Thursday, June 21, 2007

Propaganda, Truth and the Mass Media

This article was originally published on Sept. 6th, 2006 at

Tired of the propaganda yet? I know I am. Watch the news on TV. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, it doesn’t matter. They’re all broadcasting propaganda. They all have their agenda to fill. I’m tired of reading and hearing how the “liberal left” own the media. When I watch TV news, especially Fox, I see and hear nothing but the neo-conservative viewpoint and agenda. It’s the same with reading the papers. Everything seems so one sided. One really has to work in order to find the many sides of a story these days. Once you do find the different sides, it’s difficult to figure out who to believe, and sometimes you may need to believe more than one point of view.
“How can one determine what is propaganda and what is truth?” one may ask.
Although I am no expert and do not claim to be, I have a few ways to tell what is propaganda and what is fact. These things, in my opinion, have more to do with common sense than anything else.
First, watch out for emotion. I don’t mean to say that anything emotional is automatically propaganda, but if someone feels very emotional one way or another on a given issue, they are more likely to accept, believe and/or repeat propaganda that supports their position. This seems especially true if the emotion spewing forth is hate. Anyone taking a hateful stance against any kind of specific ethnicity or religious group is likely to spew propaganda. Be especially careful and double check any kind of “fact” given if someone is labeling any group (political, ethnic, religious or other) of people with hateful names or epithets. Someone who is calm and cites statistics or other types of scientific studies and is part of the group may still be spouting propaganda, but is more likely to be telling the truth. Still, the facts should be double checked and validated before taking such facts at face value.
Beware of anyone taking such a stance as to be immovable in their opinion. These advocates will not change their stance no matter what evidence is presented to them to the contrary. This seems especially true of political parties and defenders of the government. Such statements as “The government is always right and can always be trusted,” and “Anyone who questions authority must be a traitor,” may be uttered by such people. These types of reporters, journalists or public personalities are oft times expressing their own personal beliefs and not simply facts. If they do report facts, they will often “spin” these facts to fit in with their worldview. Spin in and of itself is a type of propaganda. So are op-ed pieces like this one. This article is actually propaganda against propaganda. But I digress. The professional propagandist who is paid by networks and mass media outlets will not think twice about using facts out of context or misrepresenting facts to support their point of view. This uncertainty makes it necessary to check up on the facts presented and make sure they are framed in their proper context.
One thing that is disturbing to me, and I see this quite often, is when an anchor person or news host on TV, commonly known as a talking head, refuses to let a guest fully explain his or her point of view if that point of view is divergent from the host’s. If you are watching a show where someone is presenting a point of view or stating factual information and that person is cut off in the middle of an explanation and then the whole thing breaks down into a shouting match, you are not watching news, you are watching propaganda. You are not seeing two divergent points of view being expressed; you are watching one point of view trying to bully the other into submission.
Another tactic used to try to drive home the propaganda is to not allow the guest to speak on the aspect of the issue he wishes to present. This is usually cleverly disguised by allowing a person to come onto a program to talk about a specific issue, then the host, or a team of hosts and other guests, will turn on him or her and ask questions that may appear to have significance but in effect have nothing to do with the heart of the matter. I have often found myself shouting at the TV to let someone express his point of view only to be frustrated as the host continues to block the guest from saying what needs to be said and will change the channel or turn off the TV in disgust.
It has been my experience that catching a story at the beginning will usually give one an accurate picture of what really happened. I remember more than one occasion where I’ve seen reports on major disasters where a reporter will interview an eye witness who will say something and then that aspect of the story will not be mentioned again. After the first few minutes or hours, the spin masters get a hold of the story and they won’t allow any reporting that goes contrary to their worldview or party line. If you find this happening, as I have, then you may begin to understand that someone behind the scenes in these media conglomerates want your worldview to be the same as their worldview. Whether this is done as a way to sensationalize a story or is done for more nefarious reasons is a matter for debate, but there is no denying that it is a practice that should not be accepted by a society that wishes to remain objective and informed.
I have spoken about several ways to determine what propaganda is, but what about being able to tell if something is truth? Much is obvious and much is subtle. One way I use to determine if a story is true is to take note if the readers/viewers are invited to check the facts for themselves. The journalist reporting the truth will not be afraid of the facts. He may say something to the effect of “Don’t take my word for it, look up the facts for yourself.” The propagandist, on the other hand, will insist that his view is the truth even in the face of contradicting facts. He may say something to the effect of “Trust me, I know what I’m talking about,” or some such thing. He is counting on you not checking the facts or looking further into the details of the issue or story.
One other thing to consider when trying to determine the truth of a story is to look at who benefits from a given event. Even ancient man realized that someone who benefits from a given event is more likely to try to make that event happen. This can be especially true if a lot of blinding emotion can be attached to the event.
I grew up with television. I watched a war on the nightly news at a tender, pre-teen age. I grew up believing the media could be trusted. We were told the truth. It was the Russians, the Cubans and the Chinese people with their communist systems who were lied to, who believed the propaganda their governments told them. It was their state owned media that lied. I came to find out years later how wrong I was. Talking to colleagues from former communist states, I have come to discover it is I who had believed propaganda all those years ago. We were lied to all those years back and we continue to be lied to. Our own government documents and admissions prove this. The mass media has been complicit in this. It is sad to say that I no longer trust any news without documentation, and I especially do not trust the mass media conglomerates. I never take a story at its surface. Even though it takes time, I dig and read many sources in an effort to evaluate and determine for myself what the truth is. I don’t always like what I find, but I feel it is worth it if the story is important. After all, the truth will set you free, and propaganda was created to enslave.

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