1. What is propaganda? A short explanation
2. Why does propaganda work?
3. The American Media during the Vietnam War
4. Bibliography and internet sources
1. What is propaganda? – A short explanation
In general, it could be said that the means of propaganda shall rally people behind a cause through exaggeration or even lie about issues concerning the circumstances of the war so that the government can be sure to gain the support of the people.
The tactics of propaganda are very various.
For example, the use of selective stories that come over as wide-covering and objective through narrow sources of so-called “experts”, who are mostly retired military employees and seem to provide insights into the situation.
Demonizing the enemy through promoting a negative image is also a possibility to increase the hatred and fear of the people and gain their support.
Danny Schechter published in his book Covering violence: How should media handle Conflict some points where journalism often goes wrong when dealing with violence during the war. Journalists tend to decontextualize violence without looking at the reasons for this conflict. This point goes together with the critic that the number of involved parties is mostly reduced to two - this helps the journalist to make the conflict “easier” to understand for the people and to make “Manicheanism” (portraying one side as “good and righteous” and the other as “evil”) possible.
The focus is mostly on individual acts of violence, while explanations about structural causes such as poverty, history or government neglect are mostly avoided.
According to the article “Media Monopoly” published by Michael Parenti in 2001 (http://www.michaelparenti.org/MonopolyMedia.html) there are main patterns of reporting that lead to partial information. Such techniques include strategies as “Suppression by omission”. That means that really sensationalistic stories are avoided. Such stories, he says are often “downplayed or avoided outright” and that sometimes, “the suppression includes not just vital details but the entire story itself” even important details. If omission does not work, the “Attack and destroy target”– strategy starts.
Parenti explains that “the press moves from artful avoidance to frontal assault in order to discredit the story”. (http://www.michaelparenti.org/MonopolyMedia.html)
Furthermore, he names “labelling” (the label defines the subject without having to deal with actual particulars) and “Face-value-transmission” (officially say is taken
Without critiques) as propaganda strategies.
“Narrowing the Range of Debate” is according to Noam Chomsky another “way to keep people passive and obedient”. (Chomsky, Noam. The common Good. Odonian Press. 1998) Narrowing a debate means, that the discussing issues are within a limited range of opinions, facts and ideas. Noam Chomsky emphasises that there is encouragement for a lively debate, in which some “critical and dissident views” are allowed as well, so that the people have got the impression that “there is free thinking going on”. (Chomsky, Noam. The common Good. Odonian Press. 1998)
2. Why does propaganda work?
Especially in democracies, people believe that their system is generally good and they cherish the values – for example freedom - it stands for. Propaganda works through creating the fear that the nation might loose its values through other circumstances. (Think about the Domino Theory during the Vietnam War. The Americans thought that democracy was in danger if one nation fell to the communists.)
Miren Gutierrez published an article on the Inter Press Service website with the title “The ´Prop-Agenda` at War”. (http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=24386)
His interview-partner, Dr. Nancy Snow, who admits in her book Propaganda Inc. Selling America’s culture to the world that she once worked as propagandist for the U.S. Information Agency, explained that “with propaganda, you don’t need facts per se, just the best facts put forward. If these facts make sense to the people, then they don’t need proofs like one might need in a courtroom.”
(http://www.ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=24386) According to Snow, the government drives the agenda. If a country goes off for war, the media goes with it. It is caught up “in the rally round the flag syndrome” and if the media is forced to choose a side, it logically chooses the side of their nation.
Another reason why propaganda works is actually that the media management and public relations is very professional.
Public Relations firms are often involved in “selling” a war and media management is often used to promote certain policies. This happens through paying journalists to publish certain manipulated issues without informing them about their status. A further option for PR firms is to “feed” a story to the press without mentioning the source or revealing other important information, so that they can “create” and “influence” the public opinion. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber published their article How to sell a war on the website Inthistimes.com. They report about John Randon, the founder of the PR firm The Randon Group, and his speech to cadets at the Air Force Academy in 1996. John Randon described himself in his speech as an “information warrior and a perception manager”. He told the cadets about the invasion of Kuwait City during the first Persian War and how the soldiers were greeted by Kuwaitis waving small flags and asked them, if they never wondered, “how the people of Kuwait […] were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?” John Randon continued:” Well, you know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.” (http://www.inthesetimes.com /comments.php?id=299_0_1_0_C)
This example clarifies, that it is nearly impossible for the people to evade themselves from propaganda, because it has a deep impact on the audience without being really being obvious or visible. The flags were only small details when the scene of the waving Kuwaitis greeting the soldiers flashed around the world, but in fact, it send the underlying message to the American viewer, that their nation is the good one and that their government is doing the right policy. This would be the main opinion about the pictures, and nearly nobody would ask how the Kuwaitis received the flags. If such a strategy works together with the already mentioned “narrowing the range of the debate”, the people are misled without acknowledging it.