If you think fake news is anything modern or unprecedented, you have failed to listen to the voices of history. Fake news used to be called exactly what it is: propaganda.
It is critical that we take a minute or two and step back from the loud cacophonous sounds of what passes for public debate these days (which is little more than two people engaging in simultaneous yelling of their viewpoint louder and more passionately than the other) so we can better understand how we got to the point where we routinely fail to recognize propaganda as propaganda.
Let’s start with this foundational thought: Everything published, printed, broadcasted or spoken is communicated with a purpose. That’s a reasonable assumption, right?
Going even deeper – The arguments formed, the words chosen and the nuances added to every form of communication are selected in furtherance of the intended purpose.
Now, it is important to understand that we are not assigning moral virtues or vices (yet). The intended purpose may be entirely benign or entirely malevolent but regardless, there is a purpose.
OK, then let’s move on to identifying the propagandist and his techniques.
Who is the propagandist? Broadly speaking he is someone who through the use of communication seeks to influence the thoughts and actions of others. In the business world, he could be a PR consultant or the marketing guy. In the political world, he could be the Spin Guy or the talking head pundit. In journalism, he could be the columnist or show host. In romance, he could be the manipulative suitor trying to win the heart of his object of affection.
In other words, we are immersed in a world of propaganda and surrounded by propagandists. But that is too broad a brush to paint the world. Surely there must be a difference between propaganda and promotion?
There is indeed – one of the most critical differences and it has everything to do with technique.
So how do we separate the techniques of the propagandist from other types of persuasive and passionate promoters? It is true that we often assign evil intent to the propagandist, but is that necessarily true? Couldn’t a well-meaning and very morally upright individual employ the same tactics as a propagandist?
In truth, yes. The tactics of a propagandist do not necessarily infer an evil intent. Intentions are based in the heart of the individual, not in the actions they take.
For a better understanding, let’s compare the persuasive methods used by the propagandist to the methods of persuasion used by a scientist. The scientist wants to discover the truth and welcomes close scrutiny of his work, especially by his peers. We would expect the scientist to rely on facts and logical constructs or in other words to be rational in his persuasion effort. But what if the scientist needs to convince a university board that his research is vital and warrants a budget increase? Couldn’t the scientist become a propagandist in those circumstances relying on such techniques to sway the audience instead of facts alone?
Well, the answer is yes. We’ve witnessed it in our day and age in the dishonest debate about Anthropogenic Global Warming, commonly referred to now as “climate change.”
As mentioned above, what truly distinguishes the propagandist from the rationalist presenting an argument for a change or action is the methodology relied upon. What we can observe is that the propagandist relies primarily upon emotion and action as well as logical fallacies to convince or persuade while the rationalist relies primarily upon facts and sound logical constructs to convince or persuade.
Here is a critical truth: a person can be both a propagandist and a rationalist in the same conversation. It all depends on the methodology employed.
This article will start a short series on the practices and methodologies of the propagandist with real world examples of modern propaganda. We will identify the technique, look at examples of its use and identify appropriate responses and questions to address it.
My sincere hope is that this series will help arm you against these false and misleading methodologies. Understand that they may be used by really good people for entirely good causes, but that still does not excuse the use of propagandist techniques.
I am going to use the list of methodologies originally created by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the late 1930’s. It is still very relevant content and the Institute has a fascinating history that I would highly recommend checking out. Here is the list of methodologies that they identified*:
Methodology #1: Name Calling
Methodology #2: Glittering Generality
Methodology #3: Transfer
Methodology #4: Testimonial
Methodology #5: Plain Folks
Methodology #6: Card Stacking
Methodology #7: Band Wagon
By the time we have made it through this list, you will recognize that all of these techniques are still being employed by our politicians and media on a daily basis. Rarely will you find political figures, public policy advocates, media personalities or other ideologues engaging in any discussion of their ideals or goals without relying on these techniques. This is even more true in our modern “sound bite” age.
The most insidious are those who portray themselves as unbiased purveyors of truth in the corporate media. With slight nuancing and choice of wording they exert a tremendous amount of influence on how facts are both reported and interpreted – and they do this intentionally while at the same time pronouncing themselves guiltless of any bias. The height of hypocrisy without any shame.
To kick off the series in this article, I want to also introduce you to the IPA’s Seven ABC’s of propaganda analysis*:
A: Ascertain the conflict element in the propaganda you are analyzing.
B: Behold your own reaction to this conflict element.
C: Concern yourself with today’s propaganda associated with today’s conflicts.
D: Doubt that your opinions are “your very own.”
E: Evaluate, therefore, with the greatest care, your own propagandas.
F: Find the facts.
G: Guard always against omnibus words.
That sets the groundwork for our series. I hope you will join me on this journey of discovery. I promise it will be worth your time and consideration.
(*Source: The Fine Art of Propaganda)