Skip to comments.The Most Successful Propaganda Techniques [aka Mainstream Media's Style Guide]
Posted on 11/29/2005 6:04:33 AM PST by John Jorsett
A list of the most common, and successful, propaganda techniques currently in use. If you spend any time at all consuming mass media, you will find these techniques familiar.
# 1. Guilt By Association: This is used to damage someone's reputation by associating them with an unattractive person or organization. It doesn't matter if there is an actual association or not. Example: Kristen said that too many people were moving into the South without the input of Americans already living there. "This land is for my grandchildren, not world wide social experiments. She lives a couple states away from where David Duke has his national office, and some think many in the region feel the way she does.
# 2. Backstroke: Systematically belittling the goals of the subject of the article as the goals are being listed. For every step forward for the subject, the propagandist pulls the reader back. Example: This year the political party's stated goal is to give the rally a warm atmosphere. We walked into the cave-like coliseum as the preparations for the rally were taking place. "We're trying to create a family atmosphere" said one representative of the party as he squinted into the harsh lights. "There are the children's rides" he said happily pointing to where union workmen smashed open wooden crates with iron crowbars.
# 3. Misinformation: This is a subtle technique, it involves reporting information in such a way that the final message of the story is not true, it's what the propagandist wants you to believe. Example: Recently a well known conservative tried to run advertisements in university newspapers addressing slave reparations for black Americans. The writer listed several facts which he felt demonstrated why reparations are not necessary and not fair. One of these facts was the fact that black Americans in the United States today earn, on average, around 20 times more than blacks living in Africa, and therefore, according to the author, descendents of slaves are actually far better off today than the people who remained behind. A second author, writing about the advertisement, stated only that "the first author said that blacks were better off being slaves.", but didn't explain the facts the first author had shared. Imagine if you read the second author's report and weren't familiar with the first author's position. You would think the first author was a monster for saying that people were lucky to be slaves! But that's not what the first author said, he said their descendants have a lot more money now than the people still living in the original countries have. This is misinformation, you're given a half truth about someone's position, and it is presented in a misleading fashion.
# 4. Over Humanization: It is a perfectly valid technique to tell a story by focusing on the real people who the story impacts. However, this is also an easy technique for manipulation when a propagandist tries to mask an issue by making anyone who has a valid disagreement look evil due to all the human suffering talked about in the story. Example: Standing in the dusty desert was Juanita Lopez Camal Esquedo and her 15 hungry children. Half of the children were blind, the other half were crippled. As the smallest child, little Juanita, looked across the barbed wire fence into America, she begged her mommy for some food. Since everyone in Mexico had died of starvation, and food would never grow there again, there was nowhere else for them to go. And after all, this was the only family that wanted to come into America anyway. Just one more family. Over humanization can be used not only with illegal immigration, but also with any other potential tear-jerker topic.
# 5. Name Calling: This is officially the oldest trick in the book. It is cheap and easy. Often immigration reform activists are called anti-immigrant, people who are against state sponsored racism are called "racists" themselves. Name calling clouds and confuses issues, and when repeated by enough people on one side of an issue, creates a weight of its own, which isn't really there, but must now be explained before the victim "may" have an opinion regarding the issue in question. Example: By saying that the population is growing too quickly, many people assumed she was a racist.
# 6. He Said, She Said: This is a technique whereby the author can say something they know isn't true, or isn't fair, but they want to say it anyway. Example: Project USA is a group which claims to support reasonable levels of immigration. They've put up billboards with Department of Statistics information which states that the US population will double within 50 years. The billboards have pictures of children of different races with the words "The population of the US will double within this child's lifetime. Stop it congress". Some people say this is hate speech. Note: a statistic (the fact that the US population will double at current levels of immigration) cannot be hateful. This is just a numerical fact, like saying water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The author knows this is an unfair statement, but wants to say it anyway. That's why she says "some people say", rather than "I say".
# 7. Unproven "Facts" This is when a (usually immature) "writer" is frantically trying to "prove" a position and they begin to quote "studies", "reports", and "experts" as "proving" this or that, but they never mention the study's name, location, where copies can be found, or the conditions specific to the experiments. Example: Recent studies show that the media is right 99% of the time. Also, an expert from the University of Happiness was quoted as saying "People in the media work harder than anyone who thinks they have a real job".
# 8. Lying Sometimes complete lies are told. Example: An author in Arizona writes a report which states that the reason that a local mayor decided not to use the police to enforce immigration law was because protests by a certain ethnic group scared him away from it. In actual fact, as stated by the mayor himself, the reason the police weren't used was because no training program had been set up between the police and the INS. Any person who was a member of said ethnic group would gain from a report like this because, if people begin to hear that "that group is really aggressive and authorities do what they say" then the power of that group is enhanced, and everyone reading the "news" will begin thinking they should always let that group have what it wants. The fact that our police need special permission to enforce some laws and not others is a topic for another discussion.
# 9. Telling the Truth, For a While To throw people off the track, biased news services will give good accurate reporting for a while, usually when it no longer matters, then they will stick it to you the next time your guard is down. The best way to recognize this technique is to simply remember who the biggest transgressors are. You must understand that if someone lies or tries to manipulate a story once, they will do so again. They will never be non-biased. They will, however, say something fair from time to time. This is due to the fact that if they were biased every time they spoke, they would soon run out of credibility. Do not trust them twice. Would you buy a car from someone who cheated you on a previous purchase just because they say something you want to hear later?
# 10. Not Talking at all about Something Of course the biggest recent example of this are the Moslem riots in France. The fact that the rioters were still burning more than one hundred cars EACH NIGHT was suppressed and avoided, rather we were fed the line that the riots were over. The media went days and days not reporting on the riots which were revealing the complete failure of French social, economic, and immigration policy. However, France, being a socialist country, is favored by the socialist media, so the country's failings were not reported. When you're aware of a major issue underway, but see no coverage on it, then you can be sure the media is against the ideas which discussing that topic would raise.
# 11. Subtle Inaccuracies/Dismissive Tone Misstating a topic, often a serious one, and pretending any objecting or concerned view is silly, unrealistic, or just not necessary. Illegal immigration is a major threat to the United States. With the rapid importation of distinct, and not particularly grateful, ethnic groups who have no interest in anything American, we create division, conflict, and risk. This is a risk that will grow to overwhelm our children. One writer used a childlike, grandmotherly tone to try to belittle and dismiss this serious topic. Her style was to write with pleasantries such as "oh, my you've grown, look at the happy big new population". This is an intentional disservice to the readers and an attempt to manipulate them into not recognizing the risk they and their children face of being supplanted in their own home once and for all by foreigners, who, by the way, won't care about you once they outnumber you. At best, this is a foolish policy. At worst, it is self destruction. In any case, it must be controlled responsibly if we are to remain masters of our own future. This author's method is just one way to use a dismissive tone to trick people into not recognizing the topic's seriousness. The next time you're reading an article which seems to speak childishly of a serious issue, you should be aware that in all probability the author doesn't fail to understand the seriousness of the issue, rather they may be trying to further an opposing agenda.
# 12. A One One Punch pretending to represent two sides, but one side gets a couple of great lines , the other side gets a lame line. Example: Tax cuts are all the rage these days, but two senators disagree on how appropriate tax cuts would be right now. Left Senator Jones says "The rich are the ones getting a cut. Who needs rich people with more money?". Right Senator Smith doesn't think that's correct. He thinks only certain individuals should benefit. "The smallest number of people who enjoy this are the people with the most money" repeated Left Senator Jones. "I think that money belongs to all the people, and the best way to give out money the government collects through friendly tax raises is for the government to do it! It's like all the people getting a raise!", said Left Senator Jones. Right Senator Smith didn't agree. He thought the money should reflect the people who had earned the most. When asked why Right Senator Smith felt this way he said "People have to earn a living". Left Senator Jones said "It is precisely this attempt by Senator Smith to keep people from earning a living that I and my party oppose!".
# 13. Volume This is related to Coordination, it is merely a deluge of the same story line everywhere, until it becomes dominant, and the media's view of it becomes the dominant view (Elian Gonzalez, Florida Recount, Poor Election Night Coverage) If you pick a topic with a strong liberal attraction, you will often find that all the "news" stories about a given current event seem to draw a similar conclusion about it. When you notice this, just ask yourself if it's probable that, in a nation of nearly 300 million, no one has a legitimate opposing opinion. For example, does everyone think Republicans want to poison themselves and all the rest of us? Does everyone want unlimited, uncontrolled, illegal immigration to displace their children? Does everyone love working from January till May for free to pay the government taxes? No, they don't.
# 14. Coordination This occurs when a number of like minded journalists all report the same angle at about the same time. This really doesn't require a conspiracy, there are so few "journalists", and they can easily see what their buddies' takes are on issues, then parrot the same line. A couple years ago we saw an article in a Southeast paper that actually addressed the damage being inflicted by uncontrolled immigration. We were shocked. Unfortunately, there followed soon after a long rose-colored story about the wonderful immigrants saving our economy (which was the magnet for their arrival in the first place) at no expense to us, written by the previously honest author, plus 5 other additional co-authors (read "thought police"). It did have a tiny list of "challenges", which was followed by an immediate rebuttal, and altogether comprised less than five percent of the article, which among journalists passes for equal time. Magically, a very similar article appeared at the same time in a nearby regional paper written by three other authors with almost the same structure, a list of wondrous immigrants and everything was perfect about them. Did the "Censoring 5" and "The Three Amigos" just happen to telepathically think the same thing, write it, and publish it at the same time? We'll let our readers decide the odds of Spontaneous Identical Publishing (S.I.P.) for themselves.
# 15. Fogging an Issue/Total Nonsense Sometimes certain groups have an interest in making sure that as few people pay attention to an issue as possible. A good propagandist can write a long, nonsensical article for the purpose of confusing the majority of readers, who themselves work hard all day. It doesn't take much for them to see a catchy headline, then begin to dig into a long rambling article, then throw their hands up and say "I don't have the extra energy to decipher this!". The reader is correct, the fault is with the propagandist. Example: The Real Reason Why We Need Tax Cuts! A lot of people want tax cuts these days. Here's the real reason they might not be such a good idea. The social ramifications are themselves reason enough! Given a perplexing view of the real inter-generational conflict in today's "live and let live" society, most people make the more responsible choice. This leads us to the logical question, with school budgets tight, can we afford to argue over social services? A close examination of IRS records plainly displays the fiduciary incentive for economic re-examination in a post-socialist sense. (this article will then ramble on like this for 3 or 4 pages)
# 16. 2,3,4 Technique Mentioning only one side of an issue 2, 3, or 4 times in an article, each time pretending you are about to present the opposing side, but you never do. Then the article suddenly ends and the reader feels bombarded, outnumbered and alone. In reality the opposing view is by definition held by many people, the author merely refused to present the side of the argument he or she disagrees with. Example: The decision to seal off an additional 4 million acres was a controversial one. Barbara Oaks of Centerville says "There are great advantages to sealing the area off". Many in town feel the same way, less traffic means less pollution, less damage to the area, and less noise. However, not everyone agrees with her. The most common complaints don't address the additional benefits of closing the forest, such as increased education opportunities for area children. Not many opportunities like this afford themselves year round, and keeping the area closed will guarantee the educational hikes around the perimeter can continue. Many longtime residents feel that closing all 4 million acres will be a burden. But don't tell that to Steve Longmont. "I hope they close even more" Steve told our interviewers. "There's no good reason for heavy travel through the whole forest, and I'd like to see the place prohibited". Several area polls show a large number of people in favor of closing the area. Keeping the forest closed is what is best for the town.
# 17. Preemptive Strike This is when the writer "attacks" the reader viciously at the very outset of the article with the "acceptable" view of the topic. The writer tries to "beat it into" the reader. Example: Just a couple days ago the possible presidential run of a politician who is very pro-enforcement of immigration law was featured in an article by an East Coast paper. The article began by saying the candidate doesn't expect to win because of this or that, and in fact doesn't think he'll win at all, he just wants people to talk about immigration. Nowhere in the article did the candidate say he didn't expect to win, or that he only wanted people to talk about immigration. In fact, the article pointed out that he had already visited Iowa 4 times in 6 months, not at all like someone who doesn't even want to win. At the end of the article were instructions on how to defeat this candidate. The opening attack on his seriousness as a candidate, and the closing advice on how to defeat him are classic examples of Preemptive Strike.
# 18. Framing the Debate Setting an argument around two "alternatives" which you would prefer, rather than the true alternatives. Example: The debate over how much funding to give to the project continued. Some are arguing for a reduced amount, while others want to see a much higher contribution level. The needs for both a lower budget and a higher budget have been laid out and defended in the debate brochure, which all members of the decision making body have been reading over for the last three days. (Note: the correct decision was to stop the project completely, it accomplishes nothing and the people running it are stealing the money, but you weren't offered the choice of stopping it.)
# 19. Token Equal Time Sometimes a weak, tiny understatement is added to a propaganda piece, apparently so the writer can pretend they had been fair. This technique is quite common, it consists of an article written with entirely one point of view, then at the end a meager statement from the opposing view is printed, it is immediately refuted, then the article either ends or continues on with the preferred point of view.
# 20. "Interpreting" A Statement Have you ever seen a writer say that someone said something, then what the person said followed, but it didn't look anything like what the writer claimed was meant? Example: The official said that they didn't hold anyone from the previous administration responsible for the loss. "I think we should just focus on the future" said the official. (note: he didn't say he didn't hold anyone from the previous administration responsible, he said we should focus on the future. See the difference?)
# 21. Withholding Information Is it the same as lying? Some in the media might not want to answer that question. Recently a candidate for mayor of Los Angeles was portrayed as a "jubilant son of an immigrant" in an article. What the article didn't mention was that he also once said "Prop 187 is the last gasp of white America in California", he belongs to, or once belonged to, a racist separatist organization which plans to takeover the American south west for Mexico to rule, and at a recent ceremony honoring early black leaders he called one of the early union members a n***** in front of 400 black leaders. 100 people walked out of the meeting room, though it was reported as 25% in order to diminish the effect. None of this was included in the article about the "jubilant son of an immigrant" More recently there is the example of multiple murders on private land in Wisconsin by a Hmong immigrant. In actual fact, of the six people murdered all but one were unarmed, one was a woman, shell casings were found all around the area, meaning the murderer chased his unarmed victims all around to try and kill them. The story as reported called all the victims "hunters" to conjure up the image of tough armed men in a fair fight, even though the victims weren't "hunting" at all but were warning the killer to stay off of their private land, hence he murdered them. The upsetting details only came out long after the story was initially reported. Are the authors of these articles lying to the public by not presenting all of the information about the stories, or are the authors so incompetent and clueless that they aren't even aware of these major points even though they are supposed to be writing about these important stories? The authors are either liars or morons.
# 22. Distracting or Absurd Metrics With this technique, the writer attempts to drag the reader into a debate about what the reader is even seeing. This is usually used when the propagandist is falling behind and must hurry to destroy correct understanding of events. Example: During the French riots many writers began arguing about the number of cars burned and whether the number still "indicated" riot levels. In other words, let's argue about what a riot is, and when you have enough destroyed cars, we'll talk. Meanwhile, you're discussing burnt cars and not the ongoing riots.
If I read this, will a get an honorary journalism degree?
This article is a good start on identifying the techniques the criminals use.
Very good to see that there are some folks focusing on the more insidious forms of bias attack that are out there. I think that sometimes we get distracted by the marginal ones and let the onslaught of the subtle continue!
Definitely a ping for later, in-depth perusal.
It's called the Philadelphia Inquirer!
Slow, methodical, coordinated "cuts" by fake editorials, polls, selective interviews, adjusted facts, revisionist history, minimizing foul behavior, diversion, obfuscation, finger pointing, "how" one sees instead of "what" one reports...etc est.
Feel free to add to this list at any point.
Thanks for the heads up. Marking it for later reading and/or commenting.
One of the best articles that I ever read was in a Freshman English course. The article was about how to recognize propaganda. I have used the info for years. This post amplifies the information.
When abortion is being debated, they'll get an elderly white man from the rural South in an ill-fitting suit to argue the prolife position while getting an attractive, urbane, stylishly dressed young woman to argue for the pro-murdering kids position.
Ping for later.
This is a great resource. I see and hear these tactics being used day after day.
Good post, thanks.
Either a journalism degree or 5-cents, whichever is more valuable.
This was posted by starbase on 11-27-05
Seems everyone of these techniques have been perfected by the NYTimes and CBS. I copied this to a permanent file for future reference. Thanks John.
Good reference data. Thanks.
If they do actually give equal time to both sides of an issue, they will always end the segment with their side so you will go away with their arguments fresh in your mind.
If a 'rat don't mention it.
Good post. There's another one, although related to the techniques shown: Propaganda by the redefinition of words.
Easier to read bump!
"But in Texas, one of the world capitals of "shit happens," a place where bull semen is worth its weight in gold (and the bizarre long ago became the mundane), I believed it was quite possible that Bill Burkett was finally telling the truth, the whole weird truth, and nothing but the truth."
Good list. I think I would add a very common techniques used by the print media:
Often a headline will be presented that is almost the opposite of what the article states. For example, I've seen this a lot with news related to "global warming". A study might come out saying that most glaciers are growing while a few are receeding...but the headline will boldly state: Study Shows Glaciers Are Shrinking Due To Global Warming"
Good to know about but I wonder if there is a coordinated effort to use these techniques, i.e., if the bias in MSM is intentional and who oversees it if it is intentional.
Excellent article. Someone pass this to Rush Limbaugh. I'm sure he'll be interested in this one :)
The clear intent is to give the impression that extremism exists only on the Right; that a danger or threat exists within the politics of Conservatism. On the Left, the opposite is implied; that the Liberal philosophy is accepted, neutral or moderate.
The list is endless like calling conservatives "controversial" and saying "far right" and "hardline." Just today when the Vatican reaffirmed church teaching on homosexuals in the priesthood it was headlined "Vatican renews gay priest ban" on msn.com.
When the Democrat mayor in York,PA got charged with a race riot murder in 1969 back in 2001 his party affiliation was not mentioned in the national news stories and the story died after he was charged. He was acquitted but still his 1960's sympathy with white gangs (handing out ammunition) and shouting "white power" at their rally during the riots (he was a cop at the time) would have made great copy, but he had the wrong political affiliation. Our own hometown version of Robert "KKK" Byrd.
And don't forget the latest, courtesy of the Arizona Star - "ENTRANTS"! (I kid you not).
Media Schadenfreude and Media Shenanigans PING
Bump for later thorough reading.
Another way to the "Token Equal Time" works is by using worthless/phony conservatives to balance compentent hard-core liberals. Works as follows:
1) You put a Chris Matthews on MSNBC - a left-wing partisan hack, who's passionate and good TV - and balance him with a wimpy, wishy-washy, bow-tie wearing, Tucker Carlson.
2) You give a TV show to left-wing moonbat like Keith Oberrmann and balance him off with a bland, inoffensive, sleep inducing former Pol, like Joe Scarborough. You compound the lack of balance by having Joe Scarborough spend most of his time on missing girls in Aruba.
3) Or worse of all you're PBS producing McNeil-Leher, and you counter-balance a Democrat Hack like Mark Sheilds -who ran Mondale campaign in 1984 - with David Gergen. Telling your audience (as PBS did until he went to work for Clinton) that Gergen is a "REAGAN REPUBLICAN"
BTW, I still see Gergen preseneted as the Republican/Conservative balance on talk shows. That he worked for Clinton is never mentioned.
Bump for later reading.
I'll take the nickel, please.
Note to self for later comment -
Most of these techniques are utilized by the bots on this very website!
Interesting. The StrategyPage version is completely unattributed, so I assumed it originated there. They should have furnished a link to the FR posting, if that's where they got it.
You're obviously a good bargain hunter! LOL!
It was more of a rhetorical "taking". I knew it was worth more than the Journalism degree. ;-)