This post covers:
– Why Does So Much Propaganda Work?
– Wanting to believe the best of ourselves
– Fear-mongering and distorting facts
– Media management and public relations is very professional
– Disseminating prepackaged, even fake news
– Smear tactics are increasing in sophistication
– Narrowing the Range of Debate
* * * * *
By Anup Shah
Date: 31st March 2005
Source: Global Issues
Why Does So Much Propaganda Work?
Propaganda seems to work because of a number of reasons, including:
•People wish to believe the best about themselves and their country;
•Fear-mongering, especially about the threat to cherished values such as freedom and justice;
•Presenting fears and claims that appear logical and factual.
•Media management and public relations is very professional
•Managing thoughts by narrowing ranges of debate, thus minimizing widely discussed thoughts that deviate from the main agendas;
Wanting to believe the best of ourselves
In democracies, people like to believe that they and their countries are generally good, for if it was any other way then it brings into moral question all they know and hold dear. The histories of some nations may have involved overcoming adversaries for legitimate reasons (e.g. the American war to gain its independence and freedom from the British Empire was one based on strong moral grounds of freedom from imperial rule). Such important history is often recounted and remembered as part of the collective culture of the country and those same values are projected into modern times. Propaganda sometimes works by creating the fear of losing such cherished values.
The following perhaps serve as ominous warnings, given the source:
All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it…. Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.
— Adolf Hitler
The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than to a small lie. For they themselves often tell little lies, but would be ashamed to tell big lies.
— Adolf Hitler
Fear-mongering and distorting facts
Guiterrez, mentioned much further above, also interviews Dr. Nancy Snow, (once a “propagandist” for the U.S. Information Agency as she admits in her 1998 book, Propaganda Inc; Selling America’s Culture to the World). Snow suggests that you don’t need facts, just the best facts:
[Given all the revelations discrediting Bush’s reasons for war with Iraq,] “You may wonder why it is that a majority of Americans still link Saddam to 9/11,” says Snow. “The reason for such a belief is because the American people were repeatedly told by the President and his inner circle that Saddam’s evil alone was enough to be linked to 9/11 and that given time, he would have used his weapons against us. With propaganda, you don’t need facts per se, just the best facts put forward. If these facts make sense to people, then they don’t need proof like one might need in a courtroom.”
According to Snow, the U.S. government succeeded in “driving the agenda” and “milking the story” (maximising media coverage of a particular issue by the careful use of [media management].)
“That’s also very commonly practice,” she says. “When a country goes off to war, so goes its media with it. The news media were caught up in the rally round the flag syndrome. They were forced to choose a side, and given the choices, whose side did they logically choose but the U.S.?”
— Mirren Guiterrez, The ‘Prop-Agenda’ at War, Inter Press Service, June 27, 2004
Furthermore, some propaganda that may be effective to national audiences will not work on foreign audiences:
While the U.S. government campaign [for war on Iraq] had an impact on the U.S. public, the “perception management” was a failure at influencing foreign audiences.
According to [Professor Randall Bytwerk, a specialist in propaganda] “it is far easier to make propaganda at home than abroad. One has more credibility at home, and much more in common with the audience. Although Nazi propaganda was not completely believed by Germans, they believed what their government said far more than the British believed German propaganda, for example. All things being equal, most people want to believe they live in a good country.”
— Mirren Guiterrez, The ‘Prop-Agenda’ at War, Inter Press Service, June 27, 2004
It should be noted that in the U.K., the other major country to support war on Iraq, the population was less easily convinced about the various claims justified for war. One reason, (revealed by an insight into how the U.S. supported an Iraqi exile with a global media management campaign and extensive public relations activities) noted that the climate in the U.S. after September 11, 2001 was one of fear. By using the fear of more terrorist attacks against the U.S., the Bush Administration was targeting its campaign towards its home audience. The British public, while feeling deep sympathy towards the Americans for their suffering, had not suffered such a horrific attack so recently, and, combined with other factors (e.g. a more diverse mainstream media), did not have the same attitude towards government claims as the American public did.
Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
— General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during World War II, April 18, 1946. (This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact, while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the book, Nuremburg Diary.)
Media management and public relations is very professional
The impacts of public relations cannot be underestimated. In the commercial world, marketing and advertising are typically needed to make people aware of products. There are many issues in that area alone (which is looked at in this site’s section on corporate media.) When it comes to propaganda for purposes of war, for example, professional public relations firms can often be involved to help sell a war. In cases where a war is questionable, the PR firms are indirectly contributing to the eventual and therefore unavoidable casualties. Media management may also be used to promote certain political policies and ideologies. Where this is problematic for the citizenry is when media reports on various issues do not attribute their sources properly.Some techniques used by governments and parties/people with hidden agendas include:
- Paying journalists to promote certain issues without the journalist acknowledging this, or without the media mentioning the sources;
- Governments and individuals contracting PR firms to sell a war, or other important issues
- Disinformation or partial information reported as news or fact without attributing sources that might be questionable
- PR firms feeding stories to the press without revealing the nature of the information with the intention of creating a public opinion (for example, to support a war, as the previous link highlights where even human rights groups fell for some of the disinformation, thus creating an even more effective propaganda campaign)
The Gulf War in Iraq, 1991, highlighted a lot of PR work in action. Founder of the Washington PR firm, The Rendon Group, John Rendon told cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996:
“I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician,” Rendon said. “I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” He reminded the Air Force cadets that when victorious troops rolled into Kuwait City at the end of the first war in the Persian Gulf, they were greeted by hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. The scene, flashed around the world on television screens, sent the message that U.S. Marines were being welcomed in Kuwait as liberating heroes.
“Did you ever stop to wonder,” Rendon asked, “how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?” He paused for effect. “Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”
… Public relations firms often do their work behind the scenes….But his description of himself as a “perception manager” echoes the language of Pentagon planners, who define “perception management” as “actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops [psychological operations].”
— Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, How To Sell a War, In These Times, 4 August, 2003
Such technical phrases like “truth projection” hide their true meanings and intent: propaganda. One can understand how these have been tactics of war. Churchill used such a technique to fool the Nazis regarding the Normandy landings, for example. Yet, in the Iraq example, PR is turned onto one’s own citizens to convince them to support a war or make it look more glorious and right, than could otherwise have been.