What Everyone Should Know About Political Propaganda

Quotes, notes, and paraphrases from
An Introduction To Critical Thinking: A beginner's Text in Logic by W. H. Werkmeister,
© 1948, Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, Nebraska, fifth printing June, 1956, Chapter IV,
with comments by S. Martin
Critical Thinking - Main Menu
Intelligent and informed cooperation among citizens for their mutual welfare
is crucial for the functioning of a democracy.
This is both the weakest and strongest point of a democracy.
It is the heart, which has been
the target for assault by many rival systems of government since its inception.
One of the primary weapons of these assaults has been, and remains,
deceptive and manipulative propaganda.
Every voting citizen of any democracy needs to
be able to recognize and nullify the techniques of propagandists.
Unfortunately, few citizens have the opportunity to educate themselves
about the methods of propaganda and the countermeasures to them.
They and, thus, their nations remain vulnerable to its manipulation and exploitation.

                                                                                                                                  S. Martin


An excellent textbook, once used by a prestigious institution of learning, is An Introduction To Critical Thinking: A beginner's Text in Logic by W. H. Werkmeister, copyright 1948, Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, Nebraska, fifth printing June, 1956.   It contains a superb chapter on propaganda.   The following is based upon notes, paraphrases, & quotes from that chapter.   Material in brackets [   ], the underlining, and the italics (in most cases) are mine and not those of Mr. Werkmeister.   Material in quotation marks   “   ”   are direct quotations from Mr. Werkmeister's book unless otherwise stated.   Material unmarked is usually paraphrasing but may be direct quotations.   All paraphrasing and interjections are in keeping with the intent and meaning presented in Mr. Werkmeister's book.

Some updating has been advisable due to changes in the world since 1948, such as the advent of the Internet.   The quality of the education that you can acquire from the study of this presentation depends primarily upon the time and effort that you spend.   There is no reason that you cannot acquire an education that is equal, or superior, to that of a person who received this as a formal educational course, although it may require a bit more time and effort.   Please do not expect to absorb a comprehensive understanding of propaganda techniques in a single reading.   Gaining a useful understanding, however, is quite possible.

Material from Chapter IV PROPAGANDA

Familiarity with the powerful methods and techniques used by propagandists to attack and manipulate the intellects and emotions of citizens is crucial to the democratic way of life.   Citizens of a democracy must require skill in the detection of sham arguments, unmasking propaganda tricks, and discernment of what is genuine and trustworthy in the midst of all propaganda efforts to [obfuscate] and befuddle a given issue.   That is the only way a democratic people can safeguard their decisions against undue influences, and thus act in accordance with their own interest.

Skill in propaganda analysis is no substitute for a sound and comprehensive analysis of an issue, or for the sound values and wisdom to make the best decisions under the circumstances.   Its value is in being a means of eliminating the false and deceptive, the misleading and the untrue.   Recognition of manipulative propaganda clarifies the situation, preparing the way for rational and considered actions, which benefit a democratic nation and its citizens.   Skill in propaganda analysis is a vital phase of critical [analytical, logical, accurate and sound] thinking.   Furthermore, the perpetrators of dishonest and manipulative propaganda may be unmasked for what they are and the damage done to society lessened.   The more fully democratic people understand and recognize the difference between propaganda and genuine knowledge, the more intelligent will be their perceptions of events and institutions and their influences upon their nation and the world.


What is Propaganda?

[Propaganda has been defined, in Webster's New World Dictionary, as any systematic, widespread indoctrination; now often connotating deception or distortion.   Propaganda is a method that may be turned to good or ill.   It may, or may not, avail itself of deceptive or dishonest methods.   It may be used to inform and influence people to have their children vaccinated against a polio epidemic, thus saving thousands of children from death or disability.   On the other hand, it may be used to influence an unwanted section of a population to forbid the vaccination of their children in the face of a polio epidemic.]

It is not the end or goal which stamps an argument as propaganda: it is the nature of the 'argument' which does that.   The devices employed, not the purpose for which they are employed, characterize propaganda as propaganda.

No absolute distinction can be drawn between propaganda and education.   There is no sharp line of demarcation between them.” However, training in any skill which enables an individual to employ scientific methods in dealing with all problems, which helps him think more clearly, and which makes him more discerning in his judgments, and less vulnerable to deception, must be regarded as education rather than propaganda.   The imparting of established scientific knowledge is education and not propaganda, because such knowledge has been checked and rechecked by independent investigators; it is objective and unbiased.   [Imparting scientific knowledge, which has not been established and checked by unbiased, objective investigators, is not necessarily propaganda either.   It depends upon how it is presented.   If it does not attempt to mislead the listener or reader into believing that it has been established as generally accepted, and simply informs factually, then it is not propaganda.]   “In science the appeal is to [the logic of] experiment and reasoned analysis, whereas in all propaganda the appeal is to prejudices, fears, hatreds, aspirations, and traditions - to the emotions rather than to the intellect, or to distorted facts and misconstrued arguments.   Education enables people to know or to discover the truth and then to decide in the light of this truth what action is to be taken.”   Propaganda, on the other hand, is usually employed to provoke action regardless of, or even despite, truth or the best interests of the manipulated.

[Educators and scientists might employ propaganda.   When an educator or scientist teaches established facts in his specialized field of study, he is engaged in education; but if he makes extravagant claims concerning the values of his field, teaches outside of his field of expertise, or attempts to persuade people to accept his personal opinions, philosophies, religion, or biases, he is indulging in propaganda.   Using one's position of trust, as a teacher, to indoctrinate students instead of educating them was once considered unprofessional, unethical, and intolerable.   Unfortunately, it has become prevalent. This has rendered many more people vulnerable to the manipulations of propaganda instead of arming them against it.   This type of indoctrination is not used to produce citizens of a free and democratic nation.]

[Propaganda for the purposes of this presentation is defined as any attempt to influence the opinions or actions of others to some predetermined end by appealing to their emotions or prejudices or by distorting the facts.   In particular, I wish to focus on the covert and manipulatory aspects of propaganda, wherein the propagandist manipulates others to think and act in a manner that is counter to their best interests and the well being of their nation.]

Propaganda Methods

Propaganda appeals are made primarily through the emotions.   [A person is almost overwhelmingly inclined to accept a proposition or argument which justifies their emotional feelings.   One of the primary purposes of education is to supply the tools of critical thinking and objective analysis, which enable an educated person to make rational and accurate decisions.   The purpose of a manipulative propagandist is to use your emotions against you in order to circumvent the use of your critical thinking skills.]

[A recent issue of Science News published an article demonstrating that, when a human became highly emotional, the circulation to the higher centers of the brain, responsible for the functions of logic, was markedly diminished.   This is scientific evidence of what people have observed for centuries.   When strong emotions are aroused, the logical and intellectual functions are diminished.   The manipulative propagandist knows that if he can engage your emotions, he has an excellent chance of manipulating you.   People are naturally inclined to take a stance based upon their emotional feelings and then use their intellect to find ways to justify their decision.   Most people manage to modify this natural inclination enough too get by.   Generally, the more they learn to rely upon the skills of critical thinking and spotting manipulative techniques, the more capable they become in making good decisions.]

"Once a person’s emotions are aroused or are 'conditioned' in a certain way, his actions rarely escape their directive influence; his attitudes are 'set,' and his decisions are no longer unbiased or free.   In order to engage the emotions and direct them into predetermined channels, the propagandist takes advantage of every psychological factor which serves his purpose.   He appeals to every element of strength or weakness in human nature, to every predilection and prejudice, to every fear and hope and aspiration, to every love and hate and passion, to avarice and patriotism, to the spirit of self-sacrifice no less to the most ruthless selfishness. His sole concern is the achievement of his own ends.”

Propaganda Appeals

There are nine representative special appeals frequently used by propagandists.

1.   He Appeals to Traditional Patterns of Thought.
As the result of early conditioning, most people tend to think, feel, or act in certain “traditional patterns.”   They are habituated to certain ideals, points of view, convictions, or biases; and these the propagandist tries to exploit.   He appeals to their patriotism, their religious sentiments, their group interests, and their habitual way of looking at things; he tells them directly or indirectly that the end he is striving for is but an expression and culmination of their own views and beliefs, that they can safeguard or realize their own goals best by associating themselves with him, by supporting his efforts, by sharing his attitudes.

2.   He Simplifies.
The problems of social living are manifold and complex; they are often bewildering in their implications and ramifications.   In these crowded days, people desire simplified and concise statements which suggest clean-cut solutions.   The propagandist exploits this desire for simplification for his own purposes.   He eliminates the “ifs” and “buts,” and reduces all issues to unqualified statements of assertion.   He relieves people of the burden of thinking through the problems in question by confronting them with sharply defined alternatives of great suggestive force.   He “arranges” the facts so that they indicate clearly one and only one “reasonable” course of action.   With all the powers of persuasion at his command, he shows his listeners or readers the way - his way - out of the difficulties and bewildering complexities of any given social, economic, or political situation.

3.   He Offers Relief from Frustration.
Whenever people are dissatisfied; whenever they feel thwarted, frustrated, and deprived of some right or opportunities, the propagandist points to new goals and new ways of action [which appears to lead to the relief of their frustrations].   He may inspire hope for the world hereafter, or may kindle the will to revolt; he may try to persuade people to submit willingly to the tyranny of a dictator or to a group of exploiters, or he may hold before them the promise of a new world and a new social order if they but follow his leadership or accept his “new order.”   But whatever his attitude or his persuasion, the propagandist offers relief from frustration.

4.   He Helps Rationalize.
Men in general do not like to face unpleasant facts, and this is especially true when they themselves are responsible for them.   Men try to excuse themselves for their deeds and to seek satisfaction in wishful thinking.   The propagandist plays upon this weakness of human nature to achieve his own ends.   He offers excuses made to order, and 'reasons' and 'facts' why even the most sinister deeds are not really bad so long as people accept his way of looking at things and follow his leadership.   When their consciences accuse them of ruthless selfishness, he clothes their actions in the bright garments of lofty ideals, and suggests motives for their deeds that make them feel proud when they should feel ashamed.   He helps them to procrastinate and shift the burden of responsibility from their own shoulders to those of their victims.

5.   He Provides a Scapegoat.
Not only does the propagandist help people to rationalize their actions in various ways, he also helps to put the blame for every misfortune which befalls them upon someone else.   At all times in history man has been looking for a scapegoat, for someone whom he can hold responsible for his self-caused misery; and the propagandist provides the victim.   By emotional appeals to prejudices of race, color, and religion, he directs dissatisfactions into channels that serve his own ends.   He encourages racial or class hatreds and social, political, or national antagonisms.   He incites mob violence and provides wars.   And he always provides the victim, the scapegoat, for the irrational outlets of aroused passions.

6.   He Utilizes the Tendency to Worry.
Man is the only creature capable of looking into the future and wondering what it will bring.   This ability to transcend the present assures his freedom of action - limited as that may be; but from it also springs worry and anxiety, and the tension and strain which they produce. The propagandist makes ample use of this fact.   He creates anxiety or relieves people of worry, if he thereby gains his end; he attempts to bolster their morale or to break it, if that suits his purpose.   If they are concerned about the preservation of the status quo, he may win support for his reactionary politics by persuading them that even a moderate liberalism means the destruction of all that is dear to them; or, if they have a deep love for their country, he may persuade them to accept his jingoistic ideas because of the “threats” to their security as manifest in the policies of some “aggressor” nation.   But the tendency to worry encompasses not only broad social and international problems; it is even more directly evident in the ordinary affairs of daily life.   People worry about their jobs, about the mortgage on their homes, the financial security of old age, about their health, their social position, and even about the next meal.   The tendency to worry, therefore, offers the propagandist one of his greatest opportunities for exploitation.   The “war of nerves” is but an extreme example of this kind of propaganda appeal.

7.   He Appeals to Ambition and Pride.
Most men desire to better their circumstances and to improve the conditions under which they live.   They have ambitions to which the propagandist can and does appeal with success.   Properly stimulated by shrewd propagandists, the desire to “live up to the Joneses” can work miracles in our economic order.   The modern automobile, for example, is being sold to the American people not as a means of economic transportation, but as an item of social distinction; for it is over-powered for most purposes.   It is capable of speeds too high for safety and comfort, and it is too richly appointed with unnecessary accessories to be really economical.   Men's pride in what they have accomplished or in what they possess, the desire to keep and preserve and even to increase and extend it, offer the propagandist his chance.   And their inclination to envy others their social position and their possessions provides an additional fertile field for propagandistic exploitation.

8.   He Utilizes Man's Tendency to Identify Himself with Persons or Groups Possessing Prestige.
The propagandist appeals to men's vanity, to their desire to be or to appear important.   People want to be “in” or on the winning side, on the side of “justice” and moral “right” on the side that is respected by those whose ideals and interests they share or want to share.   And the propagandist shows them the way.   He tries to persuade them that their goal can be reached only if they follow him and do what he tells them.   His task is simplified by the fact that they want to be “men of distinction” in more ways than one.

9.   He Directs and Reinforces Men's Projections.
Men tend to ascribe their own desires, their own ideals, motives, and predilections, to others.   They ascribe their own point of view, their own values, to those with whom they deal; they project their own conceptions into the minds of others.   The propagandist exploits this tendency by giving direction to, or by re-inforcing, their projections.   He presents his own cause so that it appears to be an expression or a manifestation of their own desires or motives.   He leads them to identify themselves with ideas and points of view which he can control and exploit for his own purposes, and he does this in matters of daily life as well as in those involving broad principles and policies of national or international scope.

[There are many more ways to exploit people's emotional and mental weaknesses and the propagandist may combine several of them to increase his effectiveness.]   He will not make a straightforward appeal to reason or use reasoned analysis, with all the facts in the case clearly stated. He may attempt to appear to do so however, by providing people with “facts” colored or distorted to support his interests or by supplying “data” chosen to lead them astray.

[People can protect themselves from being manipulated and exploited by propagandists by taking notice of any attempts to play upon these normal human tendencies, distorting facts, or misrepresenting something, then evaluating the likelihood that it is deliberate, and asking themselves questions about the motives, ethics, and trustworthiness of the suspected propagandist.]

Few people know themselves well enough to recognize their own prejudices, rationalizations and point of view however.   This makes it very difficult to detect the experienced propagandists.

“It is also necessary to examine the means and devices employed by the propagandist to reach his ends, to study the various techniques used in “putting things across.”

Propaganda Sources and Channels

Speeches, [the Internet, phone solicitation, television, pseudo-documentaries, biased news reports], and printed material are often used to disseminate propaganda.   There are steps that we can take to verify or disprove the suspicion that one of these is being used for propaganda purposes.

The first indispensable step is to ask:
(1)   What is the source of the item, and through what channels (newspaper, mail, radio [TV, Internet, club, church, door to door distribution, etc.] ) has it reached us?
(2)   Who controls the source or the channel, or both?
(3)   What is his interest in the subject matter with which the item is concerned?   [What bias or agenda might be expected of this source or channel?]
(4)   Judged by past performances, how reliable is the source?   How dependable the channel?

Answers to these questions may readily establish [a predilection for] bias and prejudice and thus cast important light upon the particular item under consideration.

[Sometimes the source and channel of the item are clear indicators of the likelihood of a particular “slant”.   For example, it is neither unexpected, nor inappropriate, for a church publication to be “slanted” toward the beliefs and values of that particular religion.]

“The situation is entirely different when propaganda is disseminated under false pretenses and cloaked in the guise of truth, when it purports to express the honest belief of some particular person, but is in reality a slanted and deliberate 'planted' view beneficial to unidentified interest groups which, for one reason or another, do not want to be identified with the item and which therefore use the person or agency in question as a 'front.'

“Constant vigilance and a relentless inquiry into the sources of information are obviously indispensable if one hopes to escape the opinion-molding influence of the well-financed propagandist, whatever interest group, creed, or party he represents.   Unfortunately, the situation is often such that it makes the discovery of the true source of a propaganda item impossible.   In this case, one must depend entirely upon internal evidence of the suspected item itself as the only clue to its propagandist nature.   The task, however, is not hopeless; for all propagandists use only a limited number of special devices to accomplish their ends, and if one knows what these devices are, one can identify them whenever or wherever they are employed.   In many cases one can thus determine from analysis of the given item itself, and without reference to its source, whether or not it is propaganda.   Knowing its true nature, one can then guard against its suggestive influence.”

Propaganda Devices

“In general, all propaganda devices depend upon an imprecision of language or upon a lack or distortion of evidence.”   Most of the fallacies or errors in reasoning are utilized in items of propaganda.   Nine of the most commonly used devices are listed here.   “A clear understanding of these devices is in practically all cases sufficient to determine whether or not a given item actually is propaganda.”

1.   Name Calling and the Use of Invectives
The propagandist appeals to prejudices, fears, and hates by using emotionally colored words which reinforce biases and negative attitudes.   He employs question-begging epithets for the purpose of determining the course of people's thinking, and he tries to lead them into forming negative judgments without examining the evidence upon which such judgments should be based.   He indulges in “name calling” and denounces persons, causes, and ideas by the use of derogatory adjectives and of verbs which carry emotionally negative overtones.   He resorts to “snarl” words which imply disapproval or condemnation, but he does not take the trouble to justify the use of such words.   He attempts to carry people along emotionally in an attitude of negativity, without presenting any actual evidence which would justify a negative decision.

Example:   “For fifteen years we were the irresolute and helpless object of international exploitation which, in the name of democratic ideals of humanity, belabored our people with the whip of sadistic egoism.” (Adolf Hitler, 1940)

Example: “Mr. Roosevelt- cold, calculating, self-seeking politician that he is - has catered to the communists on every occasion but one.”   (Col. Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, April 18, 1944,)

When confronted with items involving this propaganda device ask: "What is the real meaning of the 'snarl' words or invectives, of the emotionally colored verbs and names?   Does this meaning have any justifiable connection with the ideas, causes, or persons referred to?   Is there any evidence which justifies the employment of these words in the case at hand?   Disregarding the invectives, what are the merits of the ideas presented?   What is the purpose behind them?   Who will profit from this propaganda?   What is my interest in the issue?   How will the outcome affect society as a whole?   [What would you think about a person who used those terms about you without presenting any evidence?]   If after checking the facts, the invectives do not appear to be warranted or the item appears to be an attempt at covert manipulation, do I really feel safe in placing any credence in what it has to say?"

2.   Glittering Generalities
The propagandist employs this device when he appeals to a person's “idealism”; to his love, religion, patriotism, or generosity; to his sense of justice, pride, hope, courage, and the like; when he wants to call forth in people an emotional response of approval.   He employs “purr” words or words charged with emotionally positive overtones, words which suggest or imply positive and affirmative attitudes.   He uses undefined and abstract terms - “glittering generalities,” - with a high emotional appeal; terms, such as “truth,” “freedom,” “honor,” “progress,” “Americanism,” “democratic way of life,” which mean different things to different people, and he never specifies in which particular sense he is using them.   He deliberately refrains from being specific, for he hopes that every one of his listeners or readers will provide his own interpretation of the “glittering generalities” and will thus assume that the propagandist means the same thing; that he and the propagandist are in complete agreement; that they approve the same ideas, thee same cause, the same course of action.   [The assumption is easy to make because most people are very eager to believe this person does share their beliefs and attitudes.]   In other words, the propagandist hopes that his listeners or readers will be “taken in” by the emotional appeal of the undefined words; that they will not ask for evidence or concretely defined particulars, but that their emotions will be assuaged and their reason satisfied by the suggestive force of the emotionally positive words.”   [Few people are likely to confront him and risk appearing to “beat up” on such a positive “nice guy”.]

Example: “Our policy is a positive policy.   This policy is to protect, to defend and to perpetuate our free, constitutional form of government, our free enterprise system of economy, our system of free society.   This is a real American policy, and it is broad enough to be embraced by men and women of every party.”   (Representative J. W. Martin of Massachusetts, June 27, 1944.)

Example: “Militant liberalism is our passion and our faith. We want to lead in the struggle for true freedom and for lasting peace.   We believe that true freedom requires effective democratic government able to provide the opportunity for a full life....  We believe in the Four Freedoms and in One World....  We will do everything within our power to create from the liberal spirit of our people a liberal movement, organized for political action and conscious of its responsibility to the world.”   (From “A Statement of Faith,” New Republic, April 15, 1946.)

When the device of “glittering generalities” is employed ask:   “What do these words usually mean?   In what sense does the propagandist use them?   Does he define them in any way at all?   What connection do these words have with the ideas which the propagandist presents?   Disregarding the 'glittering generalities', what is the merit or demerit of the ideas presented?   Who will benefit from them?   How will they affect organized society?"

It is quite possible that after a careful analysis of all factors and facts involved we find ourselves in complete agreement with the aims and intentions of the propagandist; that we are willing to give him our full support.   But we should approve of and support his aims because of their merit and not because of the persuasiveness of the propaganda; because of their “rightness,” not because of the “purr” words.   Whatever our decision, it should be arrived at on the basis of facts and indisputable evidence, uninfluenced by the suggestiveness of undefined terms which are emotionally “loaded” so that they tend to persuade the reason by satisfying the affections.

3.   Tabloid Thinking
When *hasty generalizations and dogmatically asserted propositions are used as premises in arguments, they lead to tabloid thinking, one of the most effective devices employed by propagandists, and one of the most vicious forms of thinking from which the modern age suffers.   The propagandist makes effective use of them, for they fit in with man's tendency to simplify; they provide focal points for beliefs and prejudices.   "Generalizations" such as these are, as a rule, widely accepted even before the propagandist uses them, and they possess the suggestiveness of so-called “a priori truths,” implying a finality which brings reasoning to an end.

Example: “Let the ruling class tremble at a Communistic revolution.   The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.”   (From the Communist Manifesto.)   [Perhaps that is the reason the communist governments need walls and guards to keep these 'proletarians' from escaping, and the reason the U. S. A. needs border guards to keep illegal aliens from overrunning our country.   They are looking for the chains they lost!   S. M.]

A special form of tabloid thinking is the use of “slogans”; “America first!”; “Down with Capitalism!”   The suggestive force of slogans must not be underestimated.   They are designed to carry people along on the strength of their emotional appeal.

When confronted with slogans or tabloids, one should ask:   "What is the intention of the propagandist?   What does he want me to do?   Who will benefit from my action?   What will be the effect upon society as a whole?”   Refuse to yield to the emotional appeal and make a factual analysis of all sides of the issue.

  *  [Hasty generalizations refer to a fallacy that is committed whenever a universal conclusion is drawn from evidence which warrants only a restricted conclusion, when a generalization is made on the basis of inadequate evidence.   Examples would be:   “My wife was unfaithful.   Therefore, all wives are unfaithful.”   “Once a liar, always a liar.”   “You can't change human nature.”]

4.   Testimonials
This device is employed by the propagandist to “sell” anything from patent medicine to a suburban home, from a magazine subscription to a panacea for the economic ills of the nation, from a vacation trip to an ideology.   It consists in using some “authority,” some person, party, document, or institution, in support of the idea which is to be “sold.”

Reference to “authority” is legitimate under certain conditions of competence, authenticity, verifiability, and general trustworthiness.   The propagandist, however, does not, as a rule, use “authorities” in this legitimate sense.   He has recourse to untrustworthy sources and quotes incompetent or biased “authorities,”   i.e., he commits the fallacy of argumentum ad verecundiam.   Moreover, he misquotes or distorts the facts or opinions derived from reliable sources.   He attributes facts and opinions to some competent authority which do not come from that source and, in general, he selects and manipulates the “testimonials” to suit his own purpose.

Example:   "Secret reports of those days (spring, 1919) made accessible only now, speak of the frightening possibility, that the two defeated powers, Russia and Germany, might unite themselves overnight and force the exhausted allied armies to fresh battles.”   (Emil Ludwig, Stalin, p. 207.)

Whenever “testimonials” of this type, giving only a vague reference to some source, are encountered, one should ask: "Who or what is quoted?   [Is it a genuine quote from a genuine source?] Why should this source be regarded as competent, as having trustworthy information or expert knowledge concerning the matter at issue?   Is it possible to verify the facts or opinions in this case through some other channels?"  

Another trick of propaganda agencies is to “plant” an idea - in some newspaper or magazine - and then to quote that newspaper or magazine as the “source” of the idea.   This is, of course, only another variation of the “testimonial.”

5.   Bifurcation
The propagandist frequently employs this device in order to drive home his point by contrast.   He speaks of “we” and “they,” of the “rich” and the “poor,” the “good” and the “bad,” the “haves” and the “have-nots,” dividing persons, things, ideas, groups, parties, or countries into two mutually exclusive groups which are “for” or “against” us, leaving no room for intermediate groups, positions, attitudes, or points of view.   He carries out a strict “bifurcation” and proceeds to argue his case from this simplified position of “either-or” when actually there may exist one or more additional alternatives mediating between the extremes.

Example:   “The German is a destroyer or a creator.   His soul moves between two polarities.   He is either very very good, or very very bad.”   (Dorothy Thompson, Listen, Hans, propaganda broadcasts to Nazi-Germany.)   [This one could be construed as being combined with Tabloid Thinking.   S. M.]

Example 2:   “This, then, is what America faces in the historic November elections.   On one side is the Roosevelt-led Democratic Party, bent on the most effective prosecution of the war, close to the people, aligned with and backed by the great labor and progressive movement.   On the other side is a party whose candidate can now be, at best, the mouthpiece of Herbert Hoover.   Its victory would enhance enormously the power within the country of the most reactionary, pro-fascist appeaser elements in America.”   (The Daily Worker, April 18, 1944.)   [A good mix of Name Calling and Association is mixed in, to enhance the Bifurcation. S. M.]

To counteract the effectiveness of Bifurcation ask:   “What is the evidence upon which the bifurcation is based?   What additional alternatives are available?   What bearing do they have upon the point at issue?   What does the propagandist want me to do?   What are the merits and demerits of this program?   Who benefits from it?   How does it affect me personally?   What effect does it have upon society as a whole?”

If one remembers that all contrary terms - i.e., terms such as “good-bad”, “conservative-radical,” “civilized-uncivilized”, “normal-abnormal”, “public interest-private interest” - indicate only extremes on a continuous scale of values, permitting various degrees of intermediacy, one has gained a first step in the defense against propaganda based upon bifurcation.

6.   Association
This is a device by means of which the propagandist tries to establish a connection, a psychological association, between the idea he presents and some object, person, party, cause, or idea which people respect, revere or cherish, or which they fear, condemn, or repudiate.   If the association is successfully established, the propagandist hopes that his hearers or readers will transfer their attitude from the thing, cause, or person cherished (or feared, as the case may be) to the idea, cause, or person he wants them to cherish (or fear).

Example:   “There are two kinds of speakers, one appeals to your emotions, the other to reason.   Roosevelt is the kind that works your emotions, the same as does Hitler, and the masses blindly follow to the bitter end.”   (Omaha World Herald, October 8, 1944.)   [Combines Bifurcation with Association.   Ironically, this writer is also appealing to your emotions.]

To guard against this type of manipulation ask:   “Does the alleged connection actually exist?   What evidence, if any, is there to prove it?   Who wants me to believe in this association?   Who benefits from it?   If the suggested association is disregarded what is the merit of the ideas presented?   What is the cause to be served?"   -   If all of these questions are answered with the facts, is it unlikely that anyone can be victimized by the propaganda trick of establishing associations.

7.   Identification
"In order to win the confidence and approval of the persons addressed, the propagandist identifies himself with them and their interests.   He becomes 'one of the boys'.”   This device is used by all who want to "sell" themselves to an audience.   It is used by politicians, labor leaders, and agitators of various sorts.   It is used by candidates for public office who are “just plain folks,” and by the businessman or banker, the doctor or the lawyer, who wants to be considered “one of us.”

Example:   “The fact that my American forebears have for so many generations played their part in the life of the United States and that here I am, an Englishman, welcomed in your midst makes this experience one of the most moving and thrilling in my life, which is already long and has not been entirely uneventful.   I wish indeed that my mother whose memory I cherish across the veil of years, could have been here to see me. By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own. In that case, this would not have been the first time you would have heard my voice. In that case I would not have needed any invitation, but if I had it is hardly likely that it would have been unanimous.   So, perhaps, things are better as they are.   I may confess, however, that I do not feel quite like a fish out of water in a legislative assembly where English is spoken. I am a child of the House of Commons.   I was brought up in my father's house to believe in democracy; trust the people, that was his message.   I used to see him cheered at meetings and in the streets by crowds of workingmen way back in those aristocratic Victorian days when Disraeli said, 'The world was for the few and for the very few.'   Therefore, I have been in full harmony with the tides which have flowed on both sides of the Atlantic against privileges and monopoly and I have steered confidently towards the Gettysburg ideal of government of the people, by the people, for the people.”   (Winston Churchill in an address before Congress, December 26, 1941.)

The device of Identification is always used to win trust and confidence.   In order to counteract it, one must remember that any idea, plan, scheme, proposition, or article must in itself merit consideration if it is to be accepted.   The charming manner and the “I'm-just-one-of-you” attitude of the salesman, the politician, or the propagandist are insufficient proof of the merit of any proposition.   Whenever the device of Identification is employed, one may be certain that a propagandist is at work, and the wise course of action is to be especially wary and skeptical.

8[a].   Band Wagon
This device is calculated to make people “follow the crowd".   “Everybody is doing it”; “Everybody is using it”; “Don't throw your vote away; vote for Mr. Blank; he is sure to win!”   [Well he will if this succeeds.   This book was written in 1948 and this device was used against Ross Perot in 1992.] - phrases and expressions such as these characterize the Band Wagon device.   Parades, music, crowds, the whole scale of dramatic arts may be employed to catch and hold attention, to sweep people off their feet.   From medicine show to political rallies, the technique is the same.

The Band Wagon device is encountered quite frequently, although in less conspicuous form, in campaign speeches, articles, reports, broadcast commentaries, and political tracts designed to win votes or increase the support of a party or cause.

Example:   “Since I was last here in June, a great campaign has gained force daily to restore honesty and competence to our government.   All over the country that movement has taken hold until now it has become an irresistible tide sweeping on toward victory for a free America in November.   The strength of that movement does not lie in any individual.   It springs from an urgent conviction in the minds of our people.”   (Thomas E. Dewey, Republican candidate for president, October 25, 1944.)

Whenever Band Wagon tactics are employed, it is necessary to ask:   "What is the program which the propagandist tries to 'put across'?   What are its merits?   What evidence is there for or against it?   How will it affect me?   How will it affect society as a whole?   Who will benefit from it?   Against whom is it directed?"   [Do I really want to be associated with these people?]   Any program deserving support must be defensible on rational and empirical grounds without the claptrap and theatricals of a Band Wagon campaign.

In some cases of worthwhile programs, however, the “beating of drums” may be necessary to overcome the natural lethargy of the people; and there is no danger in “following the crowd” so long as a person's decision to do so is reached on the basis of actual evidence and is consistent with the true merits of the issues involved.   Only when one follows the crowd blindly, when one is “swept off one's feet”, or is intimidated by those caught up in the fervor, and no longer examines the merits and demerits of the case, does the Band Wagon device become a vicious and dangerous propaganda trick.   Its use, however, always earmarks propaganda for what it is; an appeal to the emotions rather than to reason, an attempt to influence a person's behavior by suggestion rather than by rational persuasion, a means for breaking down all resistance by implying that the cause sponsored by the propagandist is what everybody really wants and works for, and that anyone who does not follow the crowd is an isolated individual whose judgment and opinion do not count.

[8b.   Lemming or Anti-Band Wagon
This is an often used propaganda device that implies that anyone who follows the opposition or shares their beliefs is, or will be viewed as, mentally substandard and likely come to a bad end.   The propagandist usually leaves it open for the listener or reader to choose the group to which he will belong and he may make the assumption, or imply, that they are above such folly. It is a sort of anti-bandwagon device.   The listener or reader will naturally want to be considered superior to the disparaged group and avoid their unpleasant fate.   This device is frequently used by propagandists, but was not part of the original collection.   It was added by S. Martin in 2006.]

Example:   “There are two kinds of speakers, one appeals to your emotions, the other to reason.   Roosevelt is the kind that works your emotions, the same as does Hitler, and the masses blindly follow to the bitter end.”   (Omaha World Herald, October 8, 1944.

9.   Card Stacking
This is one of the most vicious of all propaganda devices, for it depends upon distortion, exaggerations, false evidence, forgeries, mis-statements of facts, outright lies, and deceptions of all kinds.   Sham and hypocrisy characterize its devotees.   It is so prominent a device in so-called “bad” propaganda that many people identify it with propaganda itself, failing to see that propaganda ends may be accomplished through other devices as well.

It is difficult to detect some forms of card stacking, for not all relevant facts are readily accessible for a careful check-up on a suspected item.   If definite proof cannot be produced at once, it is best to suspend judgment until more facts are available or until the purpose of the propagandist becomes evident.

A useful criterion is that of consistency.   Is the suspected item consistent within itself?   Is it consistent with other reports on the same subject?   Is it consistent with well-established facts, laws, and principles?   If a significant inconsistency is discovered, particular caution is in order.

Example: "When the campaign to 'keep Nebraska the White Spot of the Nation' was at its height, the sponsors of the campaign told the people of Nebraska that their intention was to bring new industries into the state.   But if this was the real intention, why was the campaign carried on with especial intensity in the State of Nebraska itself?   Here was an inconsistency between the declared intention and the actual procedure - an inconsistency which should have aroused the suspicion of the people of Nebraska.   Had they analyzed the situation objectively, they would have discovered much sooner than they did that the whole campaign was meant to perpetuate the inequitable tax system which existed in the state at that time.

Some forms of Card Stacking can be detected from the internal evidence of a suspected item.   For example:
(a) The Card Stacker may employ the simple device of complex question.   By the use of such questions the propagandist leads his listener or reader into assuming the real point at issue, while presenting “evidence” which is irrelevant to that point.   It is not difficult, however, to spot complex questions and thus to discover the trick of the propagandist.

Example:   “The question is sometimes asked, 'How are the public utilities of the United States developed on such a sound foundation that they excel those of all other countries?   Managers of these companies, early in the growth of industry, began to realize that success lay in square dealing and a full public understanding of their affairs.   Today these great industrial organizations stand for democracy in business.   There is no secrecy or official pomp surrounding them.   They are natural monopolies, and their rates and services are subject to public regulations.   Their stocks and bonds are owned by millions of American citizens.   The lowest man on the pay roll has as good a chance to become president of the company, if he has the ability, as the president's son.   Efficiency and service are the watchwords of these institutions.”   (Editorial supplied by the Hofer and Sons Service to nearly thirteen thousand American newspapers.   Hofer and Sons Service was at that time subsidized by the utility companies.)

This editorial was published in connection with the controversy between publicly owned and privately owned utilities in the 1920's.   The propagandist adroitly sidestepped the real issue by asking a Complex Question which simply assumed that the privately owned utilities of the United States have been developed on a sound basis and that they do excel those of all other countries without presenting any facts to support that assumption.   He then proceeds to answer his own misleading question by giving his readers Glittering Generalities and by Stacking the Cards through the use of misleading statements and half-truths.   At that time American utility companies were largely controlled by absentee holding companies.   The stock-market crash of 1929 disclosed a shockingly unsound basis for many of America's privately owned utilities.

(b) Card Stacking may also be achieved by the use of ambiguous words of phrases which tend to confuse the issue, or by the use of undefined terms which assume the point to be proved.

In all such cases of Card Stacking it is necessary to ask: "What do these words really mean?   What do they assume or imply?   When properly defined, what actual situation do they describe?   When properly defined, what actual situation do they describe?   Is there any evidence which justifies their employment?"

Example:   “It is conceded that both Doctors Marx and Hitler, together with their associates, were more or less accurate in discovering the nature of the disease which afflicted Russia and Germany.   Their diagnosis is very applicable to America, but it is my belief that America, sick as she is, is reluctant to swallow either the red pill of Communism or the brown pill of Nazism.”   (Father Coughlin, February 26, 1939.)   -   If one asks, What do the words and phrases [underlined] mean?, one soon discovers that their meaning is far from clear, and that it is the very ambiguity of these words and phrases upon which the propagandist relies in Stacking the Cards.   “It is  conceded”- by whom?   When?   Where?   “More or less accurate”   -   just what does that mean?   “Is very applicable to America” - in what respects?   “Sick as she is” - is she?   Who diagnosed the case?   In what respects is she sick?   What is meant by “sick”?   “Reluctant to swallow” - does this mean “passive resistance” or does it mean “an active campaign of   'extermination'  ”?

(c)The propagandist may also accomplish his card stacking by presenting distorted facts and figures and by arguing from them to establish his point.

Example: “Reviewing briefly the history of Russia from the time of the last war, Sir Bernard Pares pointed to 'the filthy, sexual beast {Invective} Rasputin' as the reason for the revolutionary movement against the church of Russia.   The movement was against a church headed by such a person as Rasputin, 'it had nothing to do with Christianity', he said.”   (Montreal Gazette, December 8, 1943.)   -   It so happens that Rasputin was not an ordained priest, that he did not “head” the Russian church, and that he was murdered before the Soviet regime came into power.   Furthermore, Marxist opposition to religion antedates the period of Rasputin's influence, for it was none other than Marx himself who spoke of religion as an “opiate for the people.”

(d) Card Stacking is also accomplished when the emphasis is placed upon unimportant or irrelevant aspects instead of the central issue.

Example: In February, 1946, the New York City tugboat workers went on strike.   Because of the fuel emergency which resulted from the strike, Mayor O'Dwyer virtually closed down the entire city.   On February 1112, the New York World-Telegram devoted its entire front page to a report on the strike situation.   The headlines across all 8 columns of that page read:

US Calls on Strikers to Return

On page 5 of the same issue was printed the following items:   “The striking UM division of the ILA (AFL) sought increased pay and shorter hours, but under the urging of its leaders, voted unanimously yesterday to submit the demands to arbitration.   The operators - some 92 NY tugboat companies - balked, holding that they needed increased rates to take care of the salary increases they would be called on to pay.”   There was not even a hint of these facts on the whole front page.   A reader who did not turn to page 5 was left with the impression that the workers were still stubbornly staying away from work.   The treatment of the strike situation reveals a pronounced anti-labor bias of the World-Telegram.

(e) Various forms of Card Stacking frequently are used in the same item.

Example: “The abolition of the poll tax is an extension of democracy to 10,000,000 Americans.   The abolition of the poll tax is a re-assertion and re-affirmation of the Constitution and of the very principles upon which our Government rests.   It is extending democracy within the boundaries of our own land.   It is a blow at fascism against which Americans are fighting everywhere in the world.   The fundamental issue involved in this bill [the anti-poll-tax bill] today is democracy {Glittering Generality}.   The contrast between those who want a government of the rich, the few, and the well-born and those of us {Bifurcation} who believe in a government of the people.   It is an issue of whether or not the principles of equality shall live everywhere in America.   That is the issue. It is not an issue monopolized by any groups; it is not an issue monopolized by any political party; it is an issue in which every believer in American democracy {Glittering Generality} stands up against {Bifurcation} bias and prejudice {Invective}, against tyranny {Invective} and domestic fascism {Invective}, and once again in the Congress of the United States reaffirms the proposition of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and, like a true patriot {Glittering Generality}, refuses to bow down and kneel before the false god of race or color supremacy.”   (Congressman Marcantonio of New York, May 25, 1943, in the House of Representatives.)

The Card Stacking in this speech can be discovered only if it is kept in mind that the poll tax is a property qualification for voting and does not discriminate against Negroes any more than against white Americans.   Actually it affects 4,000,000 Negroes and 6,000,000 whites.   It must also be remembered that passage of the ant-poll tax bill will not give franchise to the 4,000,000 Negroes for numerous other qualification requirements are in force in the Southern states which effectively bar the Negro even if he pays the poll tax.   Lastly, it must not be forgotten that Congress may regulate only the conditions under which candidates for federal offices are elected.   State elections are under the exclusive control of the states themselves.”

Mixed Use of Propaganda Devices

The examples of propaganda given thus far were selected specifically to provide illustrations of the various devices employed by the propagandist.   Even so it was apparent in some cases that various were employed in one and the same item.   In actual practice, such simultaneous employment of different devices is the general rule.   A good propagandist will overlook no trick to put his ideas across.

The discovery of one propaganda device in a suspected item should be taken as a hint that others may also be present; and the more tricks and devices discovered in any given item the more certain that the item is “nothing but” propaganda.

[Remember, these are just a few examples of the many propaganda methods in use.   New ones are constantly being developed, especially since the advent of the Internet.   You must constantly evaluate your communications to detect attempts to manipulate you.   On the other hand, don't forget that “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”   People may unknowingly use some of these techniques quite by accident, on occasion, with not intent to manipulate or deceive.   Some people may have picked up a technique or two from others unconsciously, without realizing that they are manipulative.]

“...democracy, as a way of life, can flourish only when differences of opinion
can be examined and evaluated in unfettered and critically rational discussion;
when, on the basis of rational considerations, a distinction is made
between mere opinions and factually warranted belief;
between guesses and conjectures, and reliable information;
between indiscriminate credulity and confusion,
and a broadmindedness that is yet discerning in value judgments.
Unless the methods and criteria of rational analysis are applied
outside the field of the sciences, social ideals, and evaluations
remain in the “dubious company of myths, delusions, and fantasies”;
and prejudices and fashions of the day
continue to determine our course of action.”
                                                                                                                                  W. H. Werkmeister


[Please, use the information provided here, study other sources, and use your skills to protect yourself and your country from manipulation and exploitation by propagandists.]

Critical Thinking - Main Menu