Contemporary Political Socialization

Chapter 5: Contemporary Political Socialization

THEMES IN POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION

Political socialization performs a valuable function. It helps a society communicate its political heritage to new generations. We want children to understand the storied history of the United States, both its strengths and shortcomings. We want them to appreciate the importance of freedom, tolerance, and duty to country, as well as the importance of civic engagement. Other countries also convey their political lineage to young members of society, emphasizing distinctive national norms and values. Democratic societies in particular seek to nurture four virtues in citizens: knowledge of the political system; loyalty to democratic principles; adherence to traditions like voting; and identification with citizenship. Two themes weave their way through the socialization of political attitudes: continuity and change.

STUDYING POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION

You would not find as many children who harbored such uniformly positive attitudes today. On television and the Internet kids are exposed to sordid problems of society, as well as the lascivious acts of politicians and harsh criticisms of the president by the opposition party.

Impact of Televised “Backstage” Portrayals

In the political arena, a news media that for years resisted revealing the “backstage” private behaviors of public officials has changed its tune. Eighteenth century newspaper readers never knew that Thomas Jefferson suffered from rheumatism and migraine headaches. Nineteenth century news aficionados had no idea that Abraham Lincoln may have suffered from depression. Twentieth century radio and TV connoisseurs barely knew that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was paralyzed or had no inkling that John F. Kennedy enjoyed multiple affairs (Meyrowitz, 1986). Over the ensuing decades, the distinction between public and private blurred, as it became increasingly permissible to offer deeper access into the back regions of public officials’ lives.

Interpersonal Communication Dynamics

Family Communication, School, Media

NEW MEDIA AND POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT

Political socialization is a work in progress, with new media genres that socialize young people emerging in our digital culture. Activists have devised innovative websites in an effort to promote civic engagement and political participation. They have a mixed record of success (Bachen et al., 2008; Bennett, Wells, & Freelon, 2011; Xenos & Foot, 2008). Many sites fail to offer interactive learning opportunities to which young people are accustomed. On the other hand, social media can help stimulate political participation in events like presidential campaigns, protests, such as Occupy Wall Street (which was promoted through an email post), and partisan causes, spanning both sides of the abortion and gun debates. About a third of social media users have re-posted political content previously posted by someone else, employed social media to encourage other people to vote, and used social media to encourage others to take political action on an issue that they viewed as important. Young people are especially likely to use the tools of social media in these ways.

As positive as these developments are, it is likely that many of those who use social media for political purposes are already predisposed to get involved in politics. The apolitical social media users probably don’t use social media as tools for political engagement. In addition, social media, with its posts from like-minded political friends, is apt to reinforce the views that individuals already hold, rather than exposing them to new points of view.

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Media and Political Knowledge

Chapter 4: Media and Political Knowledge

“A democracy can’t be strong if its citizenship is weak,” observed political scientist William A. Galston (2011). A key requirement for effective citizenship is knowledge. Meaningful democratic decision-making requires that citizens understand basic facts of government and the issues that are at stake in elections. National surveys show that most Americans know key aspects of the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties. Happily, they also know the number of senators from their state. But in a testament to widespread ignorance, just 35 percent know the names of both U.S. senators from their state, only a third can name all three branches of government, and 29 percent believe a person can be tried twice for the same crime. This underscores a time-honored paradox of political communication: There is more information available than ever before, yet citizens’ knowledge levels do not approach normative ideals (e.g., Neuman, 1986).

There are a number of reasons why Americans lack knowledge of basic facts of government. These include journalists’ failure to explain difficult concepts clearly, expansion of media choices, leaders’ tendency to deliberately convey misleading information, and cynicism about politics. Do low knowledge levels offer a compelling indictment of the state of political citizenship? There are different views on this issue. Some scholars, with an eye on normative democratic ideals, answer in the affirmative. But a number of theorists make a compelling case that effective citizenship does not require knowledge of arcane government facts. Citizens can fulfill their democratic duties by relying on shortcuts to make political decisions, as well as by scanning the political environment to detect dangers to their personal well-being and the public welfare. Nonetheless, both critics and defenders of the status quo would agree that knowledge levels are not as high as they could or should be, based on normative democratic ideals.

What are the sources of political knowledge? The mass media and Internet impart voluminous amounts of information, providing the raw materials from which people construct political beliefs. There is abundant evidence that individuals who follow the news are more knowledgeable about politics than their counterparts who do not turn to the news media for political information. At the same time, there are striking inequalities in political knowledge, even in a society like the United States, where media are inescapable. Educated and wealthier Americans are significantly more knowledgeable than their less-educated and lower-income peers. Moreover, sociological and communication studies indicate that there are widespread knowledge gaps, where media increase already existing differences in knowledge levels. In these instances, by the end of a media political campaign individuals high in socioeconomic status emerge as even more informed about a political issue than those low in socioeconomic status.

Media do not exert uniform effects on knowledge. What people know influences what they learn from media. The ways that individuals process information and construct events influence the types of effects media exert on audience members. If you want to devise strategies to increase learning from political news, you need to appreciate how people process news. You then devise your strategies so they are in sync with people’s information-processing strategies.

Let’s end on a philosophical note, harking back to the democracy of knowledge-rich ancient Greece. It is interesting to contrast many Americans’ indifference to politics, and lack of knowledge about many issues, with the ethos of the classical democracy of Athens. As the statesman Pericles noted, “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all” (cf. Held, 2006, p. 14). To the Greeks participation and knowledge were foundations of citizenship, as much a part of the social universe as play, marriage, and child-rearing.

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The Study of Political Communication ( review )

Chapter #3 :  The Study of Political Communication (Review)

The study of political communication is popularly believed to have begun with television, it actually dates back nearly a century. It was Walter Lippmann, the American journalist writing in the 1920s, who eloquently and influentially described the ability of the media to mold the images people carried in their heads about a distant world that was “out of reach, out of sight [and] out of mind.”

EARLY HISTORY OF POLITICAL COMMUNICATION SCHOLARSHIP

Back to Lippmann in the 1920s. After the war, Lippmann became disillusioned by the ways that Creel had used the powers of persuasion and coercion to influence the mass public. He rejected classic liberal democracy concepts, such as the power of rational thought or the ability of the press to relay accurate information. Instead, he concluded that people were prone to psychologically distort information and engage in stereotyping. “We do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see,” he said. But there was more. Unlike earlier eras, where individuals lived in small towns and had direct experience with issues of their communities, in the modern world, people were compelled to make decisions about complex problems that they could not directly experience. Living in a world that was “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind,” Lippmann (1922) poetically penned, people had to rely on governments and the press for accurate information (p. 18). But—and here was the modern wrinkle—governments could effectively manipulate symbols to manufacture consent. The press did not convey deeper truths, Lippmann concluded. Instead, it simply transmitted events, even forcing attention on selected issues.

ABCs of Propaganda

In the 1930s, a group formed an Institute of Propaganda that assembled a list of the “ABC’s of propaganda” that included testimonial, the ability of a communication to call on the views of a credible spokesperson; bandwagon, the persuasive influence exerted by the perception that large numbers of people supported a cause; and transfer, the powerful impact that a message could exert if it was associated with a popular image or symbol.

The term propaganda, with its sweeping, heavy, and negative connotations, gave way to less pejorative terms like persuasion and information control. But the questions the Institute raised would continue to occupy students of political persuasion.

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Certain individuals served as opinion leaders for others, influencing followers’ political views. Ideas seemed to flow from radio and newspapers to these influential leaders; the opinion leaders then scooped them up, distilled them and conveyed them to the less involved, less active members of the electorate. The researchers dubbed this the two-step flow. Thus, media did not impact on the mass audience directly, as the propaganda theorists feared. Instead, their influence was itself mediated—watered down, perhaps, but certainly tempered—by these influential leaders.

The model looked like this: Media —-à Opinion Leaders —-à Voting Public

Joseph Klapper Makes His Statement

Katz and Lazarsfeld, Klapper (1960) concluded that media influences on society were small to modest. People had acquired strong preexisting attitudes before they came to media. They were members of reference groups, like the family, religious organizations, and labor unions. These groups generally exerted a stronger impact on attitudes than did mass media. The media were not the sole or primary agent that influenced political attitudes and behavior. Instead, Klapper emphasized, media worked together with social environmental factors, contributing to or reinforcing the effects these other agents exerted. This became known as the limited effects model.

SOCIAL SCIENCE AND POLITICAL COMMUNICATION

Social science is employed to develop a body of knowledge of the role that political communication plays in society (Holbert & Bucy, 2011). To be sure, the social scientific approach is not the only way to approach the study of politics and media.

Social science cannot answer “should” questions. It cannot tell us whether limits should be placed on campaign spending or, alternatively, if a hands-off approach is better for democracy.

Political communication is a diverse discipline, enriched by different approaches. A social scientific perspective emphasizes that questions are explored systematically through the articulation of theories, posing of hypotheses, and hypothesis-testing.

 

The cornerstone of hypothesis-testing is research methodology. We test hypotheses through a variety of empirical methods. Content analyses, experiments, and surveys are major strategies scholars use to test predictions and advance knowledge of political communication. Each has strengths and shortcomings.

 

RESEARCH METHODOLOGIES

In political communication research methods. Content analyses, surveys, and experiments are conducted with more precision and real-world flair. A host of other techniques, including focus groups, deliberative discussion analysis, and psychophysiological measures, have been developed and refined, generating new insights on political communication.

 

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Political Communication

Chapter 2:

Political Communication – Review

is the process by which language and symbols, employed by leaders, media, or citizens, exert intended or unintended effects on the political cognitions, attitudes, or behaviors of individuals or on outcomes that bear on the public policy of a nation, state, or community.

There are several aspects of the definition.

  1. Political communication is a process
  2. Political communication calls centrally on words and symbols (A symbol is a form of language in which one entity represents an idea or concept, conveying rich psychological and cultural meaning.)
  3. Group of leaders and Influence agents
  4. Political communication effects can be intended or unintended.
  5. Political communication is that effects occur on a variety of levels. ( Political media exert influence on the micro level, affecting individuals’ thoughts, candidate assessments, feelings, attitudes, and behavior.)

CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL COMMUNICATION

  • One view is that elite leaders exert a preeminent impact on opinions and policy.
  • A second view places the onus on media. It emphasizes that the media—both news and entertainment exert a preeminent effect on the conduct of politics. This viewpoint notes that the news media’s choice of issues, and the way they frame the news, can influence leaders and the public.
  • A third viewpoint argues that the public calls the shots. In order to get elected and reelected, leaders have to be responsive to their constituents, implementing polices that the average voter supports.

In most political contexts, all three influence agents—elites, media, and public—interact in complex ways. The drama of political communication involves a trifecta: leaders, media, and citizens symbolically jousting among themselves and framing problems in different ways.

 Politics Is Played on a Media Platform

Shanto Iyengar (2004) notes. “The role of the citizen has evolved from occasional foot soldier and activist to spectator” .

Jesper Strömbäck and Lynda L. Kaid (2008) take a complementary view, noting that the mass media mediate between citizens on the one hand and the institutions of government on the other. But the media are not neutral, bland mediators. They apply their own judgments and rules, in this way transforming politics.

 Technology Is a Centerpiece of Political Communication

Although technology has always played a role in politics, it wields more influence today than ever before. There is a greater volume of political information, more instant communication between leaders and followers, and more opportunities for voters to exert control over the message (Johnson, 2011).

 Political Communication Has Gone Global

Technology can also facilitate global conversations that never could have occurred in earlier times. This can be beneficial when the conversations bring people together or catalyze ideas. But when the two parties that converse are at loggerheads or at war, technology reinforces and exacerbates tensions.

Political Communication Can Be a Force of Good and Evil

Like all weapons of influence, political communication can be harnessed for positive and negative purposes.

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MPhil Mass Communication important eBooks

M Phil Mass Communication important eBooks

Dear Students of M Phil Mass Communication , University of Gujrat, Pakistan.

Students of M Phil Mass Communication have to explore a variety of subjects and topics. It is not possible to buy books for every topic so teachers have prepared notes and other helping study material for students on different topics. It is commonly quite difficult and hassle for lecturer to share notes as well as for students to get the notes and other study material.

You will always find a huge students’ rush on photocopier shop to get notes. Now masscommunicationtalk.com has maintained almost all the notes and study material for M Phil Mass Communication students. You can explore all the notes and study material online here.

You can explore already uploaded notes as well as you can add your own notes. If you have developed your own notes or you wanted to upload your teacher notes of any particular subject here you can upload and share that notes with others.

 

You may download and read Mass Communication related books here on this page.

  1. An introduction to political communication, 3rd Edition
  2. New Media and Politics (2001) Barrie Axford, Richard Huggins
  3. Mass Communication Theory Foundations, Ferment, and Future
  4. Media & Culture 8th Edition By Richard Campbell, Christopher R. Martin, Bettina Fabos
  5. Studying media and Politics
  6. Richard M. Perloff-The Dynamics of Political Communication_ Media and Politics in a Digital Age-Routledge (2013)
  7. SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY C A T H E R I N E A . S A N D E R S O N A M H E R S T C O L L E G E
  8. INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION Continuity and Change : DAYA KISHAN THUSSU
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HAROLD LASSWELL’S PROPAGANDA THEORY

Lasswell’s theory of propaganda blended ideas borrowed from behaviorism and Freudianism into a particularly pessimistic vision of media and their role in forging modern social orders. Lasswell was one of the first political scientists to recognize the usefulness of various psychological theories and to demonstrate how they could be applied to understanding politics. The power of propaganda was not so much the result of the substance or appeal of specific messages but, rather, the result of the vulnerable state of mind of average people. This state of mind can be assessed using psychological theories. Lasswell argued that economic depression and escalating political conflict had induced widespread psychosis, and this made most people susceptible to even crude forms of propaganda. When average people are confronted daily by powerful threats to their personal lives, they turn to propaganda for reassurance and a way to overcome the threat.

In Lasswell’s view, democracy has a fatal flaw. It seeks to locate truth and make decisions through openly conducted debates about issues. But if these debates escalate into verbal or even physical conflict between advocates for different ideas, then widespread psychosis will result. Spectators to these conflicts will be traumatized by them. According to Floyd Matson (1964, pp. 90–93), Lasswell concluded that even relatively benign forms of political conflict were inherently pathological. When conflict escalates to the level it did in Germany during the Depression, an entire nation could become psychologically unbalanced and vulnerable to manipulation. Lasswell argued that the solution was for social researchers to find ways to “obviate conflict.” This necessitates controlling those forms of political communication that lead to conflict. In Lasswell’s view, even routine forms of political debate could escalate into conflicts threatening the social order. Matson stated, “In short, according to Lasswell’s psychopathology of politics, the presumption in any individual case must be that political action is maladjustive, political participation is irrational, and political expression is irrelevant” (1964, p. 91). But how do you maintain a democratic social order if any form of political debate or demonstration is problematic? Lasswell had an answer to this question: replace public discourse with democratic propaganda.

Lasswell rejected simplistic behaviorist notions about propaganda effects. Here is how he described the task of the propagandist in a 1927 article: The strategy of propaganda, which has been phrased in cultural terms, can readily be described in the language of stimulus-response. Translated into this vocabulary, which is especially intelligible to some, the propagandist may be said to be concerned with the multiplication of those stimuli which are best calculated to evoke the desired responses, and with the nullification of those stimuli which are likely to instigate the undesired responses.

Putting the same thing into terms of social suggestion, the problem of the propagandist is to multiply all the suggestions favorable to the attitudes which he wishes to produce and strengthen, and to restrict all suggestions which are unfavorable to them.

In other words, a few well-targeted messages couldn’t bring down a democratic social order. He argued that propaganda was more than merely using media to lie to people in order to gain temporary control over them. People need to be slowly prepared to accept radically different ideas and actions. Communicators need a well-developed, long-term campaign strategy (“multiplication of those stimuli”) in which new ideas and images are carefully introduced and then cultivated. Symbols must be created, and people must be gradually taught to associate specific emotions such as love or hate with these symbols. If these cultivation strategies are successful, they create what Lasswell referred to as master (or collective) symbols (Lasswell, 1934). Master symbols are associated with strong emotions and possess the power to stimulate beneficial large-scale mass action if they are used wisely. In contrast to behaviorist notions, Lasswell’s theory envisioned a long and quite sophisticated conditioning process. Exposure to one or two extremist messages would not likely have significant effects. And propaganda messages can be delivered through many different media, not just radio or newspapers. Lasswell wrote: The form in which the significant symbols are embodied to reach the public may be spoken, written, pictorial, or musical, and the number of stimulus carriers is infinite. If the propagandist identifies himself imaginatively with the life of his subjects in a particular situation, he is able to explore several channels of approach. Consider, for a moment, the people who ride the street cars. They may be reached by placards posted inside the car, by posters on the billboards along the track, by newspapers which they read, by conversations which they overhear, by leaflets which are openly or surreptitiously slipped into their hands, by street demonstrations at halting places, and no doubt by other means. Of these possible occasions there are no end.

Lasswell argued that successful social movements gain power by propagating master symbols over a period of months and years using a variety of media. For example, the emotions we experience when we see the American flag or hear the national anthem are not the result of a single previous exposure. Rather, we have observed the flag and heard the anthem in countless past situations in which a limited range of emotions were induced and experienced. The flag and the anthem have acquired emotional meaning because of all these previous experiences. When we see the flag on television with the anthem in the background, some of these emotions may be aroused and reinforced. Once established, such master symbols can be used in many different types of propaganda. In the case of the flag, it is used continually during political campaigns as a means of suggesting that political candidates are patriotic and can be trusted to defend the nation.

Lasswell believed that past propagation of most master symbols had been more or less haphazard. For every successful propagandist, there were hundreds who failed. Although he respected the cunning way that the Nazis used propaganda, he was not convinced that they really understood what they were doing. He respected Joseph Goebbels, the chief Nazi propagandist, because he had a Ph.D., but he regarded Hitler as a mad genius who relied on intuition to guide his use of propaganda. When it came to using media, Hitler was an evil artist but not a scientist. Lasswell proposed combating Hitler with a new science of propaganda. Power to control delivery of propaganda through the mass media would be placed in the hands of a new elite, a scientific technocracy who would pledge to use its knowledge for good rather than evil—to save democracy rather than destroy it. Lasswell and his colleagues developed a term to refer to this strategy for using propaganda. They called it the “science of democracy” (Smith, 1941). But could a democratic social order be forged by propaganda? Wouldn’t essential principles of democracy be sacrificed? Is democracy possible without public discourse?

In a world where rational political debate is impossible because average people are prisoners of their own conditioning and psychoses (remember behaviorism and Freudianism) and therefore subject to manipulation by propagandists, Lasswell argued, the only hope for us as a nation rested with social scientists who could harness the power of propaganda for Good rather than Evil. It is not surprising, then, that many of the early media researchers took their task very seriously. They believed that nothing less than the fate of the world lay in their hands.

Lasswell’s propaganda-for-good was adopted by the Office of War Information as its basic strategy during World War II. In the Cold War that followed that global hot war, using agencies such as the Voice of America, the United States Information Agency, the Office of International Information and Educational Exchange, and the State Department, it served as the foundation for numerous official efforts to counter Communism and spread democracy (Sproule, 1997, pp. 213–215). Not all of Lasswell’s contemporaries, however, were taken by his call for elite control of media. Floyd Matson, a severe critic of Lasswell’s theory, complained that Lasswell’s “contemplative analysis of ‘skill politics and skill revolution’ has disclosed to Lasswell that in our own time the most potent of all skills is that of propaganda, of symbolic manipulation and myth-making—and hence that the dominant elite must be the one which possesses or can capture this skill” (Matson, 1964, p. 87).

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Overview of Propaganda

Imagine that you have gone back in time to the beginning of the twentieth century. You live in a large metropolitan area along the East Coast of the United States, and you are a second- or third-generation American. You are a white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. Your city is growing rapidly, with new neighborhoods springing up daily to house waves of immigrants from poorer nations in Eastern Europe and the Far East. These people speak strange languages and practice strange cultures. Many claim to be Christians, but they don’t behave like any Christians you’ve ever met. Most keep to themselves in ghetto neighborhoods in which there are many social problems.

Most disturbing of all, these people seem to have no sense of what it means to live in a free and democratic nation. They are governed by political bosses who turn them out to vote for what you perceive to be corrupt party-machine candidates. If you pay attention to gossip (or read the right books or magazines), you hear about groups like the Mafia or Cosa Nostra. You also hear (or read in your newspaper) that various extremist political groups are active in these ghettos, spreading all sorts of discontent among these ignorant, irresponsible aliens. Many of these nefarious groups are playing upon the newcomers’ loyalties to foreign nations. What would you do about this situation?

Well, you might adopt a Conservative approach and start an Americafor- Americans movement to remove these foreigners from the sacred soil of your homeland. If you are of a more liberal bent, you might be reluctant to send these immigrants back to where they came from (even though they do represent a threat to your way of life). As a forward-thinking person, you may want to convert these people away from their obviously misguided beliefs about government. You are aware that greedy employers are exploiting these people with sixteen-hour workdays and child labor, but you believe that’s why they should join mainstream political parties and work within the system. Perhaps, you figure, if they would only abstain from alcohol and adopt more rational forms of religion that might help them see their problems more clearly. This was how the political movement known as Progressivism tried to help immigrants in the late 1800s, but, unfortunately, most of these recent arrivals don’t seem to respond well to efforts designed to help them. They reject both Conservative and Progressive efforts to reform them. Resistance grows ever more determined and is accompanied by violence on both sides. Labor unions are organized to oppose the power of monopoly capitalists. Strikes become increasingly common and violent. Now what do you do? You could become a prohibitionist and successfully ban the sale of liquor. But this only creates a market for bootleggers, strengthening rather than reducing the power of organized crime. Political party bosses flourish. How will these newcomers ever become true Americans and be absorbed into the American melting pot?

Now imagine that you are one of those aliens. How do you cope with life in the world’s greatest democracy? You turn to your family and the friends of your family. Your cousin is a member of the political machine. He promises a patronage job—if you vote for his boss. You fight exploitation by joining labor unions that promise to correct bad working conditions. Above all, you practice the culture you grew up with, and you stay within the confines of the ghetto where that culture is practiced. You resent prohibition and see nothing wrong with occasionally consuming alcohol. You listen to family members and local political bosses who can do things for you and can be trusted to keep their promises.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States was a nation of many cultures. At any given point in time, people in different racial and ethnic groups were exploited and feared. Some of these groups escaped the ghettos, and their children were absorbed into the amorphous American middle class. Others were less successful. Some members of dominant cultural groups attempted to assist these minority groups, but their efforts were only partially successful. Too often, their work was actually self-serving—not selfless. They sought to protect their way of life from the threats posed by these other cultures and lifestyles. This led them to adopt solutions that sometimes made problems worse. Put yourself back there in time. Take whichever role you choose. How comfortable would you be? What would you do? How would you feel about the changes around you?

This situation was an ideal breeding ground for violent social conflict. The battle was waged in the streets and through the ever-expanding mass media. Yellow journalists and muckrakers fought wars of words in the media; battle lines were drawn between defenders of immigrant groups and representatives of existing elites, and the coverage was not confined to polite newspaper editorials or human-interest feature stories. It was a fight for the heart and soul of the nation (Altschull, 1990; Brownell, 1983). Nor was the struggle unique to the United States. In Europe, conflict across social-class lines was even more intense and deadly. These clashes led to the development of extremist political groups that demanded an end to democracy and the establishment of totalitarian states.

In the United States, advocates on all sides were convinced of the Truth and Justice of their causes. Their way was the American way, the Right way, the only True way. They were opposed by the forces of Evil and Chaos. These advocates appealed to the strongest emotions—hate and fear. Mass-mediated propaganda spread throughout America, across Europe, and around the world. Everywhere it deeply affected politics and culture.

In this chapter, we will discuss how political propaganda was used and then survey some of the theories developed to understand and control it. With the normative theories discussed in the next chapter, these were the first true media theories. Mass society theory saw media as only one of many disruptive forces. However, in propaganda theories, media became the focus of attention. Propaganda theorists specifically analyzed media content and speculated about its influence. They wanted to understand and explain the ability of messages to persuade and convert thousands or even millions of individuals to extreme viewpoints.

Propaganda commanded the attention of early media theorists because it threatened to undermine the very foundation of the U.S. political system and of democratic governments everywhere. By the late 1930s, many, if not most, American leaders were convinced that democracy wouldn’t survive if extremist political propaganda was allowed to be freely distributed. But censorship of propaganda meant imposing significant limitations on that essential principle of Western democracy, communication freedom. This posed a terrible dilemma. Strict censorship might also undermine democracy. In this chapter we will trace how propaganda theorists attempted to address and resolve this dilemma.

At first, some experts were optimistic that the American public could be educated to resist propaganda. After all, propaganda violates the most basic rules of fair democratic political communication. Propaganda freely uses lies and deception to persuade. If people could be taught to critically evaluate propaganda messages, they could learn how to reject them as unfair and false. These experts believed that public education could save democracy. Nevertheless, optimism about the power of public education faded as both Nazism and Communism spread from Europe to America during the 1930s. More and more Americans, especially first-generation immigrants from Europe, turned away from mainstream politicians and instead chose to listen to leaders who espoused totalitarian ideals and visions of social justice and jobs. Social movements sprang up based on propaganda imported more or less directly from Europe. In the United States, rallies were held to celebrate Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin and to denigrate inferior races and Wall Street bosses.

Propaganda experts became convinced that even if public education were a practical means of resisting propaganda, it would simply take too long. It might also teach people to resist all forms of propaganda at a time when some powerful elites saw as necessary the use of propaganda of their own making to promote democracy. Time was running out as the Depression deepened. It appeared likely that a Nazi or Communist leader would seize power before public education had a chance to succeed. So propaganda theorists abandoned idealism in favor of strategies they regarded as realistic and scientific. Propaganda must be resisted by whatever means possible. Even though the threat of propaganda was great, there might be a silver lining to this cloud. If we could find a way to harness the power of propaganda to promote good and just ideals, then we would not only survive its threat but have a tool to help build a better social order. This was the promise of what came to be called white propaganda—a strategy that used propaganda techniques to fight “bad” propaganda and promote objectives that elites considered good.

After World War II ended, these white propaganda techniques provided a basis for the development of strategic (promotional) communication methods that are widely used today in advertising and public relations. In fact, propaganda theory is experiencing a resurgence of interest precisely for this reason: the techniques used in these modern promotional efforts appear to many observers to be even more effective in the contemporary world of corporate media ownership (Laitinen and Rakos, 1997).

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