Propaganda 101: An Introduction and Case Study
Column by Mark Davis.
Exclusive to STR
"A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers . . . . The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth." ~ Aldous Huxley
Hello, welcome, come on in. Please find a seat. I’m excited to be here with you today; we will take a look at how public opinion is so easily molded by promoters of the state. Many of us use the word “propaganda” a lot and it’s helpful to understand some basics about what propaganda is and how it is used. Messages released through traditional media organs can now be more effectively challenged directly by interested persons from outside the media priesthood, thanks to the Internet. Until we do this more effectively there will continue to be a trend of hyperactivity towards the police state at home and abroad and the serial-warring will continue. So, here we are; let’s get to it.
The word “propaganda” is often used when trying to explain how the state has been able to maintain such a powerful stranglehold over the collective imagination. Propaganda walks the fine line between what is known and what is purposely hidden while appealing to base emotions of fear and loyalty. Americans have been conditioned to react to this word by associating it with words like Nazi, Fascist, Communist and Terrorist. Basically, propaganda is what Bad Guys do, not Good Guys. Why would Good Guys do anything but tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
You see, Good Guys don’t control the media and good old capitalist media hacks are just giving the people what they want. Right? So, when you say “propaganda,” many people will immediately think that there is no way “our professional journalists” and “our politicians” could possibly do anything so awful to the good people of the United States of America as to inseminate the seed of propaganda into the Red, White and Blue body politic. No sir-ree, only conspiracy theorists believe stuff like that. Only Bad Guys do that and “we,” by definition, are the Good Guys. Now back to reality.
The traditional media machine is sold as being a necessary social institution, completely outside of the state (except for licenses – but don’t mind them), that wields a mighty pen with righteous indignation at political scandals and as giving The People a “voice.” The Third Rail of politics is used to “keep them honest” or “keep their feet to the fire,” for noble purposes, of course, like, say Social Security, Health Care, the Drug War or bombing foreigners. Because these trained and certified journalists had to work their way up the corporate ladder, honing their integrity, sense of honesty and desire to speak truth to power! But, gasp, people today look to the Internet and read ideas written by people who didn’t study in the media education mills or learn to kiss the right spots on the behinds of the right people! The self-serving glorification of mainstream media persons can only be surpassed by politicians themselves. The good news is that liberty has a golden opportunity today because this monopoly on the communication of ideas to the masses controlled by the melded interests of the state and big corporations has been disrupted by new technology.
The manipulation of messages to promote favorable outcomes for a messenger when interpreted by those receiving the message is as old as the first handshake. But how that message is delivered has changed profoundly a few notable times, including the most recent iteration over the past 150 or so years. The written word, developed thousands of years ago, changed communication with the masses from a very personal event with lots of shouting to a non-personal event that put the focus of thought onto the words themselves. It changed everything in society, some good and some not so good. The elite always have used their influence to promote conditions that ensure and/or expand their positions and advantages, often at the expense of the common man. This is not new; however, it has become more complex over the ages.
When the printing press came along in the Middle Ages, it allowed for many copies of written ideas to be distributed simultaneously; this changed how society organized again. The world gets smaller with each advance in communication technology. The most recent step with computers is a continuation of the electronic communications revolution started in the mid to late-1800s. The inventions of telegraph, telephone, radio and television communications made distances literally disappear for people spreading ideas far and wide. The computer has combined all of these technologies into one platform. Now there is a race between liberty and the state seeking to squelch the freedom of ideas in society with laws, regulations, licenses and official messages crowding out the truth.
The term propaganda has its roots in the writings of the Medieval Catholic Church priests wishing to propagate their faith to wider audiences using the new technology: the printing press. Machiavelli wrote a popular book for monarchists that incorporated some age-old theocratic tactics and strategies for modern (at the time) use. Hitler is often given credit for the modern resurgence of propaganda with his use of rituals, including nighttime rallies, fire, symbolism, loudspeakers, mass printing of pamphlets, film distribution, and radio transmissions as well as his autobiographical best-selling book Mein Kampf. But it is Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud and the man known as the “father of public relations” in the United States that deserves the real credit for modern propaganda. I don’t have the time today to go into a detailed history, so please do a search for Edward Bernays for a little interesting homework on the man who inspired the use of modern propaganda.
I want to spend the rest of our limited time looking at a recent article in the mainstream media as a case study in how crude propaganda is passed off of as serious journalism. It goes on everyday in every country, hidden in plain sight. Lies implying the “why” mixed-in with the hard, cold facts of who, what, where and when told by messengers posturing as journalists simply reporting impartial facts to We the People; their agendas hidden behind the façade of good intentions and given legitimacy by official blessings. These statist scribes are the perpetrators of never-ending war as they advertise a continuum of ridiculous propaganda phrases like “Making the World Safe for Democracy,” “World’s Policeman” and “War on Terror.”
First and foremost, propaganda must maintain the veil of legitimacy by speaking with authority. Power (of Authority) is to be reckoned with is the theme of all primary communications. Further, the faithful must always kneel to the powerful or society will fall apart is the subtext to all statist propaganda. Authority must be seen as the savior of society, so the people will ignore the universal faults of the state’s all too human agents. A good example of this in the run-up to the “strike” on Syria using “precision bombing” is the recent piece by Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent called “The White House Walk-and-Talk That Changed Obama’s Mind on Syria.” I didn’t choose this example because it is exceptional, quite the contrary, it is all too typical and you have probably read countless versions of the same message in all of the mainstream media organs.
First, a picture is inserted showing the powerful, wise leaders in deep thought as they weigh the fate of the world on the scales of justice. This helps to establish the authority of the words that follow. Then it’s simply the Hegelian Dialectic writ large. Party A’s political agenda (thesis) is reported and discussed along with the opposing political agenda of Party B (anti-thesis). Then what results is not the clear triumph of either argument, it is the advancement to a “superior” argument C (synthesis). Position C was the elite objective all along and now the process starts over again. This is how each step on the path to perpetual war is so seamless no matter who occupies the chairs at the table of authority. Both sides are allowed occasional meaningless victories to shore up their base and stay in the game, but true victory is ever elusive and defeat always on the horizon. This is the futile system of organizing society we have inherited and glorify; a system based on lies and obfuscation to ensure elite control of the debate. We can do better.
Here is the link to the whole article published on August 31, 2013 at NBCNews.com.
Here is the picture of the official deciders provided by official photographers and released by official spokespersons with caption, by-line and intro:
President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisers in the White House Situation Room on Saturday to discuss strategy in Syria. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is fourth from right.
By Chuck Todd, NBC News Chief White House Correspondent
A stroll around the White House grounds with his top adviser on Friday evening changed President Barack Obama’s mind about getting Congress to sign off on a military strike in Syria, senior White House officials told NBC News.
Obama had been leaning toward attacking Syria without a congressional vote for the past week, the officials said. Obama was convinced he had the evidence to back up a strike and as a result dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to make a passionate case for U.S. action. But only hours after Kerry called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a thug and a murderer" and accused his regime of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, Obama changed his mind as he walked across the South Lawn with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the officials said.
NBC's Chuck Todd says up front these powerful wise men met to “discuss strategy in Syria,” but it is really to discuss strategy for how to get away with bombing Syria. The strategy of bombing Syria is de facto assumed from the start: the leader of the little state on the other side of the world is “a thug and a murderer,” so therefore, the leader of the big state must bomb the people of the little state until they overthrow their leader. Isn’t that the definition of terrorism? State murder is referred to as a strategy, while independent murder is terrorism.
Todd then describes the political process for seeking congressional authorization for a strike on Syria, and says that the president's decision to wait on Congress is a departure from 30 years of strengthening executive branch power. Thus, Our Fearless Leader is not afraid to go his own way to do the right thing and is a Man of the People.
Obama's National Security Council had believed since last weekend that requiring a vote was not even on the table and that “consultation” in the form of congressional briefings and behind-the-scenes conversation was all that would be needed before a strike. One senior official noted that no key leaders in Congress had specifically requested a vote on military intervention.
Officials said that after the president met with national security advisers on Aug. 24, they determined the evidence showed Syria’s Assad regime had used chemical weapons in an attack earlier this month. At that time, the president indicated he was leaning toward a strike.
Note the use of institutional words describing mere mortal men to give these deciders the anointing of authority to “strike” at the enemy. These experts “determined the evidence” does indeed support their agenda, as if it could have been any other way. Our Fearless Leader was only “leaning toward a strike.”
But a growing number of Congressional members were beginning to question the administration’s strategy by the end of the week. And an NBC News poll released Friday morning showed that nearly 80 percent of Americans agreed that the president should seek approval in advance of taking military action.
Ah, so the legitimacy of initiating violence and raining bombs upon foreign peoples who are not a threat to this politician’s constituency is undermined by his constituency opposing his attack. Our Allies seem to be having the same problem; this is nasty business in a purported democracy, but just a speed bump for the propagandist to navigate. Note that the article doesn’t say that Congress questioned the President’s strategy of bombing Syria, just his strategy of how to accomplish this already determined goal by selling that agenda.
While Obama's advisers argued Friday night in private that the humiliating defeat for Cameron starkly illustrated the risks of asking for congressional input, the president responded that the vote in Parliament demonstrated exactly why he should seek a vote on this side of the Atlantic, senior officials told NBC News.
And, the president insisted, seeking legislative backing was the approach most consistent with his philosophy. While debate within the administration continued into late Friday, by Saturday morning the senior advisers acquiesced.
President Obama says the nation should and will take action against the Syrian government, but not without congressional approval.
So President Obama has already made up his mind to bomb Syria, but he wants Congress to publicly back his decision so that when the action goes bad, he can spread the blame around. Congress, on the other hand, wants Obama to order the missile attack on Syria, but is afraid of the voters and doesn’t want to go on record endorsing it. It’s all “legal,” you know, for the emperor to bomb whoever he wants whenever he wants, but it would just be more “consistent with his philosophy” if he had some public support. This entire session was over the timing of the attack with the major concern being getting re-elected, not doing the right thing.
The president also noted, “while I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.”
White House aides said they are fairly confident that Congress will grant them the authority to launch a strike, although they maintain that Obama would be acting within his constitutional authority even if Congress rejects the authorization and Obama orders military intervention.
There’s an upside to that cooling-off period too, aides said. The delay gives Obama time to make his case to Congress and to keep pushing for international support.
This is the purpose of the article: to “make the case” for a strike. Notice again how the article is careful not to frame the decision as being one between attacking and not attacking Syria, but of how to sell a decision that has already been made. The only question is timing. The rest of the article is pure hypocrisy and emotional appeals seeking to give the impression that killing Syrians is the moral thing to do. Pure theater of the absurd promulgated by a willing hack posing as a “journalist.”
Now, is there some apparatchik sitting in a US Ministry of Propaganda giving orders to NBC newsmen or any other mainstream media hacks about what to write and publish? No, there doesn’t have to be, which is worse, because dribble like the above article is seen as “independent” and “just reporting the news.” And it is well written for accomplishing its purpose. However, does it even hint that there is a case for non-intervention? No. Does it ever mention that the “rebels” being supported by Obama and his minions are “thugs and murderers”? No. Does it say that evidence has been provided indicating that the surrogate terrorists seeking to overthrow the Syrian leader have used chemical weapons, originally started the conflict and are mostly from other Arab countries allied with the US? Of course not, because that does not promote the official agenda.
The fact that this attack has not yet occurred is testament to the power of the Internet and how it affects public opinion. Even just ten years ago, the emperor could send out some trumped up evidence (e.g. yellow cake purchases) against the hated dictator-of-the-month who stopped being useful to their CIA handlers and these lap dog journalists would fight over who could exaggerate the official propaganda the most. Today it is common knowledge that the US government and its surrogates have been backing “thugs and murderers” in Syria and that they have not been successful. Since these agents of death and mayhem are failing at their assignment to overthrow the Syrian dictator, the US government felt compelled to escalate the killing by becoming directly involved.
Ten years ago, the missiles would already be raining down on the water, sewer and electric plants of Syria in “precision strikes,” causing even greater human misery. You see, these brilliant strategic thinkers believe that the way to “save” people from their dictators is to destroy their society and its infrastructure, thus starving the people that aren’t directly killed by missiles and bombs. This then necessitates an occupation with “boots-on-the-ground” (that will be denied will ever happen right up to the time they “must” be sent in) to help them partially rebuild what was destroyed, also to be paid for by US taxpayers. And, of course, this requires giant embassies and military bases to be built by government contractors around the country. How long this game plan can be delayed is hard to foresee, but I doubt that it can be avoided for long, given the sociopathic powers that be. Still, this delay reveals that the elite recognize their grip on popular opinion is waning.
In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted here that President Obama really didn’t make this decision himself, as it was made years ago by his superiors in the so-called military-industrial-complex. Obama is just the current Puppet-in-Chief trying to sell more wars to the American public. Just listen to this short excerpt from an interview of General Clark. Here is the main point:
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: …I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”
Well, there you go. That’s all we have time for today and I’m afraid I’ve already gone long. I hope that when you read and listen to “the news” or “official statements” that you remember to use your propaganda filter and take it with a grain of salt. Challenge official lies whenever and however you can. And when these shameless liars start waving the flag to inspire you to give up more treasure and blood for big corporations and their political machines, don’t fall for it. Remember, real Good Guys don’t need propaganda if they are doing the right thing. So stand up to the powerful media mavens and be heard because your voice is just as legitimate as any journalist’s. Speaking truth to power is essential if we are to break the cycle of endless war. Thank you for coming.