WALTER LIPPMANN’S THEORY OF PUBLIC OPINION FORMATION

WALTER LIPPMANN’S THEORY OF PUBLIC OPINION FORMATION.

Throughout the 1930s, many other members of the social elite, especially those at major universities, shared Lasswell’s vision of a benevolent social science–led technocracy. They believed that physical science and social science held the keys to fighting totalitarianism and preserving democracy. As such, Lasswell’s work commanded the attention of leading academics and opinion leaders, including one of the most powerful opinion makers of the time—Walter Lippmann, a nationally syndicated columnist for the New York Times.

Lippmann shared Lasswell’s skepticism about the ability of average people to make sense of their social world and to make rational decisions about their actions. In Public Opinion (1922), he pointed out the discrepancies that necessarily exist between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.” Because these discrepancies were inevitable, Lippmann doubted that average people could govern themselves as classic democratic theory assumed they could. The world of the 1930s was an especially complex place, and the political forces were very dangerous. People simply couldn’t learn enough from media to help them understand it all. Even if journalists took their responsibility seriously, they couldn’t overcome the psychological and social barriers that prevented average people from developing useful pictures in their heads. Political essayist Eric Alterman quoted and summarized Lippmann’s position:

Writing in the early twenties, Lippmann famously compared the average citizen to a deaf spectator sitting in the back row. He does not know what is happening, why it is happening, what ought to happen. “He lives in a world he cannot see, does not understand and is unable to direct.” Journalism, with its weakness for sensationalism, made things worse. Governance was better left to a “specialized class of men” with inside information. No one expects a steel-worker to understand physics, so why should he be expected to understand politics?

These ideas raised serious questions about the viability of democracy and the role of a free press in it. What do you do in a democracy if you can’t trust the people to cast informed votes? What good is a free press if it is impossible to effectively transmit enough of the most vital forms of information to the public? What can you do if people are so traumatized by dealing with everyday problems that they have no time to think about global issues? The fact that Lippmann made his living working as a newspaper columnist lent credibility to his pessimism. In advancing these arguments, he directly contradicted the Libertarian assumptions (free speech and free press; see Chapter 5) that were the intellectual foundation of the U.S. media system.

Like Lasswell, Lippmann believed that propaganda posed such a severe challenge that drastic changes in our political system were required. The public was vulnerable to propaganda, so some mechanism or agency was needed to protect them from it. A benign but enormously potent form of media control was necessary. Self-censorship by media probably wouldn’t be sufficient. Lippmann shared Lasswell’s conclusion that the best solution to these problems was to place control of information gathering and distribution in the hands of a benevolent technocracy— a scientific elite—who could be trusted to use scientific methods to sort fact from fiction and make good decisions about who should receive various messages. To accomplish this, Lippmann proposed the establishment of a quasi-governmental intelligence bureau that would carefully evaluate information and supply it to other elites for decision making. This bureau could also determine which information should be transmitted through the mass media and which information people were better off not knowing.

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THE ORIGIN OF PROPAGANDA

Propaganda was not an American invention. The term originated with the Roman Catholic Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Committee for the Propagation of the Faith), an order of the church established by a papal bull in 1622. The Propaganda Fide was originally founded in an effort to suppress the Protestant Reformation. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the meaning of propaganda was debated.

Was propaganda necessarily bad or was it a good form of communication that could be corrupted? Many forms of communication seek to persuade people—were all of them propaganda? Gradually, the term propaganda came to refer to a certain type of communication strategy. It involves the no-holds-barred use of communication to propagate specific beliefs and expectations. The ultimate goal of propagandists is to change the way people act and to leave them believing that those actions are voluntary, that the newly adopted behaviors—and the opinions underlying them—are their own (Pratkanis and Aronson, 1992, p. 9). To accomplish this, though, propagandists must first change the way people conceive of themselves and their social world. A variety of communication techniques is used to guide and transform those beliefs. During the 1930s, the new media of radio and movies provided propagandists with powerful new tools.

Fritz Hippler, head of Nazi Germany’s film propaganda division, said that the secret to effective propaganda is to (a) simplify a complex issue and (b) repeat that simplification over and over again (World War II, 1982). J. Michael Sproule (1994) argues that effective propaganda is covert: it “persuades people without seeming to do so” (p. 3); features “the massive orchestration of communication” (p. 4); and emphasizes “tricky language designed to discourage reflective thought” (p. 5). The propagandist believes that the end justifies the means. Therefore, it is not only right but necessary that half-truths and even outright lies be used to convince people to abandon ideas that are “wrong” and to adopt those favored by the propagandist. Propagandists also rely on disinformation to discredit their opposition. They spread false information about opposition groups and their objectives. Often the source of this false information is concealed so that it can’t be traced to the propagandist.

As U.S. theorists studied propaganda, they came to differentiate black, white, and gray propaganda, but definitions of these types of propaganda varied (Snowball, 1999; Becker, 1949). Black propaganda was usually defined as involving deliberate and strategic transmission of lies—its use was well illustrated by the Nazis. According to Howard Becker, a sociologist who worked as an Office of Strategic Services propagandist during World War II, black propaganda always misrepresented the source of the message so that it appeared to come from an “inside,” trustworthy source with whom its target had a close relationship. Deliberately propagated rumors or gossip would fit this definition. White propaganda

was, as we have seen, usually defined as involving intentional suppression of contradictory information and ideas, combined with deliberate promotion of highly consistent information or ideas that support the objectives of the propagandist. Sometimes white propaganda was used to draw attention away from problematic events or to provide interpretations of events that were useful for the propagandist. Becker asserts that to be white propaganda, it must be openly identified as coming from an “outside” source—one that doesn’t have a close relationship to the target of the propaganda.

Gray propaganda involved transmission of information or ideas that might or might not be false. The propagandist simply made no effort to determine their validity and actually avoided doing so—especially if dissemination of the content would serve his or her interest. Becker argues that the truth or falsity of propaganda is often hard to establish, so it isn’t practical to use veracity as a criterion for differentiating types of propaganda. He asserts that during World War II, the Office of War Information was restricted to transmitting white propaganda (intended for American and friendly overseas audiences), whereas the Office of Strategic Services could transmit only black propaganda (aimed at unfriendly foreign audiences). The work of these two agencies was loosely coordinated by Psychological Warfare, an armed services organization. Today we find the attribution of labels like “black” and “white” to the concepts of bad and good propaganda offensive. But remember one of this book’s constant themes: These ideas are products of their times.

Propagandists then and now live in an either/or, good/evil world. American propagandists in the 1930s had two clear alternatives. On one side were truth, justice, and freedom—in short, the American way—and on the other side were falsehood, evil, and slavery—totalitarianism. Of course, Communist and Nazi propagandists had their own versions of truth, justice, and freedom. For them the American vision of Utopia was at best naive and at worst likely to lead to racial pollution and cultural degradation. The Nazis used propaganda to cultivate extreme fear and hatred of minority groups. In Mein Kampf (1933), Hitler traced the problems of post–World War I Germany to the Jewish people and other ethnic or racial minorities. Unlike the American elites, he saw no reason to bother converting or deporting these groups—they were Evil Incarnate and therefore should be exterminated. Nazi propaganda films, of which director Hippler’s hate-filled The Eternal Jew is a noted example, used powerful negative imagery to equate Jews with rats and to associate mental illness with grotesque physical deformity, whereas positive images were associated with blond, blue-eyed people. Thus, for the totalitarian propagandist, mass media were a very practical means of mass manipulation—an effective mechanism for controlling large populations. If people came to share the views of the propagandist, they were said to be converted: they abandoned old views and took on those promoted by propaganda. Once consensus was created, elites could then take the actions that it permitted or dictated. They could carry out the “will of the people,” who have become, in the words of journalism and social critic Todd Gitlin, “cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement” (1991).

Propagandists typically held elitist and paternalistic views about their audiences. They believed that people needed to be converted for their “own good”—not just to serve the interest of the propagandist. Propagandists often

blamed the people for the necessity of engaging in lies and manipulation. They thought people so irrational, so illiterate, or so inattentive that it was necessary to coerce, seduce, or trick them into learning bits of misinformation. The propagandists’ argument was simple: If only people were more rational or intelligent, we could just sit down and explain things to them, person to person. But most aren’t—especially the ones who need the most help. Most people are children when it comes to important affairs like politics. How can we expect them to listen to reason? It’s just not possible. In the post–World War II United States, for example, this became known as the engineering of consent, a term coined by “the father of modern public relations,” Edward L. Bernays. Sproule quotes Bernays as wanting to expand freedom of press and speech to include the government’s “freedom to persuade…. Only by mastering the techniques of communication can leadership be exercised fruitfully in the vast complex that is modern democracy,” because in a democracy, results “do not just happen” (Sproule, 1997, p. 213).

The propagandist also uses similar reasoning for suppressing opposition messages: Average people are just too gullible. They will be taken in by the lies and tricks of others. If opponents are allowed to freely communicate their messages, a standoff will result in which no one wins. Propagandists are convinced of the validity of their cause, so they must stop opponents from blocking their actions. You can test your thinking about the engineering of consent in the box entitled “Engineering Consent: WMD and the War in Iraq.”

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Philosophy of Communication

Philosophy of Communication

Whenever people communicate, questions of right and wrong arise. People always wonder if the statement was said right or not, they scrutinize others statement more than their own.

Ethical communication is fundamental to responsible thinking, decision making, and the development of relationships and communities within and across contexts, cultures, channels, and media. Moreover, ethical communication enhances human worth and dignity by fostering truthfulness, fairness, responsibility, personal integrity, and respect for self and others.

 

Unethical communication threatens the quality of all communication and consequently the well-being of individuals and the society in which we live. We should be committed to practicing the following principles of ethical communication:

  • Truthfulness, accuracy, honesty, and reason as essential to the integrity of communication.

This is the basis of proper ethical communication. Everything begins with honesty. I believe communication would be of no value in most cases if it were not for the factor of truthfulness and honesty. One has to posses these ethics in order to even think about trying to convey an idea by communicating with individuals as well as the public in general. Lies beget lies; A well known fact indeed. It would only seem probable that a lie is something that could threaten an entire pyramid of truths in the form of communication. Accuracy the level to which one describes the truth could be as important as the truth itself. What if an inaccurate description of a truth during communication falsifies the idea in the first place? This would bring us to reason. Reason is what I think makes sense of the accuracy with respect to the level of honesty involved in a respective communication. Without reason expressing logically the truth of the communication, the integrity would crumble of the message being delivered.

  • Freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance of dissent to achieve the informed and responsible decision making fundamental to a civil society.

One needs to be able to express one’s ideas, feelings and thoughts. One needs to voice them out or communicate them in one way or another to the other so that the message is clear. First there comes the ability of expression which is followed closely by the freedom to do so. One may have the ability to converse and convey messages fluently to one another but without the freedom to do so, all these thoughts and feelings could be left unattended. Then again this freedom could be held for better or for worse. For example : Voicing out opinions against the government is very beneficial but it could also get one in trouble especially in corrupt countries. One needs to diversify and broaden ones view one different matters while communicating.

  • Understand and respect other communicators before evaluating and responding to their messages.

This will enable one to understand others views on certain matters and smoothen the process of communication. One would not reply hastily when one has a broad mind and a broadened perspective on matters being discussed. One should create a 3 – tier process of communication in which the major ideas would be listening intently, where one lets the other communicate without hindrances. Then the diverse perspectives would help one think on a matter and thereafter evaluate one’s answer before finally responding to the statement at hand. I believe these few steps would save a lot of people a lot of trouble.

  • Access to communication resources and opportunities is necessary to fulfill human potential and contribute to the well-being of families, communities, and society.

Access to information must never be restricted. As discussed above under freedom of communication the ability and freedom goes hand in hand. So does access to information and communication sources. One would then be able to make informed decision on personal and professional doubts on communication. Communication related opportunities must not be forgotten as it is through efficient communication done with the right ethics that one would be able to get the best of every situation and hence come out successful whenever faced with a problem of some kind. This in turn would save the problems between families. Proper ethics in hand would solve most of the disputes in the world. This is due to the unknown fact that the most humungous dispute in the world might have started from some unethical communication at home. Many families have separated due to unethical and underdeveloped communicative skills. Families in turn create communities and eventually the society and habitat one lives in. This way one gets to see the universal effects of communication.

  • Communication climates of caring and mutual understanding that respect the unique needs and characteristics of individual communicators.

Mutual understanding is one of those common senses that is very uncommon these days.People are always ready to misunderstand someone in order to satisfy their somewhat sadist natures than being optimistic and always giving the other the benefit of the doubt. One  needs to create an environment conducive to understanding and optimism around one’s self in order to promote positive communication and deliver fruitful products of sharing messages such as caring and understanding. This is what people want in life and this is what individual look for in the need of communication. This is the WANT of their NEED. The fulfillment of satisfying one’s needs and the comfort at fitting properly into an environment lies in the art of proper ethics in communication.

  • Communication that degrades individuals and humanity through distortion, intimidation, coercion, and violence, and through the expression of intolerance and hatred.

Communication should not be used for extents such as the abuses mentioned above. This would give communication a bad vibe and lead to an era of silence; an era where everyone is scared that someone is listening to their conversations and personal thoughts. We can observe such a situation going on at the moment in the world and mainly in the west wherein people are scared to mention credit card numbers on a normal phone call to a certified call center, or where one just doesn’t feel right talking to a loved one wondering who might be listening on the other side. The patriot act in the USA that was enacted after the WTC attacks allowed the Government to listen to everything. Since then Money has been extorted from people to keep secrets that would have been kept if not for this pillaging of communication.

  • Courageous expression of personal convictions in pursuit of fairness and justice.

As mentioned above as voicing out ones opines against a certain institution or in favour of a belief or standing for a right, one needs to be courageous in such cases. Intimidation and coercion will be harder to deal out by the pillagers of communication explained above if more and more people are courageous with their views and opines. The Ethics will help many courageous and the freedom of communication will guard the many. But for that the masses need to get stronger at communication. Fairness and Justice are just a mile away from one. That mile is the mile of ethically developed communication. Once that road has been travelled [, only people like Robert Frost who took ‘The Road Not Taken’ (The path less travelled by) would be dominated by the intelligence agencies!] more and more people would rush into the era of free communication within the ethical boundaries.

  • Sharing information, opinions, and feelings when facing significant choices while also respecting privacy and confidentiality.

Privacy and Confidentiality has been mentioned in the above many statements and explanations if one reads between the lines. Here, we shall discuss it a bit further. Privacy is the sunlight for the ethical communication flower. Privacy brings out the best in the ethics of communication. People decide that the less the people hear what they say and convey the more frank they can be. This is another reason why the masses should move to freely and ethically at the same time.

  • Responsibility for the short- and long-term consequences for our own communication and expect the same of others.

Finally, Even after one manages to try to follow all steps and statements given above, communication can never be perfect; ethically at least. One can always improve the message one is passing and tune out the static while accepting the consequences of unethical and undeveloped communication and related skills. These consequences must be dealt with and learnt from so as not to turn these short term consequences into long term or create long term consequences.

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