Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
Message conveyed in order to support and spread a particular opinion or point of view, engaging
the emotions of the audience. In another manner it could be said as the planned dissemination of news,
information, special arguments, and appeals designed to influence the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of a
The term propaganda carries many definitions. Harold Lasswell, a pioneer of propaganda studies, defines it
as "the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols." Like other social
scientists, he emphasizes its psychological elements: propaganda was a subconscious manipulation of
psychological symbols to accomplish secret objectives. Subsequent analysts stressed that propaganda was a
planned and deliberate act of opinion management.
The term comes from Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith), a
missionary organization established by the Pope in 1622. Propagandists emphasize the elements of
information that support their position and de-emphasize or exclude those that do not. Misleading
statements and even lies may be used to create the desired effect in the public audience. Lobbying,
advertising, and missionary activity are all forms of propaganda, but the term is most commonly used in the
Prior to the 20th century, pictures and the written media were the principal instruments of propaganda;
radio, television, motion pictures, and the internet later joined their ranks.
Interestingly, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes use propaganda to win and keep the support of the
populace. In wartime, propaganda directed by a country at its own civilian population and military forces
can boost morale; propaganda aimed at the enemy is an element of psychological warfare.
Types of Propaganda
Modern practitioners of propaganda utilize various schemes to classify different types of propaganda
activities. One such categorization classifies propaganda as:
White propaganda is correctly attributed to the sponsor and the source is truthfully identified. (The
government, Voice of America, for example, broadcasts white propaganda.)
Grey propaganda, on the other hand, is un-attributed to the sponsor and conceals the real source of the
propaganda. The objective of grey propaganda is to advance viewpoints that are in the interest of the
originator but that would be more acceptable to target audiences than official statements. The reasoning is
that propaganda materials from an identified propaganda agency might convince few, but the same ideas
presented by seemingly neutral outlets would be more persuasive.
Un-attributed publications, such as articles in newspapers written by a disguised source, are part of grey
propaganda. Other tactics involve wide dissemination of ideas put forth by others--by foreign
governments, by national and international media outlets, or by private groups, individuals, and institutions.
Grey propaganda also includes material assistance provided to groups that put forth views deemed useful to
the propagandist. This type is very common in news world. E.g. some people have expressed disliking on
or, people have appreciated government move to ban opposition rallies on the roads etc.
Black propaganda also masks the sponsor's participation. But while grey propaganda is un-attributed, black
propaganda is falsely attributed. Black propaganda is subversive and provocative; it is usually designed to
appear to have originated from a hostile source, in order to cause that source embarrassment, to damage its
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
prestige, to undermine its credibility, or to get it to take actions that it might not otherwise. Black
propaganda is usually prepared by secret agents or an intelligence service because it would be damaging to
the originating government if it were discovered. It routinely employs underground newspapers, forged
documents, planted gossip or rumors, jokes, slogans, and visual symbols. For instance, a newspaper
publishes a letter by a prominent politician to another asking for certain action. The letter may serve
purpose of some interested group. The fact is that there has been no such letter ever existed. But damage
has been done especially if it is done during election days.
Types in another manner
Another categorization distinguishes between "fast" and "slow" propaganda operations, based on
the type of media employed and the immediacy of the effect desired. Fast media are designed to exert a
short-term impact on public opinion, while the use of slow media cultivates public opinion over the long
period. Fast media typically include radio, newspapers, speeches, television, moving pictures, and e-mail and
internet. These forms of communication are able to exert an almost instantaneous effect on selected
Books, cultural exhibitions, and educational exchanges and activities, on the other hand are slow media that
seek to inculcate ideas and attitudes over time.
Revolution, War, and Propaganda to 1917
Propaganda has a long history. War propaganda is as ancient as war itself. Anthropologists have
unearthed evidence that primitive peoples used pictures and symbols to impress others with their hunting
and fighting capabilities. The Assyrian, Greek, and Roman empires employed storytelling, poems, religious
symbols, monuments, speeches, documents, and other means of communication to mobilize their armed
forces or demoralize those of their enemies. As early as the fifth century B.C., the Chinese military
philosopher Sun Tzu advocated various techniques to maintain fighting morale and to destroy the enemy's
will to fight. The nineteenth-century German military strategist Carl von Clausewitz identified psychological
forces as decisive elements of modern war.
Thus, propaganda is not, as it is sometimes believed, a twentieth-century phenomenon born of the
electronic communications revolution. Although the concept is often associated with dictatorship, political
propaganda has been an essential ingredient of the democratic process, as politicians and political parties
have employed a range of communication techniques to win public support for their ideas and policies.
Advertising & public relations used as propaganda
Similarly, countless private groups--from early antislavery societies to modern political action
committees--have turned to propaganda techniques to push their agendas. Advertising and public relations,
fields that came into fruition during the early twentieth century, have made commercial propaganda a
permanent feature of the cultural landscape.
Propaganda in revolutions
Propaganda and agitation were essential components of the American Revolution. Prior to the
outbreak of hostilities, propaganda played a pivotal role in creating the intellectual and psychological climate
of the revolution itself.
Philip Davidson, in his history of the propaganda of the American Revolution, documented a remarkably
sophisticated grasp of propaganda techniques among the leading organizers of the Revolution. The
evidence of a conscious, systematic effort by colonial leaders to gain public support for their ideas is
unmistakable. George Washington advocated the release of information "in a manner calculated to attract
the attention and impress the minds of the people." Thomas Paine was the Revolution's most famous (and
radical) propagandist. He wrote numerous pamphlets articulating with rhetorical to flourish the ideological
justification for the Revolution.
Several revolutionaries employed the tactics that would later be known as grey propaganda. They wrote
articles, letters, and pamphlets under pseudonyms to disguise their identities and to create the impression
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
that opposition to British policies was much greater than it was. Samuel Adams, for example, wrote under
twenty-five different pseudonyms in numerous publications. Benjamin Franklin articulated a shrewd
understanding of the techniques of propaganda, including the use of grey and black materials. He remarked,
"The facility with which the same truths may be repeatedly enforced by placing them daily in different lights
in newspapers...gives a great chance of establishing them. And we now find that it is not only right to strike
while the iron is hot but that it may be very practicable to heat it by continually striking."
In 1777 he distributed a phony letter, purportedly written by a German commander of Hessian mercenaries, indicating that the
British government advised him to let wounded soldiers die. The letter caused a sensation in France and also induced numerous
desertions by the Hessian mercenaries. Franklin also forged an entire issue of the Boston Independent, which contained a
fabricated account of British scalp hunting. The story touched off a public uproar in Britain and was used by opposition
politicians to attack the conduct of the war. The historian Oliver Thomson described these efforts as "one of the most thorough
campaigns of diplomatic isolation by propaganda ever mounted."
World Wars - 19141945
Notwithstanding this early experience with propaganda, it was primarily the age of total war that
inducted Governments in to the business of propaganda. During World War I, national governments
employed propaganda on an unprecedented scale. The arrival of the modern mass media together with the
requirements of total war made propaganda an indispensable element of wartime mobilization. All of the
major belligerents turned to propaganda to woo neutrals, demoralize enemies, boost the morale of their
troops, and mobilize the support of civilians.
One of the most vital of all World War I propaganda battles was the struggle between Germany and Britain
for the sympathy of the American people. The German government organized a program of propaganda in
the United States that was so heavy-handed it did more to alienate American public opinion than to win it.
The British government, on the other hand, conducted most of its propaganda in the United States covertly,
through a secret propaganda bureau directed by the Foreign Office. The British adopted a low-key
approach that selectively released news and information to win American sympathies. The publication of
the Zimmerman telegram in 1917 (in which Germany sought to enlist Mexico in a war with the United
States) was undoubtedly the most important propaganda achievement of the British, and it helped to bring
the Americans into the war on the Allied side.
A week after declaring war, President Woodrow Wilson established the first official propaganda agency of
the U.S. government to manage public opinion at home and abroad--the Committee on Public
Information. Headed by the muckraking journalist George Creel, the committee was responsible for
censorship, propaganda, and general information about the war effort. The Creel committee focused on
mobilizing support on the home front, but it also conducted an extensive campaign of propaganda abroad,
overseeing operations in more than thirty overseas countries.
The committee bombarded foreign media outlets with news, official statements, and features on the war
effort and on American life, using leaflets, motion pictures, photographs, cartoons, posters, and signboards
to promote its messages. The committee established reading rooms abroad, brought foreign journalists to
the United States, crafted special appeals for teachers and labor groups, and sponsored lectures and
Democratic governments & Propaganda
A series of investigations in the 1920s exposed the nature and scope of Britain's propaganda
campaign in the United States, including revelations that the British had fabricated numerous stories about
German atrocities. Many Americans came to blame British propaganda for bringing the United States into a
wasteful and ruinous war, and the practice of propaganda became associated with deceit and trickery. It was
thus in the aftermath of World War I that propaganda acquired its negative connotations--a development
that stemmed from the employment of propaganda by a democracy, not, as is generally supposed, from that
of a dictatorship.
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
These propaganda campaigns affected the United States in other ways as well. The belief that Americans
had been tricked into participating in the First World War delayed U.S. intervention in the second.
Moreover, news of Nazi atrocities connected to the Holocaust were greeted incredulously by the American
public in part because of the exaggerated and fabricated atrocity propaganda released by the British two
The development of radio revolutionized the practice of propaganda by making it possible to reach
audiences of unprecedented size instantaneously. A short-wave propaganda battle began in the mid-1920s as
the Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, and Britain developed international broadcasting capabilities.
In the early part of 1941, as war appeared imminent, Roosevelt created several additional agencies to
disseminate propaganda at home and abroad. In 1942 these various information programs were combined
into the Office of War Information (OWI) under the direction of the well-known journalist and broadcaster
Elmer Davis. Roosevelt also established the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the
Central Intelligence Agency, and authorized it to engage in black and gray propaganda abroad, mostly in
connection with military operations.
Psychological warfare a new name for propaganda
In December 1942, General Dwight D. Eisenhower created a separate psychological warfare
branch of the army to participate in the Allied invasion of North Africa. In 1944 he created an even larger
organization, the Psychological Warfare Division of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force,
to prepare propaganda for the D-Day invasion. Psychological warfare was especially important in the Pacific
theater, where U.S. propaganda sought to convince Japanese soldiers--who had been taught by their army
that to surrender meant relinquishing their place as members of Japanese society--to cease resistance.
In 1950, Truman called for an intensified program of propaganda known as the Campaign of
Truth. In a speech delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Truman articulated the
perennial domestic justification for official U.S. propaganda: in order to combat enemy lies, the U.S. needed
to promote the truth. Under the Campaign of Truth cartoons depicting bloodthirsty communists,
vituperative anticommunist polemics, and sensational commentary was made at a massive scale.
In April 1951, Truman created the Psychological Strategy Board to coordinate the American psychological
warfare effort. The board acted as a coordinating body for all nonmilitary Cold War activities, including
covert operations. It supervised programs for aggressive clandestine warfare and propaganda measures
against the Soviet bloc and it developed "psychological strategy" plans for dozens of countries in Western
Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. By the time Truman left office, the U.S. government had established a
far-reaching apparatus for influencing public opinion in both friendly and hostile countries.
The CIA also conducted clandestine propaganda operations in allied and neutral areas. The agency
subsidized noncommunist labor unions, journalists, political parties, politicians, and student groups. In
Western Europe the CIA conducted a secret program of cultural and ideological propaganda through the
Congress for Cultural Freedom, a purportedly private, but CIA-funded, organization that supported the
work of anticommunist liberals. Through the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the agency published more
than twenty prestigious magazines, held art exhibitions, operated a news and feature service, organized high-
profile international conferences, published numerous books, and sponsored public performances by
musicians and artists.
During the Korean War, sensationalized charges that the United States had been waging bacteriological warfare, accounts of
Soviet brainwashing techniques, and communist-inspired "peace" campaigns, focused American attention on psychological
warfare as a mysterious Cold War weapon. During the 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower repeatedly called for an
expansive and coordinated psychological warfare effort on a national scale. In San Francisco he delivered a major speech on the
subject, arguing that every significant act of government should reflect psychological warfare calculations. He emphasized that the
Cold War was a struggle of ideas and argued that the United States must develop every psychological weapon available to win
the hearts and minds of the world's peoples
Introduction to Mass Communication MCM 101
Propaganda, Diplomacy, and International Public Opinion
The Cold War inaugurated a paradigm shift in the practice of diplomacy that reflected changes in
the nature of diplomatic activity worldwide. Through propaganda, policy initiatives, and covert action,
agents of the governments acted directly to influence the ideas, values, beliefs, opinions, actions, politics,
and culture of other countries. Foreign affairs personnel not only observed and reported, they also
participated in events or tried to influence the way that they happened. The old maxim that one government
does not interfere in the internal affairs of another had been swept aside.
The pattern of international relations was further transformed by the electronic communications revolution
and the emergence of popular opinion as a significant force in foreign affairs. Foreign policy could no
longer be pursued as it had during the nineteenth century, when diplomacy was the exclusive area of
diplomats. Developments in mass communication and the increased attentiveness to domestic audiences
abroad to foreign affairs meant that the target of diplomacy had now widened to include popular opinion as
much, if not more so, than traditional diplomatic activities.
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