Friday, December 17, 2010

Propaganda and the American media

The word "propaganda" is not a word that should be thrown around. It has a specific meaning, and its important to know what that is. The goals of propaganda are not always evil. It was an extremely important tool to getting the American Revolution off the ground, and America may not even be a nation without it (see: the Boston Massacre). It's not always political either, advertisements use it all the time. But it is always manipulative. Its goal is to sway people into holding a specific opinion. One thing that is potentially very frightening about the modern age is the ease and speed that information can be spread. Hearts and minds can be manipulated more easily now more than ever before.

I want to focus on right wing media. All media of course engages in propaganda to a certain extent, but Fox and talk radio has taken it to McCarthyist levels. Edward Filene established a list of ten common propaganda techniques in 1937 to educate the American public on how to recognize it. Once you know them, you will start seeing them everywhere.

Name calling: This techniques consists of attaching a negative label to a person or a thing. People engage in this type of behavior when they are trying to avoid supporting their own opinion with facts. Rather than explain what they believe in, they prefer to try to tear their opponent down.

You see this all the time in right wing circles. They attach the names of people they don't like to policies they don't like, such as Obamacare or the Obama deficit. They've turned "liberal" into an insult. They call Obama a socialist, and a Nazi, and a Muslim, and a Kenyan.

Glittering Generalities: This technique uses important-sounding "glad words" that have little or no real meaning. These words are used in general statements that cannot be proved or disproved. Words like "good," "honest," "fair," and "best" are examples of "glad" words.

Maverick. Patriot. Freedom. Liberty. Real/Every Day Americans.

Transfer: In this technique, an attempt is made to transfer the prestige of a positive symbol to a person or an idea. For example, using the American flag as a backdrop for a political event makes the implication that the event is patriotic in the best interest of the U.S.

False Analogy: In this technique, two things that may or may not really be similar are portrayed as being similar. When examining the comparison, you must ask yourself how similar the items are. In most false analogies, there is simply not enough evidence available to support the comparison.

Here's Glenn Beck comparing a conservative health care bill to Pearl Harbor, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Neville Chamberlain's policies towards Nazi Germany, Jimmy Carter, and the Hindenburg Disaster all in less than two minutes.

Testimonial: This technique is easy to understand. It is when "big name" personalities are used to endorse a product. Whenever you see someone famous endorsing a product, ask yourself how much that person knows about the product, and what he or she stands to gain by promoting it.

Did you know the founding fathers were Republicans?

Plain Folks: This technique uses a folksy approach to convince us to support someone or something. These ads depict people with ordinary looks doing ordinary activities.

Card Stacking: This term comes from stacking a deck of cards in your favor. Card stacking is used to slant a message. Key words or unfavorable statistics may be omitted in an ad or commercial, leading to a series of half-truths. Keep in mind that an advertiser is under no obligation "to give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Bandwagon: The "bandwagon" approach encourages you to think that because everyone else is doing something, you should do it too, or you'll be left out. The technique embodies a "keeping up with the Joneses" philosophy.

Either/or fallacy: This technique is also called "black-and-white thinking" because only two choices are given. You are either for something or against it; there is no middle ground or shades of gray. It is used to polarize issues, and negates all attempts to find a common ground.

I don't even need to explain this one. Turn on Fox.

Faulty Cause and Effect: This technique suggests that because B follows A, A must cause B. Remember, just because two events or two sets of data are related does not necessarily mean that one caused the other to happen. It is important to evaluate data carefully before jumping to a wrong conclusion.

See this post.

Like everyone else, I have right wing friends who support Republicans. It scares me when they listen to this stuff. I can never tell just how much of it they're actually buying. How many of them are the smart ones - the Ron Paul/Penn Jilette libertarians? Or do they think Barack Obama really is a socialist? A Muslim? Do they think there's something wrong with being a Muslim? Do they really think there's a massive left wing conspiracy to derail the United States government in order to establish a socialist dictatorship? I always try to avoid getting into debates with them now, because I can never tell just where on the spectrum they stand. And I know that no matter what I say, their opinions will never change towards anything at all. Having a political discussion in any sense is completely pointless. There are legitimate reasons to criticize Barack Obama and the Democrats, but the right wing doesn't focus on them. Instead, they put their supporters into a world that does not exist. They fill their heads with lies and misinformation, and transform Obama into an inhuman boogeyman who is out to get them.

In fact, a recent study concluded that out of all major media outlets, it is Fox News' viewers, regardless of political party, who are least informed. They were "significantly" more likely to believe than non-viwers that:

-Most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)
-Most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)
-The economy is getting worse (26 points)
-Most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)
-The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)
-Their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)
-The auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)
-When TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)
-And that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

Now tell me how many viewers of Fox will ever hear of this. And of those who do, how many will actually believe it? I'll bet no one. They'll likely convince themselves of a loophole they have no evidence of. The study is unfairly biased, of course. They'll reach that conclusion without ever reading it or doing any research about it at all. Here. Go ahead and read it yourself. It's pretty damning.

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