Archive for the 'Propaganda' Category

Don’t get fooled again


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has created a great classroom Internet news tool, FactcheckED. It has very practical advice for helping students detect fraud in political advertising and propaganda. Another good source for researching PR and spin is the site, PR Watch.
FactcheED provides this simple and awesome checklist for detecting bias…

A Process for Avoiding Deception

1. Keep an open mind. Most of us have biases, and we can easily fool ourselves if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep our minds open to new information. Psychologists have shown over and over again that humans naturally tend to accept any information that supports what they already believe, even if the information isn’t very reliable. And humans also naturally tend to reject information that conflicts with those beliefs, even if the information is solid. These predilections are powerful. Unless we make an active effort to listen to all sides we can become trapped into believing something that isn’t so, and won’t even know it.

2. Ask the right questions. Don’t accept claims at face value; test them by asking a few questions. Who is speaking, and where are they getting their information? How can I validate what they’re saying? What facts would prove this claim wrong? Does the evidence presented really back up what’s being said? If an ad says a product is “better,” for instance, what does that mean? Better than what?

3. Cross-check. Don’t rely on one source or one study, but look to see what others say. When two or three reliable sources independently report the same facts or conclusions, you can be more confident of them. But when two independent sources contradict each other, you know you need to dig more deeply to discover who’s right.

4. Consider the source. Not all sources are equal. As any CSI viewer knows, sometimes physical evidence is a better source than an eyewitness, whose memory can play tricks. And an eyewitness is more credible than somebody telling a story they heard from somebody else. By the same token, an Internet website that offers primary source material is more trustworthy than one that publishes information gained second- or third-hand. For example, official vote totals posted by a county clerk or state election board are more authoritative than election returns reported by a political blog or even a newspaper, which can be out of date or mistaken.

5. Weigh the evidence. Know the difference between random anecdotes and real scientific data from controlled studies. Know how to avoid common errors of reasoning, such as assuming that one thing causes another simply because the two happen one after the other. Does a rooster’s crowing cause the sun to rise? Only a rooster would think so.

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News war


Watch it online.

FRONTLINE: news war: introduction | PBS:

Bergman traces the recent history of American journalism, from the Nixon administration’s attacks on the media and the post-Watergate popularity of the press to new obstacles presented by the war on terror and changing economics in the media business and the Internet. The topic has special resonance for Bergman, whose career as a journalist for FRONTLINE, The New York Times, ABC News and 60 Minutes has included reporting on the issues that are critical to the current controversies. “There has been a perfect storm brewing in the world of news,” says Bergman. “Not since the Nixon administration has there been this level of hostility leveled at news organizations. … [But] unlike the confrontations of 35 or more years ago, today’s news war sees the very economic foundations of the business shifting.”

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Anatomy of a propaganda-op.


One of the primary propaganda techniques used by politicians is to stage photos, especially in the Bush White House. The ideas is to put the President in the context of other visual imagery, be it Mount Rushmore or in front of a portrait of George Washington. The most famous is placing Bush underneath the “MIssion Accomplished” banner during his now infamous speech on the aircraft carries USS Lincoln that declared major combat operations over in Iraq. Ironically, the official photos from that staged event are now re-cropped on the White House Web site so that the banner is no longer visible.

As an exercise, I highly recommend going the White House’s site and looking at these photos of the President’s so-called war on terror (an overused term I thought had been discarded). For those working with students, it might be interesting to ask kids what kind of textless narrative the images create.

Recently a general complained that Bush’s visit to Walter Reed would just be another photo op. You can read the commentary at Crooks and Liars and this from Think Progress » Anatomy of a photo-op.:

Anatomy of a photo-op.

Bush at Walter Reed: “Journalists were allowed to take pictures and watch for only a few minutes before being ushered out, though not before Bush told photographers to take pictures of Sgt. Mark Ecker’s tattoo of a naked woman. Reporters were not allowed to interview patients in Abrams Hall, hospital officials said, citing logistics. The hospital instead made available two doctors, who spoke glowingly about the president’s visit and had no information to provide about the facility’s problems.” Bush wrapped up his visit an hour before the scheduled time.

UPDATE: “The president was not taken into the shut-down Building 18 yesterday but was shown a well-kept, empty dormitory room equipped with flat-screen television and desktop computer in Abrams Hall, where some Building 18 patients have been moved.”

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Mapping corporate media


“We report. You Decide.”

Wondering where your news comes from? One of the underlying principles of a “propaganda environment” is an information complex in which the values of the system are internalized. Remember that traditional media are corporations in the business of selling programming, including news. One of the criticisms of traditional media (as opposed to networked media or citizen journalism) is that they generate their own reality: they define what is “information,” not the reverse (i.e. the Fox News slogan, “We report. You Decide.”). Only rarely do the carefully orchestrated presentations of news get unhinged: natural disasters and major events like 9/11. I found it curious, though, that within 12 hours of the airplanes hitting the WTC, news companies had already edited amateur video into a narrative that looked like a film trailer. This is an example of how events are made into packages.

Anyhow, below is an interesting map of the interlocking interests between news companies and other major multinational corporations. For a detailed map of corporate board rooms, go here. The following is a snapshot that is a couple years old, and some of the members will have changed by now, but you will get the picture.

Project Censored Media Democracy in Action:

A research team at Sonoma State University has recently finished conducting a network analysis of the boards of directors of the ten big media organizations in the US. The team determined that only 118 people comprise the membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. This is a small enough group to fit in a moderate size university classroom. These 118 individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and international corporations. In fact, eight out of ten big media giants share common memberships on boards of directors with each other. NBC and the Washington Post both have board members who sit on Coca Cola and J. P. Morgan, while the Tribune Company, The New York Times and Gannett all have members who share a seat on Pepsi. It is kind of like one big happy family of interlocks and shared interests. The following are but a few of the corporate board interlocks for the big ten media giants in the US:

New York Times: Caryle Group, Eli Lilly, Ford, Johnson and Johnson, Hallmark,
Lehman Brothers, Staples, Pepsi
Washington Post: Lockheed Martin, Coca-Cola, Dun & Bradstreet, Gillette,
G.E. Investments, J.P. Morgan, Moody’s
Knight-Ridder: Adobe Systems, Echelon, H&R Block, Kimberly-Clark, Starwood Hotels
The Tribune (Chicago & LA Times): 3M, Allstate, Caterpillar, Conoco Phillips, Kraft,
McDonalds, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, Shering Plough, Wells Fargo
News Corp (Fox): British Airways, Rothschild Investments
GE (NBC): Anheuser-Busch, Avon, Bechtel, Chevron/Texaco, Coca-Cola, Dell, GM,
Home Depot, Kellogg, J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, Motorola, Procter & Gamble,
Disney (ABC): Boeing, Northwest Airlines, Clorox, Estee Lauder, FedEx, Gillette,
Halliburton, Kmart, McKesson, Staples, Yahoo,
Viacom (CBS): American Express, Consolidated Edison, Oracle, Lafarge North America
Gannett: AP, Lockheed-Martin, Continental Airlines, Goldman Sachs, Prudential, Target,
AOL-Time Warner (CNN): Citigroup, Estee Lauder, Colgate-Palmolive, Hilton

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Spin of the week


Man, these guys could spin Hitler into a saint. Nice work!

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Information doesn’t make a war moral

Yet another attempt to argue that the problem with the Iraq war is the communication and information strategy. It doesn’t matter how good a propagandist you are, ultimately it’s your intentions that count. As the saying goes, denial ain’t a river in Egypt. Yes, US war information officers are idiots, but hasn’t it occurred to anyone that nobody in their right mind likes having a gun pointed at their head and being told what to do? Perhaps its the information inside the heads of the war mongers that’s the real problem.

Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Columnists: Rod Dreher:

To fight [jihadists] effectively on this critical front requires a level of tactical and strategic sophistication that we haven’t seen from this administration, which arranges events like sending Ms. Hughes to China a couple of weeks ago with Michelle Kwan on a goodwill tour. America needs to deploy a commander with the conceptual depth of a Marshall McLuhan and the ruthless brilliance of a Joseph Goebbels. Instead, we have a PR generalissima who turns up in Turkey saying things like: “I am a mom, and I love kids. I love all kids. And I understand that is something I have in common with the Turkish people.”

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Viral hoax marketing terror stunt


Klaxoncow’s comment posted on the above YouTube video:

You’re clearly not a bomb expert.

Just to clue you in: Bombs are traditionally not covered in LEDs which trace out the shape of a cartoon moon person giving you the middle finger.

Generally, as terrorists don’t want their bomb plots foiled, they tend not to decorate their bombs in bright lights advertising their presence and then leave them lying around for weeks.


Advertising Age:

It was also a great study in the use of persuasive language. Boston authorities were quick to call the event “a terrorist hoax”‘ while others called it a “prank.” In our own industry we struggled with what to call this. It was referred to as a “viral campaign” by some. PRWeek referred to it as a “publicity stunt.” BrandWeek called it a “marketing stunt.” The Hollywood Reporter referred to them as “ad lights.” Bruce Schneir, a security expert and writer on contemporary security issues summed up the incident as a “‘Non-Terrorist’ Embarrassment in Boston.”

Meanwhile, a New York Magazine cover story subhead declares: “Understanding the Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll

Writing about the ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ fiasco in Boston, the above commentary comes from an AdAge column by Noelle Weaver. I think she hits upon the importance of language to frame an event or situation, but also how crucial cultural perspective is in determining whether someone gets a joke or not. This has been my biggest concern regarding homeland security practices. It’s one thing to do a data sweep of any pattern, name or key word, it’s a whole other thing to get its context. In terms of perception, environment is everything. No doubt that in a climate of fear anything can be interpreted as an enemy attack. This is why propaganda depends more on context than actual content. Unfortunately, when everything that is anomalous is identified as an act of terrorism, in a diverse society the entire population is threatened with criminalization. And when marketers are accused of terror plots, how do you think artists are going to be treated?

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Ten things everyone should know about propaganda

Yahoo! News Photos - War With Iraq


1. Truth is not the absence of propaganda; propaganda thrives in presenting different kinds of truth, including half truths, incomplete truths, limited truths, out of context truths. Modern propaganda is most effective when it presents information as accurately as possible. The Big Lie or Tall Tale is the most ineffective propaganda.

2. Propaganda is not so much designed to change opinions so much as reinforce existing opinions, prejudices, attitudes. The most successful propaganda will lead people to action or inaction through reinforcement of what people already believe to be true. Continue reading ‘Ten things everyone should know about propaganda’

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Refusing an Inconvenient Truth

The story of National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)refusing a donation of DVDs by Inconvenient Truth co-producer Laurie David is flying all over the blogosphere right now. The following post from the Think Progress blog has a great link to the kind of oil and coal industry curricula the NATA does accept (it’s about a teen girl who discovers what life is like without petroleum, such as no lipstick!). Just goes to show there is nothing “neutral” about education, or the media used for teaching. But this being a “teachable moment,” I hope educators will show the Inconvenient Truth and the oil industry video linked below to teach about bias, not only in media, but in energy consumption as well. I encourage clicking through to the Think Progress post to read the whole thing.

Think Progress » Science Teachers’ Organization Refuses To Accept Copies of Inconvenient Truth:

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, global warming activist Laurie David writes about her effort to donate 50,000 free DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth (which she co-produced) to the National Science Teachers Association. The Association refused to accept the DVDs:

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other “special interests” might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn’t want to offer “political” endorsement of the film; and they saw “little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members” in accepting the free DVDs. …

[T]here was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place “unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters.”

As it turns out, those supporters already include “special interests,” including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, and the American Petroleum Institute, which have given millions in funding to the NSTA. And while the NSTA showed no interest in helping educators get copies of Al Gore’s movie (which scientists gave “five stars for accuracy“), it has distributed oil industry-funded “educational” content, like this video produced by the American Petroleum Institute: (click this link to see the video)

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Fake news

At least with The Daily Show fake news is funny. Not so with “Video News Releases” (NVR), which are bogus news packages created by PR companies that run during regular news programs as if they are legitimate news. This has been a growing phenomena that needs curbing. Click below for more:

Free Press : No Fake News:

Local Television’s Dirty Little Secret

For the second time this year, Free Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) have revealed that corporate propaganda continues to infiltrate local television news across the country.

Stations are slipping corporate-sponsored “video news releases” — promotional segments designed to look like objective news reports — into their regular news programming. This deception is illegal under FCC rules.

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Army fascist?

America’s Army is Rated ‘T’ for Teen
As you probably know, the US military is having trouble recruiting. Various strategies include massive ad campaigns, video games, and aggressive campus presences. While working at a Native American boarding school, I recall classes getting cancelled so students could watch the Air Force rock band perform in the gym. For me it was a bit like Spinal Tap, but the kids seemed to enjoy the covers of southern rock songs played by crew-cut donning soldiers in jumpers. In response there are a number of organizations who are engaging in “counter recruitment.” Meanwhile, there is the latest campaign, Army Strong.

Frankly I’m baffled by the new Army slogan, “Army Strong.” It strangely alludes to the Italian roots of “fascism”:

The word fascism stems from the Italian word fascio (plural: fasci), which may mean bundle, as in a political or militant group, or a nation. The term also comes from the fasces (rods bundled around an axe), which was an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of magistrates. The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity; a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is very difficult to break. (from Wikipedia)

Thankfully, AdAge has a great review of the recent ad campaign, which points out the obvious. The current TV ad completely ignores the “elephant in the room,” war.
Advertising Age:

The “get over yourself” line is fantastic. And the rest minimally does its job of portraying Army service as selfless and heroic. What it doesn’t do is acknowledge the elephant in the room. Save for one flashing image in the 60-second of a medic placing his stethoscope to the chest of a healthy-looking Iraqi boy, there is not the slightest reference to wartime. The strength message scans as far as it goes, but is drowned out by the deafening silence about violent reality.

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US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud


Via: Boing Boing: Timeline of words used in Presidential speeches (1776 – 2006):

Chirag has analyzed “the words that presidents used frequently in their speeches shows which issues they deemed important. The prominence of ‘Terrorist’ in G. W. Bush’s tag cloud is unsurprising while Richard Nixon was all about ‘commitment’ somehow. Move the slider around to see the changes in tag cloud.

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Lakoff on ‘Stay the course’

George Lakoff who introduced to the general population the idea of “framing”- using language to frame how we think of issues- writes on how Bush’s latest rhetoric might be imploding:

Staying the Course Right Over a Cliff:

The Bush administration has finally been caught in its own language trap.

“That is not a stay-the-course policy,” Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, declared on Monday.

The first rule of using negatives is that negating a frame activates the frame. If you tell someone not to think of an elephant, he’ll think of an elephant. When Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook” during Watergate, the nation thought of him as a crook.

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Revisiting the Big Lie


If you read 1984, you may recall that one of the features of the Big Brother-led government is that they would change alliances or history on a dime, denying completely contradictory information to the contrary. It would simple be erased and sent to the “memory hole.” One of the most important propaganda techniques is the Big Lie (developed by the Nazis), which is to repeat the most outrageous claim repeatedly so that after a certain point its reality cannot be denied. Hence the unbelievable statistic that the majority of Americans still believe that WMDs were found in Iraq. For the latest in this hit parade, read the following:

Think Progress » Bush: ‘We’ve Never Been Stay The Course’:

During an interview today on ABC’s This Week, President Bush tried to distance himself from what has been his core strategy in Iraq for the last three years. George Stephanopoulos asked about James Baker’s plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is “between ’stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’”

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Evil Muslim kids will destroy us

Evil Muslim Kids

Here’s an image from the New York Post editorial: “A Dark Globalism.” It was the featured image in the print version. You have to click through the embedded slide show to get to the picture. It reminds me of the wicked kid trope in recent horror films, as if Muslim children are inherently evil. This is another example of how the so-called “war on terror” (a term that seems less in vogue these days) is ideologically reduced to a horror movie.

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War and media


Ad-ing to the war mess

Ad CouncilAd Council’s new support the troops ads are a thinly veiled pro-war campaign. Its tag line, “Don’t let their enemy’s presence be felt more than yours,” with a classic war movie silhouette at sunset, reaffirms all the noble stereotypes of war. When ever the war gets unpopular we always get hit over the head with this business of supporting the troops, which is a terrific diversion lobbed by those too chicken to fight their own battles. The government (Ad Council is a federal agency) would like to deflect criticism by victimizing the troops twice: first by sending them to an illegal war, and second by using them as a foil against critics. If the desire is to support the troops, send them to New Orleans to help rebuild a city rather than having them destroying ones on foreign soil.


“Ad Council President-CEO Peggy Conlon said the campaign is in line with the Ad Council’s traditional role. The Council was created early in World War II in part to support the war effort.
‘We don’t want a repeat of what happened when the soldiers came back from Vietnam,’ she said, ‘because of the politics of the war. We want to strip out the policy and politics and let them know that we appreciate that they are supporting the basic tenants that make this country.'”

(Via Ad Age.)

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Duh! It’s the Media’s Fault You’re Losing the War

MSNBCNBC reports the latest blame game: the war in Iraq is the media’s fault. Kinda funny since the mainstream media, thanks to the Pentagon, is generally only allowed the US military’s POV (point of view). I suppose you could blame the government’s PR handlers for losing the war. After all, bombs don’t kill people, cameras do. Right? See, it is Vietnam all over again (for lame excuses, that is).

sfreporter-th.jpgAnyhow, there are actually valiant journalists going out and reporting as fairly as they can given the circumstances. My colleagues and friends at the Baghdad Project photographed and interviewed Iraqi civilians without censoring any views. Some even expressed gratitude for the invasion (this was in the early days of the war). Reporter Zelie Pollon and photojournalist Laurent Guerin (a French veteran of the Lebanese civil war) performed a valiant job under dangerous circumstances, which shows that if you let journalists actually do their jobs, perhaps you would have the proper intelligence necessary to make an honest decision before you start the next war. (Of course that also means you would have to read some history and learn about the country you are targeting, too, before killing 30,000 people in the name of peace).

Oh well. If you feed disinformation into the corporate media, and the corporate media reports that disinformation uncritically (i.e. Judith Miller at the NY Times), then you should also blame bad disinformation for the war. If you believe your own lies repeated in the media, and then claim that you were misled by your own lies, well then, we call that an echo chamber (and that is the most G-rated comment I can make given the true incompetence of the situation).

Debate rages over media’s role in Iraq war – Nightly News with Brian Williams –

“Are the images Americans are seeing from Iraq due to the level of violence or is it just the messenger? And, as President Bush suggested Tuesday at a White House news conference, are the media also being used by the insurgents?”

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