May 14, 2004

Write Your Own Propaganda

I have heard some weird damn things on the news. But nothing compared to the following quote heard at an ungodly hour early this morning, which I just had to follow up on. From a transcript of CNN Student News:

CHRISTINA PARK, CNN ANCHOR: Today's learning activity focuses on the purposes of propaganda, in light of the ways terrorists use, to spread it. It also challenges your students to create their own propaganda against the distribution of terrorist ideology. You'll find the exercise available at!

From the exercise:

...Challenge students to work in groups to create propaganda materials that could be used by anti-terror organizations to further their messages. ...

One of the external links is a Turner Learning propaganda student handout, which clearly (cough, cough) has no overt political agenda:

...PLAIN FOLKS: Here the candidate or cause is identified with common people from everyday walks of life. The idea is to make the candidate/cause come off as grassroots and all-American.

EXAMPLE: After a morning speech to wealthy Democratic donors, Bill Clinton stops by McDonald's for a burger, fries, and photo-op.


TRANSFER: Transfer employs the use of symbols, quotes or the images of famous people to convey a message not necessarily associated with them. In the use of transfer, the candidate/speaker attempts to persuade us through the indirect use of something we respect, such as a patriotic or religious image, to promote his/her ideas. Religious and patriotic images may be the most commonly used in this propaganda technique but they are not alone. Sometimes even science becomes the means to transfer the message.

EXAMPLE: The environmentalist group PEOPLE PROMOTING PLANTS, in its attempt to prevent a highway from destroying the natural habitat of thousands of plant species, produces a television ad with a "scientist" in a white lab coat explaining the dramatic consequences of altering the food chain by destroying this habitat.


FEAR: This technique is very popular among political parties and PACs (Political Action Committees) in the U.S. The idea is to present a dreaded circumstance and usually follow it up with the kind of behavior needed to avoid that horrible event.

EXAMPLE: The Citizens for Retired Rights present a magazine ad showing an elderly couple living in poverty because their social security benefits have been drastically cut by the Republicans in Congress. The solution? The CRR urges you to vote for Democrats.


LOGICAL FALLACIES: Applying logic, one can usually draw a conclusion from one or more established premises. In the type of propaganda known as the logical fallacy, however, the premises may be accurate but the conclusion is not.


Premise 1: Bill Clinton supports gun control.
Premise 2: Communist regimes have always supported gun control.
Conclusion: Bill Clinton is a communist.

We can see in this example that the Conclusion is created by a twisting of logic, and is therefore a fallacy. ...

You had to know that all the late night news watching would pay off someday. It's clear that Americans should be worried about the propagandist agenda is being foisted upon innocent school children without the knowledge or consent of their parents, and that they're being forced to participate in activities that glorify disseminating misinformation to the public.

I can see it now. Little Johnnie runs home exuberant, "Mommy, Mommy, I got an A on my propaganda test, and the military recruiting office said they've got a job waiting for me right after graduation!" Just wait.

Update: I brought the student propaganda handout to my journalism class today, and the student sitting next to me (virtually fresh out of high school) looked at it and said that a teacher of hers had brought the identical handout into class for a discussion of advertising techniques. Apparently, this has been kicking around for a while.

Also, something that bugged me even more about the handout on further reading was the comment that, "Sometimes even science becomes the means to transfer the message." You don't need to be a rocket scientist to recognize the overt politicization of facts whose truth or falsehood can have no political agenda in and of themselves, even if they are used to prescribe a particular course of action. This framing tactic extends beyond the presentation of scientific knowledge, wherein the presentation of factual statements and actions are described as politically motivated regardless of accuracy.

The whole piece is actually a very artful example of political propaganda. Perhaps it could even be described as meta-propaganda, that is, you could describe it that way if you weren't worried that someone would kick you for using the prefix meta-. Fortunately, my shins are out of reach.

Posted by natasha at May 14, 2004 05:39 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |

Okay, so the presentation was somewhere between pathetic and disgusting: "only those mean nasty terrorists use the evil force of propaganda", when we Americans are probably the most sophisticated propagandists on earth. But I can't tell if you're being tongue-in-cheek or not when you say that "Americans should be worried about the propagandist agenda". As more money and research is being spent learning how to influence us to vote against their interests and buy junk they don't need, we consumer/voter/proles need to be better educated to understand and combat this influence. Why not learn by doing?

Posted by: Sean O'Rourke at May 14, 2004 07:13 PM

Frick. "our interests". "we don't need". I hate it when political writers distance themselves from the people they write about.

Posted by: Sean at May 14, 2004 07:15 PM

Tongue firmly in cheek. Also, I'm not sure who you're saying is distancing themselves from the issue. In terms of writing the post, it's hard to be distant from something you've written in the first person, if that's what you meant.

Posted by: natasha at May 15, 2004 08:30 AM

I like it. I like it a lot. Learn by doing. Teach a whole generation how to be artful propagandists. Immunize while young.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at May 16, 2004 06:19 AM

natasha - I wasn't referring to the post there, but to a practice I often see elsewhere, which I caught in my post and incompletely corrected. It's the attitude of talking about "the voter" or "the consumer" as some sort of mysterious dimwit met only in focus groups and best seen through statistics. Watch too much CNN and read too much of the WaPo, and it starts to rub off...

Posted by: Sean at May 16, 2004 06:18 PM