In order to truly understand the nature of the media, it is important for us to become acquainted with its good friend “propaganda”.
Propaganda is an extremely huge word, because it incorporates a wide variety of techniques that are often combined to reach a desired effect. For the sake of the discussion, we will define propaganda as “communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion – the information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political or social effect”.
Lets be honest, most of us pay very little if any attention to the motives behind what we see on TV and in newspapers. Our views are thus strongly influenced by a number of factors that are carefully deployed, and over the years these methods have been perfected, making it extremely easy for us to be controlled without our own knowledge. “None are more hopelessly enslaved, than those who falsely believe they are free” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
In this episode we will spend some time looking at some of the methods of propaganda, so that we can relate them with some of what we are currently being exposed to by the media.
According to Adolph Hitler, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”.
If you hear over and over again that Osama Bin Laden is a ‘terrorist’ and is responsible for 9/11, in all likelihood you would believe it. You’ve heard it from the BBC, CNN, NBC and many other ‘respectable sources’; he is the terrorist responsible for the loss of thousands of lives and is the primary source of evil in this world. “We must hunt down the terrorist”, “we must fight against terrorism!”, “war on terrorism!”. Over and over the message is repeated, and if you hear something said enough times, you begin to accept it, and you begin to believe in it. “Tell a lie enough times and it will become truth” – Heinrich Himmler.
Facts, half-truths and lying by omission
There is something very convincing about facts. You’re not supposed to argue with facts because they are meant to be the irrefutable truth. The only problem with this belief is that facts can be and often are manipulated by how they are presented. Facts are gathered and presented with a motive, which makes it very easy to ‘omit’ certain details or only reveal certain facts so that the audience responds in a particular way.
Lets look at an example of facts that are presented with the motive of creating negative views about drinking alcohol and driving:
“2 out of every 5” fatal car accidents are due to drink driving. 33% of drivers involved in fatal accidents had been drinking; and 24% of pedestrians involved in fatal accidents had been drinking. Therefore, alcohol intoxication is a major cause of car accidents, it should be illegal, and drink driving should be punished severely.
But why did the government choose to present these ‘particular facts’? Why did they not for example say:
“3 out of every 5” fatal car accidents ‘did not’ involve drinking. 67% of the drivers involved ‘had not’ been drinking; and 76% of the pedestrians involved ‘had not’ been drinking. Therefore, being sober is without doubt the major cause of car accidents, and driving while sober should be made illegal immediately, and punished severely.
As you can see, both sets of facts are the truth; but people with different motives can choose which facts they want to use in order to promote a particular agenda. This is a very common tactic used by the government in the form of ‘statistics’, which are used to strengthen their arguments, just like the one used above in favour of drink driving being disallowed, (at this point I should probably mention that this is not a campaign for drink driving * stern face *); but note that this is a deliberate strategy to withhold certain facts in favour of others. You are not likely to come across facts like the next example, illustrating that sober driving is actually the main cause of accidents and so human beings should “not drive at all”. Or perhaps that 45% of accidents are caused by women, and so women shouldn’t be allowed to drive. See the logic?
The government often sites statistics like “95% of all heroin addicts smoked marijuana before they graduated to the harder stuff. Therefore, marijuana is the gateway drug that leads to heroin.”
But ‘correlation does not necessarily mean causation’, because you could easily say for example that “further research has revealed that 99.8% of all heroin addicts consumed the white drug called ‘milk’ for years before they graduated to the white powder called heroin. Therefore giving children milk at school turns them into heroin addicts.”
“99% of heroin addicts and even marijuana users drank alcohol before they graduated to the harder stuff. Therefore alcohol is the universal gateway drug.”
Note how some correlations are made, and other correlations are seemingly insignificant or forgotten. Even the government has its own favourite drugs of choice, which is why alcohol and cigarettes are left out of a lot of statistics because of the taxes they provide.
Name-calling, conditioning and demonising the enemy.
This is another very popular technique used by the media and government, where a certain person or figure is labelled a certain way, so that as soon as the name of the person involved is heard, it arouses prejudices in the hearers because of the negative connotations his given name carries. This is used to push you to make a conclusion about an issue without the impartial examination of facts. “Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and this he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.” – Mark Twain.
This is exactly what happened with Osama, with Saddam and more recently with Gadaffi – “the tyrant” who is “against democracy”. Its a simple and straight forward process. By creating a label for someone you want to attack it makes it easier for the public to disassociate themselves from the persons humanity. Germans were not killing Jews, they were killing “vermin”; Europeans weren’t killing blacks, they were killing “slaves”; Americans aren’t killing Libyans, they are killing “tyrants and terrorists”. The differences in terminology are so subtle that we don’t realise the effect they have on our psychology. On the news we hear “today we killed a group of insurgents” and this is meant to be in reference to human lives being lost. We performed “enhanced interrogation techniques”, which is a politically correct way of saying we “tortured” them. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies” – Winston Churchill.
For those of us who are familiar with history, you will remember the impact that the media had with its coverage of the Vietnam war. Many analysts attribute the loss of this war to the media, and how they decreased morale and did not appear to be fully in support of the cause. Since that time the government was quick to realise the impact that the media could have, and how if utilised effectively, it could be the difference between winning or losing a war, or even going to war in the first place.
“One difficulty is that the media have little or no memory. War correspondents have short working lives and there is no tradition or means for passing on their knowledge and experience. The military, on the other hand, is an institution that goes on forever. The military learned a lot from Vietnam and these days plans its media strategy with as much attention as its military strategy.” – Phillip Knightley.
Celebrity Endorsements and Jumping on the Bandwagon
Some of us are extremely familiar with this form of manipulation, yet we welcome it with open arms. That reason alone makes this subject worth revisiting at a later point.
Its amazing how an audience can be persuaded to join in or take a course of action simply because a famous personality is involved, or because “everyone else is doing it”. The power of a crowd is overwhelming; effortlessly willing the masses along as they fail miserably to develop an opinion of their own.
This is when a significant event is used to generate a feeling of happiness, so as to boost morale or drag the attention away from something else that’s going on. Take the royal wedding for example and the convenient killing of Osama Bin Laden. Both came at a time when there is a war in Libya, threats to Obama’s campaign and credibility, outrageous increases in taxes, petrol and tuition fees, as well as a general increase in the cost of living. Morale in England is at an all time low, with all kinds of demonstrations taking place in order to showcase the level of discomfort.
Conveniently the government rejected a request to protest on the day of the royal wedding. They even went as far as arresting individuals who had been known to cause rallys ‘just in case’ they decided to go ahead with any demonstrations. Imagine that; so much for liberty and freedom of expression. Actions such as this of course allow the event to be sensationalised, with the cameras only showing the people who fill the streets in hypnotic excitement.
Propaganda is generally an appeal to ’emotion’ and not ‘intellect’. It is specifically designed to make you “think” a certain way. The media tries to get you to respond to issues “emotionally” rather than “rationally”. In some forms this is extremely subtle, but at other times it goes straight in for the kill.
The choice of advertising on certain issues is specifically designed to provoke an emotional reaction. It is a form of manipulation that makes you feel so emotionally overwhelmed that you dial a number, send a text, send a donation, “do something”, because if you don’t you will feel guilty and realise that you are not really a good person.
Notice the use of facts in the second video. If one was to flip the script and focus instead on the fact that 40% of the worlds wealth is owned by 1% of the population, it would be a completely different campaign. One that actually focuses on the reasons why some people have no food to eat; and others wear crowns and celebrate weddings to an audience of 2 billion people.
“Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise” – Adolph Hitler
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