he was helping create in terms of the overthrow. But ultimately he was reshaping reality, and reshaping public opinion in a way that's undemocratic and manipulative. [/blockquote]
Bernays' propaganda narrative, combined with CIA director Allen Dulles' ability to restrict the travel of independent journalists to Guatemala, ensured the success of the coup. Arbenz's overthrow led to a decades-long civil war that resulted in 200,000 dead and 100,000 disappeared.