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War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

War, Propaganda and the Media by Anup Shah This Page Last Updated Thursday, March 31, 2005

We must remember that in time of war what is said on the enemy’s side of the front is always propaganda,

and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for


— Walter Lippmann

Probably every conflict is fought on at least two grounds: the battlefield and the minds of the people via propaganda. The

“good guys” and the “bad guys” can often both be guilty of misleading their people with distortions, exaggerations,

subjectivity, inaccuracy and even fabrications, in order to receive support and a sense of legitimacy.

This web page has the following sub-sections:

Elements Of Propaganda

Propaganda And War

Propaganda When Preparing Or Justifying War

Military Control Of Information

Information Operations

Embedded Journalists: An Advantage For The Military

Dilemma Of Journalists And Wartime Coverage

Wider Propaganda

Propaganda In Democracies

Why Does So Much Propaganda Work?

Wanting To Believe The Best Of Ourselves

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Fear-Mongering And Distorting Facts

Media Management And Public Relations Is Very Professional

Disseminating Prepackaged, Even Fake News

Smear Tactics Are Increasing In Sophistication

Narrowing The Range Of Debate

Some Detailed Examples

Elements Of Propaganda

Propaganda can serve to rally people behind a cause, but often at the cost of exaggerating, misrepresenting, or even lying

about the issues in order to gain that support.

While the issue of propaganda often is discussed in the context of militarism, war and war-mongering, it is around us in

all aspects of life.

As the various examples below will show, common tactics in propaganda often used by either side include:

Using selective stories that come over as wide-covering and objective.

Partial facts, or historical context

Reinforcing reasons and motivations to act due to threats on the security of the individual.

Narrow sources of “experts” to provide insights in to the situation. (For example, the mainstream media

typically interview retired military personnel for many conflict-related issues, or treat official government sources as

fact, rather than just one perspective that needs to be verified and researched).

Demonizing the “enemy” who does not fit the picture of what is “right”.

Using a narrow range of discourse, whereby judgments are often made while the boundary of discourse itself,

or the framework within which the opinions are formed, are often not discussed. The narrow focus then helps to

serve the interests of the propagandists.

Some of the following sections look into how propaganda is used in various ways, expanding on the above list of tactics

and devices.

Propaganda And War

At times of war, or build up for war, messages of extremities and hate, combined with emotions of honor and

righteousness interplay to provide powerful propaganda for a cause.

The first casualty when war comes is Truth

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— U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917

Many say that it is inevitable in war that people will die. Yet, in many cases, war itself is not inevitable, and propaganda

is often employed to go closer to war, if that is the preferred foreign policy option. Indeed, once war starts, civilian

casualties are unfortunately almost a guaranteed certainty.

In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.

— Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II

Those who promote the negative image of the “enemy” may often reinforce it with rhetoric about the righteousness of

themselves; the attempt is to muster up support and nurture the belief that what is to be done is in the positive and

beneficial interest of everyone. Often, the principles used to demonize the other, is not used to judge the self, leading to

accusations of double standards and hypocrisy.

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 thus 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, The Mysterious Stranger, 1916, Ch.9

The list of tactics used in propaganda listed further above is also expressed in a similar way by Johann Galtung, a

professor of Peace Studies and summarized here by Danny Schechter:

[Professor] Galtung laid out 12 points of concern where journalism often goes wrong when dealing with

violence. Each implicitly suggests more explicit remedies.

1. Decontextualizing violence: focusing on the irrational without looking at the reasons for unresolved

conflicts and polarization.

2. Dualism: reducing the number of parties in a conflict to two, when often more are involved. Stories

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that just focus on internal developments often ignore such outside or “external” forces as foreign

governments and transnational companies.

3. Manicheanism: portraying one side as good and demonizing the other as “evil.”

4. Armageddon: presenting violence as inevitable, omitting alternatives.

5. Focusing on individual acts of violence while avoiding structural causes, like poverty,

government neglect and military or police repression.

6. Confusion: focusing only on the conflict arena (i.e., the battlefield or location of violent incidents) but

not on the forces and factors that influence the violence.

7. Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are acts of revenge and

spirals of violence.

8. Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself.

9. Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists, especially big powers.

10. Failure to explore peace proposals and offer images of peaceful outcomes.

11. Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace.

12. Omitting reconciliation: conflicts tend to reemerge if attention is not paid to efforts to heal

fractured societies. When news about attempts to resolve conflicts are absent, fatalism is reinforced.

That can help engender even more violence, when people have no images or information about possible

peaceful outcomes and the promise of healing.

— Danny Schechter, Covering Violence: How Should Media Handle Conflict?, July 18, 2001 (Emphasis Added)

Arthur Siegel, a social science professor at York University in Toronto, describes four levels of varieties of propaganda:

No matter how it is spread, propaganda comes in four basic varieties, said Arthur Siegel, social science

professor at York University in Toronto, whose 1996 book Radio Canada International examines World War

II and Cold War propaganda.

“The first level is the Big Lie, adapted by Hitler and Stalin. The state-controlled Egyptian press has been

spreading a Big Lie, saying the World Trade Center was attacked by Israel to embarrass Arabs,” said Siegel.

“The second layer says, ‘It doesn’t have to be the truth, so long as it’s plausible.’

“The third strategy is to tell the truth but withhold the other side’s point of view.

“The fourth and most productive is to tell the truth, the good and the bad, the losses and the gains.

“Governments in Western society take the last three steps. They avoid the Big Lie, which nobody here will

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swallow,” Siegel said.

— Beth Gillin, U.S. intensifies the war of words, The Philadelphia Inequirer, October 21, 2001

With the last point above, Siegel is pointing out that as well as “enemies” having propaganda mechanisms, we also have

our own propaganda mechanisms.

Propaganda When Preparing Or Justifying War

In preparing for or justifying war, additional techniques are often employed, knowingly or unknowingly:

Ottosen identifies several key stages of a military campaign to “soften up” public opinion through the media

in preparation for an armed intervention. These are:

The Preliminary Stage—during which the country concerned comes to the news, portrayed as a cause for

“mounting concern” because of poverty/dictatorship/anarchy;

The Justification Stage—during which big news is produced to lend urgency to the case for armed

intervention to bring about a rapid restitution of “normality”;

The Implementation Stage—when pooling and censorship provide control of coverage;

The Aftermath—during which normality is portrayed as returning to the region, before it once again drops

down the news agenda.

O’Kane notes “there is always a dead baby story” and it comes at the key point of the Justification Stage—in

the form of a story whose apparent urgency brooks no delay—specifically, no time for cool deliberation or

negotiating on peace proposals. Human interest stories … are ideal for engendering this atmosphere.

— The Peace Journalist Option,, August 1997

(O’Kane’s reference to the dead baby story is about the 1991 Gulf War where a U.S. public relations firm got a Kuwaiti

Ambassador’s daughter to pose as a nurse claiming she saw Iraqi troops killing babies in hospitals. The purpose of this

was to create arousal and demonize Iraq so war was more acceptable. More information about this is on this site’s Iraq


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Award-winning investigative journalist, Phillip Knightley, in an article for the British paper, The Guardian also points

out four stages in preparing a nation for war:

1. The crisis

The reporting of a crisis which negotiations appear unable to resolve. Politicians, while calling for diplomacy, warn of

military retaliation. The media reports this as “We’re on the brink of war”, or “War is inevitable”, etc.

2. The demonisation of the enemy’s leader

Comparing the leader with Hitler is a good start because of the instant images that Hitler’s name provokes.

3. The demonisation of the enemy as individuals

For example, to suggest the enemy is insane.

4. Atrocities

Even making up stories to whip up and strengthen emotional reactions.

Knightley also points to the dilemma that while some stories are known to have been fabrications and outright lies,

others may be true. The trouble is, he asks, “how can we tell?” His answer is unfortunately not too reassuring: “The

media demands that we trust it but too often that trust has been betrayed.” The difficulty that honest journalists face is

also hinted to in another article by Knightley:

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 and 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, Fighting dirty, The Guardian, March 20, 2000

Miren Guiterrez, editor-in-chief of Inter Press Service notes a number of elements of propaganda taking the more recent

wars into account, the “War on terror” and the Iraq crisis. Summing up his short but detailed report, he includes the

following as propaganda strategies:



Driving the agenda

Milking the story (maximizing media coverage of a particular issue by the careful use of briefings, leaking pieces of a

jigsaw to different outlets, allowing journalists to piece the story together and drive the story up the news agenda,


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Exploiting that we want to believe the best of ourselves

Perception Management (in particular by using PR firms)

Reinforcing existing attitudes

Simple, repetitious and emotional phrases (e.g. war on terror, axis of evil, weapons of mass destruction, shock and

awe, war of liberation, etc)

Military Control Of Information

Military control of information during war time is also a major contributing factor to propaganda, especially when the

media go along with it without question. The military recognizes the values of media and information control very well.

Information Operations

The military often manipulates the mainstream media, by restricting or managing what information is presented and

hence what the public are told. For them it is paramount to control the media. This can involve all manner of activities,

from organizing media sessions and daily press briefings, or through providing managed access to war zones, to even

planting stories. This has happened throughout the 20th century. Over time then, the way that the media covers conflicts

degrades in quality, critique and objectiveness.

“Information is the currency of victory” an August 1996 U.S. Army field manual. From a military’s perspective,

information warfare is another front on which a battle must be fought. However, as well as needing to deceive

adversaries, in order to maintain public support, information to their own public must no doubt be managed as well.

That makes sense from a military perspective. Sometimes the public can be willing to sacrifice detailed knowledge. But

that can also lead to unaccountability and when information that is presented has been managed such, propaganda is

often the result. Beelman also describes how this Information Operations is used to manage information:

For reporters covering this war [on terrorism], the challenge is not just in getting unfettered and uncensored

access to U.S. troops and the battlefield—a long and mostly losing struggle in the past—but in discerning

between information and disinformation. That is made all the more difficult by a 24-hour news cycle,

advanced technology, and the military’s growing fondness for a discipline it calls “Information Operations.”

IO, as it is known, groups together information functions ranging from public affairs (PA, the military

spokespersons corps) to military deception and psychological operations, or PSYOP. What this means is that

people whose job traditionally has been to talk to the media and divulge truthfully what they are able to tell

now work hand-in-glove with those whose job it is to support battlefield operations with information, not all

of which may be truthful.

— Maud S. Beelman, The Dangers of Disinformation in the War on Terrorism, Coverage of Terrorism Women

and Journalism: International Perspectives, from Nieman Reports Magazine, Winter 2001, Vol. 55, No.4,

p.16. (from The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University)

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Danny Schechter, also referring to the article above by Beelman, describes Information Operations more bluntly as being

“a way of obscuring and sanitizing that negative-sounding term ‘propaganda’ so that our ‘information warriors’ can do

their thing with a minimum of public attention as they seek to engineer friendly write ups and cumulative impact.” This,

he points out, can be accomplished via several strategies:

Overloading the Media »

Ideological Appeals »

Spinning Information »

Withholding Information »

Co-Option And Collusion »

Embedded Journalists: An Advantage For The Military

During the short invasion of Iraq in 2003, journalists were “embedded” with various Coalition forces. This was an idea

born from the public relations industry, and provided media outlets a detailed and fascinating view for their audiences.

For the military, however, it provided a means to control what large audiences would see, to some extent. Independent

journalists would be looked upon more suspiciously. In a way, embedded journalists were unwittingly (sometimes

knowingly) making a decision to be biased in their reporting, in favor of the Coalition troops. If an embedded journalist

was to report unfavorably on coalition forces they were accompanying they would not get any cooperation.

So, in a sense allowing journalists to get closer meant the military had more chance to try and manage the message.

In U.K., the History Channel broadcasted a documentary on August 21, 2004, titled War Spin: Correspondent. This

documentary looked at Coalition media management for the Iraq war and noted numerous things including the


Embedded journalists allowed the military to maximize imagery while providing minimal insight into the real


Central Command (where all those military press briefings were held) was the main center from which to:

Filter, manage and drip-feed journalists with what they wanted to provide;

Gloss over set-backs, while dwelling on successes;

Limit the facts and context;

Even feed lies to journalists;

Use spin in various ways, such as making it seems as though reports are coming from troops on the ground,

which Central Command can then confirm, so as to appear real;

Carefully plan the range of topics that could be discussed with reporters, and what to avoid.

In summary then, the documentary concluded and implied that the media had successfully been designated a mostly

controllable role by the military, which would no doubt improve in the future.

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For more about the issues of embedded journalism during the Iraq invasion, various propaganda techniques employed,

and more, see this web site’s Iraq media section.

Dilemma Of Journalists And Wartime Coverage

With military conflicts then, reporting raises an interesting dilemma for some; one the one hand, the military wish to

present various aspects that would support a campaign, while on the other hand, a journalist is supposed to be critical

and not necessarily fall in line. The is captured well by Jane Kirtley, a professor of Media Ethics and Law:

Shortly after the end of the American Civil War, journalist F. Colburn Adams wrote, “The future historian of

the late war will have [a] very difficult task to perform … sifting the truth from falsehood as it appears in

official records.”

Similar to the oft-repeated axiom that truth is the first casualty of war, Adams’ observation succinctly

summarizes the nub of the conflict between the military and the news media. The military’s mission is to

fight, and to win, whatever conflict may present itself-preferably on the battlefield but certainly in public

opinion and the history books. The journalist, on the other hand, is a skeptic if not a cynic and aims to seek,

find and report the truth — a mission both parties often view as incompatible with successful warfare, which

depends on secrecy and deception as much as superior strategy, tactics, weaponry and manpower.

— Jane Kirtley, Enough is Enough, Media Studies Journal, October 15, 2001

Often, especially when covering conflicts, the media organizations are subject to various constraints by governments,

military, corporate pressure, economic interests, etc. Sometimes, however, the media are more than willing to go along

with what could be described as self-censorship, as highlighted vividly in the following:

We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know

about and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep

its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.

— Katharine Graham, Washington Post owner speaking at CIA’s Langley, Virginia headquarters in 1988,

Reported in Regardie’s Magazine, January, 1990, Quoted from David McGowan, Derailing Democracy,

(Common Courage Press, 2000), p.109.

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Other times, the sources of information are limited. For example, “Information warfare” of a military or government

might be targeted at “enemy” nations and groups, but often affects their own populations:

In [many cases], the U.S. and other western news media depend on the military for information…. And when

the information that military officers provide to the public is part of a process that generates propaganda

and places a high value on deceit, deception and denial, then truth is indeed likely to be high on the casualty


— William M. Arkin, Media principles: Killed by friendly fire in US infowar, Index on Censorship, 13

November 2002

Journalist Harold Evans addresses the issue of war correspondents duties, as being the challenge of patriotism versus


The history of warfare suggests this is not a false antithesis. Governments, understandably, put a priority on

nurturing the morale of the armed forces and the people, intimidating an enemy with the force of the

national will They have few scruples about whether they are being fair and just as their propaganda

demonizes an alien leader or even a whole population. The enemy is doing the same to them. That is the

emotion wars generate, inviting a competitive ecstasy of hate. There is a duel in vicious stereotypes in

propaganda posters, illustrations and headlines; populations would be astounded if they could see how they

and their leaders are portrayed by the other side. Authority resents it when a newspaper or broadcast shades

the black and white.

… Atrocity stories have been debased currency in the war of words. The other side’s are propaganda and

should be ignored or discredited by patriotic correspondents; ours are an integral part of the cause, and

should be propagated with conviction, uniting people in vengefulness for a cause higher than pedantry. Only

after the conflict, the zealots’ argument runs, is there time enough to sift the ashes for truth. History knows

now that the Germans did not, as charged in World War I, toss Belgian babies in the air and catch them on

bayonets, nor boil down German corpses for glycerin for munitions—a story invented by a British

correspondent being pressed by his office for news of atrocities. The French did not, as the German press

reported, routinely gouge out the eyes of captured German soldiers, or chop off their fingers for the rings on

them. Iraqi soldiers invading Kuwait did not toss premature babies out of incubators, as The Sunday

Telegraph in London, and then the Los Angeles Times, reported, quoting Reuters. The story was an

invention of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait lobby in Washington and the teen-age “witness” who testified to

Congress was coached by the lobby’s public relations company. It was only two years later that the whole

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thing was exposed for the fraud it was. But the myth galvanized public opinion at a critical moment on the

need to go to war, as it was intended to.

… History is a mausoleum of errant emotions: Who is the more patriotic—the government that conceals the

blunders its soldiers endure, the cruelties they may inflict, or the correspondent who exposes them so that

they might be rectified?

… [In the dilemmas journalists often have between reporting and intervening], Alan Dower, who reported

the Korean War for the Melbourne Herald … reporter Rene Cutforth and cameraman Cyril Page saw a

column of women in Seoul being marched off to jail; many were carrying babies. The journalists were told

the families were all to be shot because someone in the street had identified them as communists. Dower,

who was a commando before he was a reporter, was carrying a carbine. He used it to bully his way into the

jail, where the trio of journalists found that the women had been made to kneel with their babies in front of

an open pit, two machine guns at their backs. Dower threatened to shoot the guard unless he took the trio to

the prison governor’s office. There Dower aimed his carbine at the governor and threatened: “If those

machine guns fire, I’ll shoot you between the eyes.” Dower, making another threat, that of publicity, secured

a promise from the United Nations command in Seoul that it would stamp out such practices.

Did Dower break the normal limits of journalism? Yes, and he was right to do so. One’s first duty is to

humanity, and there are exceptional occasions when that duty overrides the canons of any profession.

— Harold Evans, Propaganda vs. Professionalism, War Stories, Newseum (undated)

Phillip Knightley, in his award-winning book The First Casualty traces a history of media reporting of wars and conflicts

and towards the end says:

The sad truth is that in the new millennium, government propaganda prepares its citizens for war so

skillfully that it is quite likely that they do not want the truthful, objective and balanced reporting that good

war correspondents once did their best to provide.

— Phillip Knightley, The First Casualty, (Prion Books, 1975, 2000 revised edition) p.525

Wider Propaganda

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a principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrine to be instilled in the target audience should not be

articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper

procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for


— Noam Chomsky

It is easier to dominate someone if they are unaware of being dominated. Colonised and colonisers both

know that domination is not just based on physical supremacy. Control of hearts and minds follows military

conquest. Which is why any empire that wants to last must capture the souls of its subjects.

— Ignacio Ramonet, The control of pleasure, Le Monde diplomatique, May 2000

But the issue of propaganda can go beyond just war, to many other areas of life such as the political, commercial and

social aspects:

When there is little or no elite dissent from a government policy, there may still be some slippage in the

mass media, and the facts can tend to undermine the government line. … We have long argued that the

“naturalness” of [the] processes [of indirectly pressing the media to keep even more tenaciously to the

propaganda assumptions of state policy], with inconvenient facts allowed sparingly and within the proper

framework of assumptions, and fundamental dissent virtually excluded from the mass media (but permitted

in a marginalized press), makes for a propaganda system that is far more credible and effective in putting

over a patriotic agenda than one with official censorship.

It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal

censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attach and expose

corporate and government malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech

and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the

limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality of the command of resources, and its effect

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both on access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance. (Emphasis Added)

— Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent; The Political Economy of the Mass

Media, (Pantheon Books, New York, 1988), pp. xiv, 1—2.

The use of words is integral to propaganda techniques. Dr. Aaron Delwiche, at the School of Communications at the

University of Washington, provides a web site discussing propaganda. Delwiche recounts how in 1937, in the United

States, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis was created to educate the American public about the widespread nature of

political propaganda. Made up of journalists and social scientists, the institute published numerous works. One of the

main themes behind their work was defining seven basic propaganda devices. While there was appropriate criticism of

the simplification in such classifications, these are commonly described in many university lectures on propaganda

analysis, as Delwiche also points out. Delwische further classifies these (and adds a couple of additional classifications)

into the following:

Word Games


Labeling people, groups, institutions, etc in a negative manner

Glittering generality

Labeling people, groups, institutions, etc in a positive manner


Words that pacify the audience with blander meanings and connotations

False Connections


Using symbols and imagery of positive institutions etc to strengthen acceptance


Citing individuals not qualified to make the claims made

Special Appeal

Plain Folks

Leaders appealing to ordinary citizens by doing “ordinary” things

Band Wagon

The “everyone else is doing it” argument


Heightening, exploiting or arousing people’s fears to get supportive opinions and actions

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(See the previous link for descriptions of these devices.) A vivid example of such use of words is also seen in the following


Since war is particularly unpleasant, military discourse is full of euphemisms. In the 1940’s, America

changed the name of the War Department to the Department of Defense. Under the Reagan Administration,

the MX-Missile was renamed “The Peacekeeper.” During war-time, civilian casualties are referred to as

“collateral damage,” and the word “liquidation” is used as a synonym for “murder.”

— Dr. Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, Propaganda Critic Web site, School of Communications,

Washington University, March 12, 1995

Political Scientist and author, Michael Parenti, in an article on media monopoly, also describes a pattern of reporting in

the mainstream in the U.S. that leads to partial information. He points out that while the mainstream claim to be free,

open and objective, the various techniques, intentional or unintentional result in systematic contradictions to those

claims. Such techniques — applicable to other nations’ media, as well as the U.S. — include:

Suppression By Omission »

Attack and Destroy the Target »

Labeling »

Preemptive Assumption »

Face-Value Transmission »

Slighting of Content »

False Balancing »

Follow-up Avoidance »

Framing »

Furthermore, with concentrated ownership increasing (as is discussed in detail in the next section on this site) a

narrower range of discourse can arise, sometimes without realizing. The consequences of which are summed up by the

following from UK media watchdog, MediaLens:

Focusing on leaders’ thoughts is often a kind of propaganda. It involves repeating the government line

without comment, thereby allowing journalists to claim neutrality as simple conduits supplying information.

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But it is not neutral to repeat the government line while ignoring critics of that line, as often happens. It is

also not neutral to include milder criticism simply because it is voiced by a different section of the

establishment, while ignoring more radical, but perhaps equally rational, critiques from beyond the state-

corporate pale. A big lesson of history is that it is wrong to assume that power, or “respectability”, confers

rationality. Media analyst Sharon Beder describes the reality of much mainstream reporting:

“Balance means ensuring that statements by those challenging the establishment are balanced with

statements by those whom they are criticising, though not necessarily the other way round.”

Talk of leaders’ “hopes” teaches us to empathise with their wishes by personalising issues: “Blair desperately

hopes to build bridges in the Middle East.” This is also a kind of propaganda based on false assumptions. It

assumes that the reality of politicians’ “hopes” — their intentions, motivations and goals — is identical to the

appearance. Machiavelli was kind enough to explain what every politician knows, and what almost all

corporate media journalists feign not to know:

“It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above

[mercy, good faith, integrity, humanity, and religion] but it is most essential that he should seem to have

them; I will even venture to affirm that if he has and invariably practises them all, they are hurtful.”

— David Edwards, Turning Towards Iraq, Media Lens, November 27, 2001 (Emphasis is original)

As mentioned above just concentrating and reporting on the “official line” without offering a wider set of perspectives

can also impact people’s opinions. In another article, MediaLens also highlights this and the impact it has on how global

issues are perceived:

One of the secrets of media manipulation is to report the horror and strife of the world as though Western

power, interests and machinations did not exist. Vast poverty, injustice and chaos in the Third World are

depicted as unconnected to the cool oases of civilisation in Europe and the United States, which look on

benignly but helplessly, or pitch in heroically to right wrongs as far as they are able. The idea, for example,

that the vast economic and military might of North America might in some way be linked to the vast poverty

and suffering of neighbouring Central and South America is unthinkable.

An important feature of the reporting that maintains this audacious deception—not consciously but through

an internalised sense of what is “just not done” — is to relay our enemies’ “claims” of benign motives as

claims, while reporting our governments’ claims without comment, or as obviously true — the message,

tirelessly repeated, gets through to the public and an important propaganda function is thereby fulfilled.

This is called “honest, factual reporting”.

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— David Edwards, Burying Big Business, Media Lens, May 22, 2002 (Emphasis is original)

Furthermore (and while not a complete study of the mainstream media), media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In

Reporting (FAIR) did a study showing that there can be heavy political biases on even the most popular mainstream

media outlets. The outlets they looked at were ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News in

the year 2001. They found that “92 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent were male and, where

party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent were Republican.”

Propaganda In Democracies

Propaganda in totalitarian regimes is easy to recognize for its blatant and crude methods. In democratic societies,

propaganda exists, as most of the above attests to. But, it is harder to see.

As a result, it is important to keep such elements of propaganda in mind when we see coverage of

conflicts or even other issues in the media, regardless of the media organization and their apparent


In many democracies, people hold dear the freedom of speech that they are supposed to have. Yet, “propaganda is to

democracy what violence is to totalitarianism,” notes Noam Chomsky. Public accountability of major institutions and of

the government must be constantly maintained to avoid propaganda.

In 1921, the famous American journalist Walter Lippmann said that the art of democracy requires what he

called the “manufacture of consent.” This phrase is an Orwellian euphemism for thought control. The idea is

that in a state such as the U.S. where the government can’t control the people by force, it had better control

what they think. The Soviet Union is at the opposite end of the spectrum from us in its domestic freedoms.

It’s essentially a country run by the bludgeon. It’s very easy to determine what propaganda is in the USSR:

what the state produces is propaganda.

… Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism.

… For those who stubbornly seek freedom around the world, there can be no more urgent task than to come

to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian

societies, much less so in the propaganda system to which we are subjected and in which all too often we

serve as unwilling or unwitting instruments.

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

Back to top

— Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-style, Interview conducted by David Barsamian of KGNU-Radio

in Boulder, Colorado (Mid 1986)

Power must be held accountable. The mainstream media is a pillar of a functioning democracy, and one of its roles

therefore, is to hold power accountable.

What journalism is really about—it’s to monitor power and the centres of power.

— Amira Hass, quoted by Robert Fisk, Amira Hass: Life under Israeli occupation—by an Israeli, The

Independent, August 26, 2001

Why Does So Much Propaganda Work?

Propaganda seems to work because of a number of reasons, including:

People wish to believe the best about themselves and their country;

Fear-mongering, especially about the threat to cherished values such as freedom and justice;

Presenting fears and claims that appear logical and factual.

Media management and public relations is very professional

Managing thoughts by narrowing ranges of debate, thus minimizing widely discussed thoughts that deviate from the

main agendas;

Wanting To Believe The Best Of Ourselves

In democracies, people like to believe that they and their countries are generally good, for if it was any other way then it

brings into moral question all they know and hold dear. The histories of some nations may have involved overcoming

adversaries for legitimate reasons (e.g. the American war to gain its independence and freedom from the British Empire

was one based on strong moral grounds of freedom from imperial rule). Such important history is often recounted and

remembered as part of the collective culture of the country and those same values are projected into modern times.

Propaganda sometimes works by creating the fear of losing such cherished values.

The following perhaps serve as ominous warnings, given the source:

All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

towards whom it is directed will understand it…. Through clever and constant application of propaganda,

people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched

sort of life as paradise.

— Adolf Hitler

The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the

depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously bad. The primitive simplicity of their

minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than to a small lie. For they themselves often tell little lies,

but would be ashamed to tell big lies.

— Adolf Hitler

Fear-Mongering And Distorting Facts

Guiterrez, mentioned much further above, also interviews Dr. Nancy Snow, (once a “propagandist” for the U.S.

Information Agency as she admits in her 1998 book, Propaganda Inc; Selling America’s Culture to the World). Snow

suggests that you don’t need facts, just the best facts:

[Given all the revelations discrediting Bush’s reasons for war with Iraq,] “You may wonder why it is that a

majority of Americans still link Saddam to 9/11,” says Snow. “The reason for such a belief is because the

American people were repeatedly told by the President and his inner circle that Saddam’s evil alone was

enough to be linked to 9/11 and that given time, he would have used his weapons against us. With

propaganda, you don’t need facts per se, just the best facts put forward. If these facts make sense to people,

then they don’t need proof like one might need in a courtroom.”

According to Snow, the U.S. government succeeded in “driving the agenda” and “milking the story”

(maximising media coverage of a particular issue by the careful use of [media management].)

“That’s also very commonly practice,” she says. “When a country goes off to war, so goes its media with it.

The news media were caught up in the rally round the flag syndrome. They were forced to choose a side, and

given the choices, whose side did they logically choose but the U.S.?”

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

— Mirren Guiterrez, The 'Prop-Agenda' at War, Inter Press Service, June 27, 2004

Furthermore, some propaganda that may be effective to national audiences will not work on foreign audiences:

While the U.S. government campaign [for war on Iraq] had an impact on the U.S. public, the “perception

management” was a failure at influencing foreign audiences.

According to [Professor Randall Bytwerk, a specialist in propaganda] “it is far easier to make propaganda at

home than abroad. One has more credibility at home, and much more in common with the audience.

Although Nazi propaganda was not completely believed by Germans, they believed what their government

said far more than the British believed German propaganda, for example. All things being equal, most

people want to believe they live in a good country.”

— Mirren Guiterrez, The 'Prop-Agenda' at War, Inter Press Service, June 27, 2004

It should be noted that in the U.K., the other major country to support war on Iraq, the population was less easily

convinced about the various claims justified for war. One reason, (revealed by an insight into how the U.S. supported an

Iraqi exile with a global media management campaign and extensive public relations activities) noted that the climate in

the U.S. after September 11, 2001 was one of fear. By using the fear of more terrorist attacks against the U.S., the Bush

Administration was targeting its campaign towards its home audience. The British public, while feeling deep sympathy

towards the Americans for their suffering, had not suffered such a horrific attack so recently, and, combined with other

factors (e.g. a more diverse mainstream media), did not have the same attitude towards government claims as the

American public did.

Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in

Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is

always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a

parliament, or a communist dictatorship. … Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the

bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the

peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

— General Herman Goering, President of German Reichstag and Nazi Party, Commander of Luftwaffe during

World War II, April 18, 1946. (This quote is said to have been made during the Nuremburg Trials, but in fact,

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

while during the time of the trials, was made in private to an Allied intelligence officer, later published in the

book, Nuremburg Diary.)

Media Management And Public Relations Is Very Professional

The impacts of public relations cannot be underestimated. In the commercial world, marketing and advertising are

typically needed to make people aware of products. There are many issues in that area alone (which is looked at in this

site’s section on corporate media.) When it comes to propaganda for purposes of war, for example, professional public

relations firms can often be involved to help sell a war. In cases where a war is questionable, the PR firms are indirectly

contributing to the eventual and therefore unavoidable casualties. Media management may also be used to promote

certain political policies and ideologies. Where this is problematic for the citizenry is when media reports on various

issues do not attribute their sources properly.

Some techniques used by governments and parties/people with hidden agendas include:

Paying journalists to promote certain issues without the journalist acknowledging this, or without the media

mentioning the sources;

Governments and individuals contracting PR firms to sell a war, or other important issues

Disinformation or partial information reported as news or fact without attributing sources that might be


PR firms feeding stories to the press without revealing the nature of the information with the intention of creating a

public opinion (for example, to support a war, as the previous link highlights where even human rights groups fell

for some of the disinformation, thus creating an even more effective propaganda campaign)

The Gulf War in Iraq, 1991, highlighted a lot of PR work in action. Founder of the Washington PR firm, The Rendon

Group, John Rendon told cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1996:

“I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician,” Rendon said. “I am a politician, and a person

who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information

warrior and a perception manager.” He reminded the Air Force cadets that when victorious troops rolled

into Kuwait City at the end of the first war in the Persian Gulf, they were greeted by hundreds of Kuwaitis

waving small American flags. The scene, flashed around the world on television screens, sent the message

that U.S. Marines were being welcomed in Kuwait as liberating heroes.

“Did you ever stop to wonder,” Rendon asked, “how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for

seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other

coalition countries?” He paused for effect. “Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”

… Public relations firms often do their work behind the scenes….But his description of himself as a

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

“perception manager” echoes the language of Pentagon planners, who define “perception management” as

“actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their

emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth

projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops [psychological operations].”

— Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, How To Sell a War, In These Times, 4 August, 2003

Such technical phrases like “truth projection” hide their true meanings and intent: propaganda. One can understand how

these have been tactics of war. Churchill used such a technique to fool the Nazis regarding the Normandy landings, for

example. Yet, in the Iraq example, PR is turned onto one’s own citizens to convince them to support a war or make it look

more glorious and right, than could otherwise have been.

Disseminating Prepackaged, Even Fake News

In March 2005, the New York Times revealed that there has been a large amount of fake and prepackaged news created

by US government departments, such as the Pentagon, the State Department and others, and disseminated through the

mainstream media. The New York Times noted a number of important issues including:

The US Bush administration has “aggressively” used public relations to prepackage news. Issues with this have

included that:

A number of these government-made news segments are made to look like local news (either by the

government department or by the receiving broadcaster);

Sometimes these reports have fake reporters such as when a “‘reporter’ covering airport safety was actually a

public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration”;

Other times, there is no mention that a video segment is produced by the government;

Where there is some attribution, news stations simply rebroadcast them but sometimes without attributing the


These segments have reached millions;

This benefits both the government and the broadcaster;

This could amount to propaganda within the United States as well as internationally.

Effectively, American tax payers have paid to be subjected to propaganda disseminated through these massaged


This issue is covered in more depth on this site’s media manipulation section.

Smear Tactics Are Increasing In Sophistication

Smear tactics are often used to discredit, stain or destroy the reputation of someone. It is unfortunately common-place

and is an age-old technique. It can either involve outright lies, or a distortion of the truth.

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

With the increasing popularity of the Internet, and search engines such as Google, smearing is taking on additional forms

and techniques. Juan Cole, a professor of history has described what he has coined a “GoogleSmear” as a political tactic

to discredit him. His personal experience is quoted here:

It seems to me that David Horowitz and some far rightwing friends of his have hit upon a new way of

discrediting a political opponent, which is the GoogleSmear. It is an easy maneuver for someone like

Horowitz, who has extremely wealthy backers, to set up a web magazine that has a high profile and is

indexed in google news. Then he just commissions persons to write up lies about people like me (leavened

with innuendo and out-of-context quotes). Anyone googling me will likely come upon the smear profiles, and

they can be passed around to journalists and politicians as though they were actual information.

— Juan Cole, The GoogleSmear as Political Tactic, Informed Comment Blog, March 27, 2005

Narrowing The Range Of Debate

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion,

but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views.

That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the

system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

— Noam Chomsky, The Common Good, Odonian Press, 1998

In terms of narrowing the range of debate or discourse, this is about discussing issues within a limited range of ideas and

opinions. While this gives the appearance of debate and discussion, often deeper and wider issues are not discussed, thus

losing important context. This often occurs unknowingly, but is systemic in nature. Noam Chomsky captures this very


Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out [in democratic societies], those in power better control

what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create

political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions

are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is


During the Vietnam War, the U.S. propaganda system did its job partially but not entirely. Among educated

people it worked very well. Studies show that among the more educated parts of the population, the

government’s propaganda about the war is now accepted unquestioningly. One reason that propaganda

often works better on the educated than on the uneducated is that educated people read more, so they

receive more propaganda. Another is that they have jobs in management, media, and academia and

therefore work in some capacity as agents of the propaganda system — and they believe what the system

expects them to believe. By and large, they’re part of the privileged elite, and share the interests and

perceptions of those in power.

— Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-style, Interview conducted by David Barsamian of KGNU-Radio

in Boulder, Colorado (Mid 1986)

At times, this can be part of a government’s agenda, to deflect or direct a range of discourse. The so-called “permitted

parameters of debate” or “prop-agenda” then gives the appearance of consensus and democratic process. Brian Eno

captures this aspect in talking about recent American foreign policy actions:

In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much

more covert and therefore much more effective [than a propaganda system imposed in a totalitarian

regime]. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don’t notice it — or laugh at the notion it even exists. We

watch the democratic process taking place—heated debates in which we feel we could have a voice — and

think that, because we have “free” media, it would be hard for the Government to get away with anything

very devious without someone calling them on it.

…the new American approach to social control is so much more sophisticated and pervasive that it really

deserves a new name. It isn’t just propaganda any more, it’s “prop-agenda.” It’s not so much the control of

what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of

action, they do it by making sure it’s the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone’s talking about.

And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language,

dubious linkages, weak or false “intelligence” and selected “leaks”. (What else can the spat between the BBC

and Alastair Campbell be but a prime example of this?)

With the ground thus prepared, governments are happy if you then “use the democratic process” to agree or

disagree — for, after all, their intention is to mobilise enough headlines and conversation to make the whole

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

Back to top

Back to top

thing seem real and urgent. The more emotional the debate, the better. Emotion creates reality, reality

demands action.

— Brian Eno, Lessons in how to lie about Iraq, The Observer/Guardian, August 17, 2003

A summary from Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky is also worth citing:

It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal

censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose

corporate and government malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech

and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the

limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality of the command of resources, and its effect

both on access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance. (Emphasis Added)

— Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent; The Political Economy of the Mass

Media, (Pantheon Books, New York, 1988), pp. xiv, 1—2.

Some Detailed Examples

In the following pages, some examples of propaganda and the media are presented. (In some cases the media is a

participant in the propaganda, sometimes knowingly and other times unknowingly, and sometimes even both.) However,

while some of the specific pages may seem long, these form very few examples and over time more will be added.

For now though, the examples chosen reflect some of the more notable issues that did turn up in the mainstream, and so

to some extent, a lot of people are familiar with these issues, but maybe not some of the deeper issues that were obscured

by propaganda of various sorts.

The impacts of such propaganda contributed to the loss of millions of lives for it helped form a sense of legitimacy to

what could otherwise have been regarded as controversial. Propaganda therefore comes with a huge cost.

Where Next?

War, Propaganda and the Media — Global Issues[9/15/2016 9:21:48 AM]

This article has the following parts:

War, Propaganda And The Media

Media, Propaganda And Iraq

Media, Propaganda And September 11

Media, Propaganda And Vietnam

Media, Propaganda And Venezuela

Media, Propaganda And Kosovo

Media, Propaganda And Rwanda

Media, Propaganda And East Timor

Other Conflicts And Peacetime Propaganda

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