How do you know you are being SPUN?
- How do you know you are being SPUN?
Propaganda Vs Persuasion
By Laura Dawn Lewis
November 29, 2003, Portland, OR.: This is the first of the three-part
series covering propaganda and the tools employed by it. This will
not be an easy essay to read; many will be infuriated. Infuriation
toward differing presentations of facts, objectives or motivation is
a byproduct of propaganda with its built-in denial and refusal to
acknowledge, consider or accept.
Can you recognize propaganda when you see it or are you an unknowing
victim of it?
Propaganda currently is entrenched in US policy and public opinion,
accepted as fact and evident through nearly every area of social
concern from foreign policy, health care and conservation to the Gay
Rights movement. One spends hours sifting through messages to
distinguish propaganda from reality. Once one element uncovers,
three more challenges pile atop. Superior propaganda entrenches
itself within society's minds, self-perpetuating through acceptance
and shared argument as those succumbing defend it even when they may
suspect it. It is an art form and science based on agendas that rely
on viral and repetitive perpetuation by the masses. Through its very
nature, it supplies its own defense often built on illogical
exceptions; those whom buy in, passionately defend it.
To control a population's opinion, those driving any agenda need only
control directly or through influence 25% of the media, education,
cultural sources like film, books and music and other sources of
accredited information. For example, Rupert Murdoch, (News Corp:
FOX, 20th Century FOX, TV Guide, New York Post and others) at this
time controls all satellite transmissions to the world's media except
one. If the FCC rulings proceed without reversal and Murdoch is
allowed to buy this last line of satellite transmission, he will own
them all. The consequences of one man controlling 100% of all
satellite news media transmissions and 100% of the news distributed
by this vehicle worldwide are yet to be determined; yet such power
over the information available cannot be ignored and News Corps'
properties continue to gain in influence and importance as evident by
the current war in Iraq and the US's new sights on Iran.
The complexity of propaganda's entrenchment unfolds as those whom
normally wouldn't support the agenda, become its advocates and
defenders based upon the information they receive. A conspiracy is
not necessary; the majority become the unknowing administrators.
Propaganda becomes self-fulfilling.
The Motivation for this Series
Since 9-11, like many I received a wake-up call. At that time I
started paying close attention to the media. One thing that
continues to nag is the fact we've had very little investigation into
9-11. Think about that. Normally in a plane crash we reconstruct the
whole thing, even if the evidence is at the bottom of a lake. It's
been two years. Where are the follow-up reports? A docu-movie was
presented that was hailed as improbable by engineering experts, yet
no further investigation? The questions were buried and never
addressed. The largest attack on American soil occurred and we
promptly destroyed the evidence by melting it down and shipping it
overseas? And why the gag orders on the crews working at ground
zero? This lack of protocol and many, many strange occurrences
since, including inconsistencies in our reporting and several
disturbing social trends, raised the red flags in my mind. The
hatred of Americans turning on each other further alarmed me; a
phenomenon played throughout international history where the common
thread inevitably is propaganda.
"How does one take an educated population of basically good people
and turn them against their principles, while at the same time
motivating them to actively participate, promote and defend
This question first haunted me when I began researching the Holocaust
in 1977. For the past twenty-five years I've studied mob and crowd
psychology, marketing and propaganda. One of the promises I made to
myself was that if ever saw something happening like what happened in
Germany, I would do what I could to stop it. While I was busy
studying history, I failed to notice reality; like most Americans I
didn't question what we were fed. September 11th made me aware of
this as I dug deeper.
Upon doing so, I realized how pervasive propaganda is today in
America, and how as the Germans once did, Americans blindly follow
the same path built on the power of brilliantly executed propaganda.
What happened in Germany is happening, only this time it is the
American people funding it, defending it and believing it.
Unbelievable another tactic of propaganda: a big lie is easier to
accept than a little lie. TOP
I don't expect the majority of Americans to accept what is written in
this 3-part essay. That will come with time. Each of us must
discover for ourselves or we'll never be convinced. What follows is
a process that ultimately redefines reality and produces a period of
anger, confusion and disgust. This is a personal journey everyone
will eventually take, and history shows eventually everyone does.
What I do hope is that by pointing out some of the tactics and
through examples, Americans will begin to question critically what
we're fed and perhaps research some of the examples presented. What
I hope is that if people know what to look for, we'll begin to see.
Once we begin to see, the propaganda loses its effect. Propaganda
can only work on a population that refuses to question, remains
apathetic, distracted or self-absorbed and self-righteous by setting
aside its core values in favor of the values espoused by the agenda.
Propaganda's potency faces destruction one heart and one mind at a
time, and it's that destruction I hope to instigate with this
series. -Laura Dawn Lewis
Propaganda Vs Persuasion
Part 1 of 3
The differences illustrating persuasion and propaganda revel within
shades of gray. Persuasion uses facts, quantifiable and verifiable
coupled with emotion, generally fear, guilt, humor or curiosity. It
weighs heavily upon opinion, but this opinion is discernable from
fact. Through these tactics, persuasion makes its point. Both sides
of an issue define the facts presented within persuasion equally.
Dissention does not exist concerning factual credibility. Its goal is
to persuade you in one direction or another as it rallies emotion and
appeals to common sense, law or desire.
Well known examples exist, the most prominent being the anti-smoking
campaigns. Whether you smoke or not, no person can argue the fact
that smoking destroys your health, is annoying to people that don't
smoke, causes birth defects and a host of other diseases. Hedonistic,
it is habit benefiting only those whom enjoy the habit and those who
manufacture the tool of enjoyment. Quantifiable and scientific
research confirms the dangers of smoking; even people that smoke will
agree without argument.
Arriving at this point, where society agrees on the dangers of
smoking occurred over 30 years and required defeating a slick
propaganda campaign designed to distract, deny, confuse and assure.
Persuasion utilized a consistent, repetitive campaign of the same
message, "Smoking kills. People that smoke are killing themselves.
To smoke is bad for your health." These statements were substantiated
by scientific research, yet the Tobacco industry created its own junk
science to counter and continued to overwhelm the message with
irrelevant details and distraction. Though it took 30-years,
persuasion eventually won. Truth always does. Persuasion is rooted
in truth; Propaganda is rooted in a self-fulfilling agenda, junk
science, distortions and half-truths. The Tobacco war is a classic
example of persuasion ultimately overcoming propaganda.
When a message addresses the habit, issue or action, it is
persuasion. When it attacks the person, glorifies harmful behaviors
or ideas, it is propaganda. People who smoke are not bad. Smoking,
the action is bad. When movies portray only villains or downtrodden
as smokers, while the statistics for society do not mirror its
characterization, this is propaganda and falls under two strategies,
characterization and transfer.
Characterization illustrates the most easily identified form of
propaganda. When in response to an argument a commentator refers to
someone as "right-wing", "liberal" or "fanatical", characterization
manifests and propaganda reveals itself. The commentator cannot
argue the point or based upon an agenda he may be aware of or not, he
does not want you to consider the other argument. Rather he chooses
to discredit the person or source material instead. Through
characterization, he discredits the argument for the majority of
those reading, listening or watching. The commentator, through
careful cultivation of image, negates others solely upon his
perceived expertise, warranted or not. Reputation creates a comfort
cell around those whom command and distribute popular opinion. It
doesn't mean the commentator is right; it only means most fail to
question. This acceptance leads one down the path of least
resistance and propaganda perpetuates.
Characterization has a flip side when it is used as packaging.
Sometimes referred to as advertising slogans, this type of
characterization teeters on the edge of persuasion. What defines
propaganda is the facts. A favorite example is the O'Reilly Factor's
slogan, the "The No Spin Zone". The irony to anyone watching with an
understanding of propaganda is that commentator Bill O'Reilly is a
master at characterization, filibustering and deflection. Brilliant
in his ability to use facial expressions, voice inflection and verbal
characterizations, he easily discredits people and bolsters his
followers. Occasionally his tactics deem appropriate. Occasionally a
few minutes of research exposes his characterization as just that.
Propaganda banks on the fact that fewer than 10% of those watching,
whom fundamentally agree with the argument, will actually dig
deeper. Characterization's power breeds as viewers or readers
proceed to compound its stereotype through dissemination to others.
In time, a characterization once seen as racist or demeaning enters
the common consciousness as accepted and appropriate.
propaganda's pendulum of equality:
Propaganda distorts society's illusion of reality to fulfill its
purpose. At times it empowers one segment of society with
supernatural or God given rights, placing one group of people within
disdain as the Jews, mentally ill, persons of color, homosexuals,
communists, Catholics, gypsies and handicapped in Nazi Germany faced.
Propaganda plays both sides and often elevates others to superhuman
and righteous status, as was the case in Germany with its aspirations
of a master Aryan race during the early parts of the last century,
and is the case in Israel present day. In both examples, a group of
people decides they are more deserving of life and possibly endowed
with extraordinary blessings, powers, superior intellect or some
other distinguishing factor. Concurrently they must dehumanize and
rid their world of persons differing or seen as a threat. The
differing are vilified, chastised and often turned into the reason
for the continued assault, a form of self-justification for continued
persecution as evident in Nazi Europe and the Middle East today.
"We have to control them because they aren't (smart enough, righteous
enough, strong enough fill in the blank) to take care of themselves.
Their (brain, upbringing, culture fill in the blank) is inferior to
ours. How can we be expected to live with these people?
They will contaminate our (race, children, country fill in the blank)"
REALITY CHECK--Consider this. If some type of racial, ethnic,
religious or cultural superiority did exist, the United States could
not exist. If one group of people were incapable of living with
another group of people, the United States wouldn't exist.
Every race, culture, faith and country has people in the United
States. In each group, some are successes and some are failures. In
each group some are righteous and law abiding and some are
criminals. No studies show any group superior to another. All
studies show is that each group has its own challenges and
advantages. For example, if you're white, you tend to get sunburned
a lot quicker than someone of color. Darker skin is an advantage in
a sunny climate. It is neither a disadvantage nor advantage in an
overcast climate. Does this mean to have darker skin is to be
racially superior? No, it just means people of darker skin usually
age better with fewer sun-caused wrinkles and have fewer instances of
skin cancer because they don't spend time and money tanning!
Though claiming racial superiority, faith superiority or any other
elitism is easy to spot, it is rarely recognized. Like a frog
boiling to death one degree at a time, the idea becomes accepted
through repetition, obfuscation, euphemisms, junk science and extreme
public pressure. Before the average person realizes it, he or she
begins spouting the propaganda with conviction and belief, defending
it ardently when questioned or confronted. Viral in nature, the
ideas spread and dissention is silenced or eliminated.
With propaganda, the pendulum swings both ways, with neither side
being justice, logical or humane. The commonality shared: propaganda
and the distortion of reality to both sides of the pendulum presses
forth an agenda that rarely benefits society as a whole, yet provides
absolution for those promoting it and a sense of acceptance and a
greater purpose for those espousing it.
Looking at the cigarette example in modern times, propaganda's
objective is to equate bad, evil or undesirable characters with
cigarettes; subconsciously people begin to equate those that smoke as
bad people. In the beginning its objective married health and
vitality with smoking and the people who smoked as hip; the pendulum
effectively swings back. Symbols of health and youth populated the
ads and message. Both instances are propaganda because facts support
The tactic, of placing symbols in proximity of the message or
messenger is called transference. Transference is a classic
propaganda technique. Transference creates consent through proximity
of visual or auditory clues. Innuendo and implied consent, this is
one of the reasons corporations will not allow photos or publicity
near or in their stores or locations, whether for a product they
carry or a cause. Simply putting the company in the picture or using
its logo implies consent, support and approval. Politicians love
transference, consider kissing and holding a baby.
Rewriting History to Fit the Agenda
Propaganda assumes its full power convincing people to do, support or
advocate something their principles, morality, values or common sense
would otherwise prevent if they had the full story. Operating within
convenient truths, half-truths and outright lies, propaganda in
effect convinces each to abandon his values and faith, subsidizing
morality through exception. Like persuasion, propaganda uses facts;
the difference between the two falls upon these facts, easily
challenged by historical data, though often revised, rewritten or
discounted to parallel the objective. Discovering revision is a task
The most egregious yet brilliant example of recently revised history
concerns the rewriting of the The Scofield Study Bible (also known
as The Scofield Reference Bible) beginning in 1908 and drastically
altered from 1962 through today. This book is the primary source of
study and inspiration for a large portion of America's 70-million
evangelical Christians. Prior to 1908, bibles did not include or
reference today's agenda; Palestine and the Holy Land are referred to
as Palestine and a number of other names, but never as Israel. The
Israelites are mentioned within a few passages. This began to change
and accelerate with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and by 1962, The
Oxford Press effectively rewrote hundreds of pages of footnotes
establishing the current state of Israel as the fulfillment of
biblical prophecy. As the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, it
earned the protection of Christians adhering to this bible as their
study manual. Through viral sharing, others accepted the idea
What makes this brilliant is within the rewriting; the Oxford Press
added what can be considered an eleventh commandment, subtly making
it a sin to criticize Israel in any way, regardless of its policies.
This is why evangelical Christians consider it a sin to "Go against
the State of Israel" (See Example) and will angrily and at times
viciously accost verbally or physically anyone whom criticizes the
state's policies. It is also the source of a deepening chasm existing
within Christianity today: Christian Zionists led by Pat Robertson,
Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and others on one side, and non-Zionists
led by the Catholic Church with fundamental portions of the Lutheran,
Presbyterian and additional denominational and selected non-
denominational churches on the other. Judaism is experiencing the
same issues and struggling with its own chasm between Torah Faithful
Jewry and Talmudic inspired Zionism.
By subtly changing the source of values and morality, facts and
opinions in the Scofield Study Bible, these new entries become real,
accepted and defended. After all, the bible says so. Its teachings
are the only bible teachings most evangelical Christians have known.
To know differently, one needs to devote serious time to researching
and cross-referencing the Bibles and Torahs of the late 20th Century
with those created prior. Upon doing this, the manipulation is clear
and the propaganda is exposed.
Today tens of thousands of Christians derive their inspiration and
justification from The Scofield Study Bible and use its teachings to
defend and support polices they denounce in the United States but
support and defend vehemently in the Middle East including apartheid,
ethnic cleansing, murder, white slavery, state funded abortion,
homosexuality, racism and segregation. Though strong advocates
against these policies in America, in the Middle East they are seen
as justifiable and necessary. To not support them or to try to point
out these policies are hypocrisy considering the foundations of the
faith is to "Go against the State of Israel," and sin. In reality,
each of these policies is fundamentally in opposition to beliefs and
values of Christianity, Judaism and Islam...a fact that reaches
irrelevancy in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, as it is now
understood by them.
"How does one take an educated population of basically good people
and turn them against their principles, while at the same time
motivating them to actively participate, promote and defend
This illustrates a point and provides one of many answers to the
complex question above. Effective propaganda can cause a person to
abandon his faith and morals by espousing what common sense and
humanity consider an abomination. Nazi Germany is one example of
this. Propaganda becomes the justification through repetition,
causing people to alter their beliefs in favor of another's agenda,
generally to their own detriment and to the detriment of mankind.
For those doubting this, simply replace common slogans or accusations
against the Palestinians, Muslims or Arabs with the words "Israeli"
or "African American", "Asian" or any other ethnic group or faith.
Suddenly the persecution becomes racist, simply by switching words.
Reversing the reference illustrates a powerful anti-propaganda tool,
basically putting the issue on the other foot to look at it from both
sides. Through reversal, crimes against humanity and reason become
clear as propaganda is revealed through a simple slight of words.
Racism is racism. Oppression is oppression. Neither allows for
selectivity in its targets or absolution of another. Propaganda
props one group of people up above others and convinces those buying
it to empower the favored group while dehumanizing the target.
Propaganda thrives upon a collective conscience and cognitive
dissonance, the practice of creating confusion through misinformation
or sullying of facts with irrelevant details. One is left defending
the inconsequential, while the real agenda gains strength and further
displaces objection. Propaganda depends upon society's laziness,
apathy and distraction by lesser issues like bills or the day-to-day
with the willingness to accept spoken explanation rather than engage
in research, reason and question. It requires society place me above
we or us. It requires society remain mired in an illusion of
powerlessness. By its very nature, propaganda demands each feel he
or she cannot make a difference; yet history has proven it is the
common man with conviction by which change occurs.
Keeping Propaganda at Bay
Education and critical thinking continue as propaganda's most ardent
threats, which is why those in positions of power and influence are
targeted unmercifully through defamation and characterization. When
a conquering country takes over another, the first order of business
is to disarm the population. The second necessity is rounding up the
leaders and influencers: Clergy, Teachers, Intellectuals, Artists and
anyone else whom assists in determining public opinion. Once rounded
up, they are imprisoned, exiled or killed. Stalin began his wave of
terror in this fashion and ultimately thirty-million people, seen as
threats to the agenda, were slaughtered.
Public characterization accomplishes this in times where no invasion
exists. Banning books, censoring media either intentionally or
through the omission of key facts and persecuting those with a
different opinion illustrate methods used to squash any information
contrary to the party line from reaching the masses. Ergo, education
is key, specifically history and current events. Once one gets past
the propaganda the facts never hold up. Critical thinking occurs
once one stops and compares the facts to principles and morality; at
this time one sees the lie.
Defining Your Values
A famous line in a Country Western song states, "You've got to stand
for something or you'll fall for anything." The song refers to values
and the necessity for every man and woman to define who and what
he/she stands for.
Values define what you are willing or unwilling to do. In most
instances, values are imparted by the family and faith, and to a
lesser extent by the state. The attacking of core faith values gives
credence to the idea that those in power, though legislation and
shaming, effectively silence voices of dissent by ridiculing the
principles of individuals. Values have been under attack in the
United States, specifically over the last 30 years.
The euphemism is to keep one's statements "Politically Correct" and
in so doing, many people have been ridiculed for holding onto ideas
engendered within their faith. Through humiliation or public
ridicule, those whom uphold the ideas of their faith and principles
are often referred to as close-minded, anti-something, rightwing,
leftwing, ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal. The mudslinging is
equally appropriated to both sides, liberal or conservative and
public pressure forces the acceptance of ideas a person may consider
Suddenly as an individual, one feels threatened simply for upholding
his or her principles. We saw this happen in the United States
earlier this year. People objecting to the invasion of Iraq were
targeted physically, emotionally and mentally. Persons objecting to
public policy found themselves referred to as anti-American and
unpatriotic for doing the one thing most patriotic: objecting to a
pre-emptive strike policy directly against the principles and values
defined in the US Constitution. Watching a country turn on its own
is terrifying; it is also a sure sign the population is being
manipulated making objection imperative.
Accept public opinion or live as in exile. This is the perceived
price of going against propaganda. Fit in or move on. Using peer
pressure to force policy is an example of Bandwagon, another key tool
"If everyone jumped off a cliff, then would you?" Every American's
mother has spouted this statement in one form or another, usually to
remind us of the dangers of giving into peer pressure. Propaganda
prefers each not recall her words or realize the public isn't
necessarily right; the public just makes one feel wrong because it
appears the rest of the world is against you.
Consider slavery, segregation or apartheid. At one time a person who
spoke against slavery remained ostracized from society. To be an
abolitionist in the 19th Century was to be radical. Today, people who
speak against apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East
receive the same treatment. Speak of the horrors of apartheid and
ethnic cleansing in any other part of the world and the whole world
joins in condemnation. Speak of it in the Middle East, and one
Double standards for the same situation; the values of those
condemning come with footnotes and exceptions, exposing the ideas as
false values dependent upon public acceptance rather than morality.
Propaganda produces the displacement of values through exclusion and
acceptance of contingencies. It takes morality and adds a 'but'.
Challenging that 'but' creates the heroes we aspire to like Dr.
Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Thomas Jefferson
and Benjamin Franklin.
The Emotions of Propaganda
Guilt, shame and fear continue to be propaganda's most powerful
motivators. Guilt takes hold by consistently reminding of past
trespasses and making it a crime to not hold guilt or to challenge
accepted facts based upon previous propaganda or supposition.
Shame manifests in the targeting those whom question and making them
But fear is its most powerful tool. Passing legislation limiting
society's ability to live anonymously or to usurp power from the
people as The Patriot Act has done is one example. The government
used fear to convince Americans it is in their best interests to
relinquish their rights, including the values and principles the
United States is founded on. Rather than be protected from
terrorists, Americans now find themselves needing to be protected
from their own government: absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And still people out of fear defend it and honestly believe the
government is a better nanny than their own common sense. Challenge
the idea and you will be targeted. Don't do what we say and you will
lose everything. Fail to allow us to take care of you and you will
be alone and in danger. Don't buy our line and the boogieman will
bomb your city. Still don't believe us? Then we'll threaten you, your
family, take your money and your career and perhaps even kill you to
shut you up. This is how fear works and these are the messages
journalists, leaders and those objecting to public policy hear from
our government and special interests, today. Fear works for a while,
but never indefinitely.
To a lesser extent propaganda uses humor. Humor is used to create an
everyman image of the idea or group and lower defenses. It often,
when used for propaganda, contains humorous dehumanization or
characterizations of those whom disagree or the group the
propagandists decide are a threat. When humor is used, it generally
has a mean-spirited undertone, yet it is effective because it creates
outcasts of those whom object to this and of those depicted. When
directed at the persona of the propagandists, it also removes anger
or fear to a group by painting them as harmless, loveable and
endearing. It is human nature to empathize with one who can laugh at
The most famous accepted examples of propaganda are Nazi Germany from
1922-1945 and the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's. Today it is the
US government's spin on the Invasion of Iraq, the Middle East and the
Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Propaganda can be seen everywhere from
the Gay Rights movement to the abortion issue and the increasing
levies for new taxes.
Does this mean propaganda is never truthful? Propaganda always as a
nugget of truth somewhere, and it is this nugget the distortions are
built on. It is the job of every adult with an IQ over 80 to
separate the fact from fiction once propaganda is recognized.
Propaganda works solely when society refuses to do its homework and
define its values. Without values, society operates on a tightrope
without the benchmarks of measurement necessary to determine right
and wrong. Ultimately, propaganda only works when people are too
afraid, apathetic or distracted to think. It only works if society
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