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Techniques of propaganda

Techniques of Propaganda

Aesthetics, Emotion, and Argument

Making a wildlife documentary a broken contract
Making a Wildlife Documentary – A Broken Contract?

“We tried to shoot a few, and missed both of them. Unbeknownst to me, the [animal wrangler] broke the next rabbit’s leg, so it couldn’t run. So we got one. On the next take, they then asked, ‘Should we break its leg again?’ . . . the DP [director of photography] was sitting there, saying ‘No, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do it,’ but nodding his head yes. I made the decision, let them break it. I regret it. It eats me up every day. I can sort of rationalize this, that it might be killed by a natural predator. But for us to inflict pain to get a better shot was the wrong thing to do.”

-- Quoted in Aufderheide, Jaszi, and Chandra (2009)

I techniques of propaganda
I. Techniques of Propaganda

  • Logical fallacies: Use faulty logic (the claims may be true or false, but their logic can’t tell us). Common ones include

    • Appeal to authority: Most problematic if the authority is no more expert than we are. Examples: Ongoing squabble over Susan B. Anthony’s views on abortion, “Log Cabin Republicans,” the Dixie Chicks on American foreign policy, Ben Stein on Teaching Evolution, etc.

2 circular reasoning begging the question uses the claim itself as the support for a claim
2. Circular Reasoning (Begging the Question): Uses the claim itself as the support for a claim

  • Example: Most “foundational” religious arguments

“Why Should I Believe That?”

“How Do I Know the Bible is Correct?”

“Because the Bible is God’s Word”

“God Must Exist”

“Because the Bible Says So”

(…Which Presupposes That…)

Often implied rather than stated
Often Implied Rather Than Stated itself as the support for a claim

  • Chomsky: “a principle familiar to propagandists is that the doctrine to be instilled in the target audience should not be articulated: that would only expose them to reflection, inquiry, and, very likely, ridicule. The proper procedure is to drill them home by constantly presupposing them, so that they become the very condition for discourse.”

3 ad hominem attack
3. itself as the support for a claimAd Hominem Attack

  • Criticizes the person making the claim rather than the claim itself. Frequently attacks “hypocrisy” (a character flaw) rather than the evidence presented.

  • Examples: Attacking the Wall Street bailout because the CEOs were arrogant, attacking Michael Moore for being fat, attacking climate change researchers for flying to conferences, attacking free-trade advocates for seeking protection for their firms.

  • Note that attacking a relevant characteristic (expertise in the case of someone rendering an expert judgment or being nominated for office) is not necessarily fallacious.

4 either or or black and white fallacy
4. Either-Or (Or Black and White) Fallacy itself as the support for a claim

  • Reducing an issue to only two sides, where other opinions may exist, and/or presenting any counter-argument as an argument in favor of “the other side”

  • Very common in material labeled “propaganda” (reduces number of views being presented)

  • Example: “Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” (Omits options of being against both or for both – the first being more plausible than the second)

5 false analogy
5. False Analogy itself as the support for a claim

  • Comparison with something dissimilar.

  • Long-time favorites in foreign policy discussions: Pearl Harbor, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam (now joined by 9/11 and Iraq).

  • Problem: Reasoning by analogy is almost always fallacious because no two events/processes are the same. But analogies are one of the most powerful tools of persuasion and one of the most common tools of analysis. The entire subfield of Comparative Government was founded on analogies between pairs of countries.

6 straw man fallacy
6. Straw Man Fallacy itself as the support for a claim

  • Substituting a weaker for a stronger argument, then defeating the weak argument and ignoring the strong one.

  • Traditional politician’s trick: “Answer the question you wish had been asked rather than the one that was asked.”

  • Examples:

    • Pro-lifers refute the “pro-abortion” argument (ignoring the stronger pro-choice position that promotion of birth control will reduce abortions more than a ban)

    • Pro-choicers refute the “anti-choice” argument (portraying opponents as anti-woman or pro-government control, even though the stronger pro-life argument is based on rights arguments applied to human life and includes support for poor mothers)

  • Almost everyone tries this one if they can get away with it

C other argument strategies
C. Other Argument Strategies itself as the support for a claim

  • Red Herrings: Using an unrelated issue to derail the discussion. Examples:

    • Responding to complaints about Obama’s health care plan with “Bush started an unending war based on lies” (tuquoque)

    • “If you cared so much about poor people, you would focus on helping Haitians, not poor Americans.” (True: Poverty in Haiti is Worse. Assumed without Proof: Should not tackle poverty in US).

    • Arguments about women’s rights  “At least you don’t live in Saudi Arabia.”

C other argument strategies1
C. Other Argument Strategies itself as the support for a claim

  • Bandwagoning: It is “universally accepted” or “overwhelmingly supported by the people” and therefore you should support it.

  • Card stacking: Omits factual details in order to misrepresent a product, idea, or cause. It intentionally gives only part of the truth

  • Transfer creates an association between a product, idea, or cause with a symbol or image that has positive or negative values

Example: Transfer and “ itself as the support for a claimGreenwashing”

This GE ad targets environmental sympathies.

What is the message of the ad?

Ford itself as the support for a claim

  • Not mentioned in the ad: is they only produced 20,000 of these cars a year, while continuing to produce almost 80,000 F-series trucks per month!

C rhetorical weapons
C. Rhetorical Weapons itself as the support for a claim

  • The “Glittering Generality:” Vague words that sound nice but contain little informational content. Common in politicians’ public addresses (yes, your side too – all politicians’ speeches start to sound the same after a while)

  • Delete the agent of a sentence – obscures responsibility. Instead of US declared war, War was declared.

  • Delete experiencer—imputes a harder fact. Instead of “journalists estimated 10,000 at the demonstration,” say “10,000 hit the streets.”

  • Renaming: Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth.” See also: Pro-abortion instead of pro-choice and anti-choice (or even anti-abortion) instead of pro-life. HANDOUT

5 euphemisms code words and dog whistles
5. Euphemisms, Code Words, and Dog Whistles itself as the support for a claim

  • a. Euphemisms: New words for old (discredited) concepts. Examples:

    • Slum  “depressed socioeconomic area”

    • Invasion  “reinforced protective reaction strike”

    • Nuclear Accident: “incident” or “event”

    • Heated Argument  “full and frank discussion”

    • Rebels  “terrorists” or “freedom fighters”

    • “Water cure” (1899-1901)  “torture” and “war crimes” (WW II, Korea, Vietnam/Cambodia)  “waterboarding” (2002?-present)

    • Torture  “enhanced Interrogation Techniques”

    • “Massacre”  “collateral damage”

    • All-Out Nuclear War  “strategic exchange”

B code words
b. Code Words itself as the support for a claim

  • Words which have an innocuous definition, but tap into associated non-innocuous concepts or stereotypes

    • Racially loaded words: “food stamps” or “welfare recipient” (even though most are white), “gang member,” “street thug,” “urban,” “quota,” “states’ rights,” “our folks,” “articulate,” etc.

    • Ethnically-loaded terms: “real America(n),” “Founding Fathers,” “bilingual,” etc.

    • Gender-loaded terms: “hysterical,” “worker,” “homemaker,” “queen”

C dog whistles
c. Dog Whistles itself as the support for a claim

  • Words (euphemisms) used to signal one group without alarming others who may be listening

    • Dred Scott and abortion

    • “Christian” as a subtype of Christian

    • “Strict Constructionism” for “Judicial Conservatism”

  • May use words that are disproportionately loaded for one group

    • Gingrich: Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history”

D misrepresenting the speaker
D. Misrepresenting the Speaker itself as the support for a claim

  • Pretending to be someone we are not

    • “Plain Folks” Strategy

  • Misleadingly bolsters ethos of speaker

  • Examples:

    • Michael Moore in Roger & Me

Ii the fascist aesthetic susan sontag s critique
II. The Fascist Aesthetic: itself as the support for a claimSusan Sontag’s Critique

  • Nicely annotated and illustrated version available at

A riefenstahl s work as critiqued by sontag 1975
A. Riefenstahl’s Work as Critiqued by Sontag (1975) itself as the support for a claim

  • Fiction: The “mountain films”

    • Contrast strong mountains and those who can conquer them with weak valley people

    • Mountains seen as mysterious or even magical (climb represents spiritual ascent through strength and purity)

    • Riefenstahl’s own film The Blue Light opposes the creative spirituality of the heroine with the rationalism of outsiders and the hate of those who envy her ability

2 the documentaries
2. The Documentaries itself as the support for a claim

  • Victory of the Faith (1933) – Focuses on mass rallies and marches but flawed

  • Triumph of the Will (1935) – Full of symbols: classical architecture, physical strength, ideal bodies, mysterious leader, spiritual devotion to the leader, identification of “essence” of the people

  • Day of Freedom (1935) – Short film.

D olympia
d.Olympia itself as the support for a claim

  • Again shows the “body perfect” – the only flaws are from exertion itself

    • Notable: Race is less relevant than “build”

  • Actual performance less important than idealized performance (e.g. diving scenes)

3 tiefland
3 itself as the support for a claim.Tiefland

  • Another film contrasting mountain purity with lowland/valley corruption

4 the last of the nuba
4.The Last of the itself as the support for a claimNuba

  • Riefenstahl picked them because of looks

  • Old and disabled not filmed or photographed (not part of essentialized “authentic” Nuba society)

  • Emphasis on purity (especially sexual purity) as the containment of vitality

  • Sontag: “The Last of the Nuba is about a primitivist ideal: a portrait of a people subsisting in a pure harmony with their environment, untouched by ‘civilization.’”

B sontag on fascist aesthetics
B. Sontag on fascist aesthetics itself as the support for a claim

  • “the contrast between the clean and the impure, the incorruptible and the defiled, the physical and the mental, the joyful and the critical”

  • “contempt for all that is reflective, critical, and pluralistic”

Goebbels 1933
Goebbels, 1933: itself as the support for a claim

  • On book burning: “The age of extreme Jewish intellectualism has now ended, and the success of the German revolution has again given the right of way to the German spirit.”

Sontag: itself as the support for a claim

“Fascist aesthetics…flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain... The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force. … Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.”

III. Fascist Art itself as the support for a claimNote: This section taken from “The Fascist View of Art: VolkischeKunst vs. EntarteteKunst,” presentation by James Handley at Adrian College

A fasces
A. Fasces itself as the support for a claim

  • “A bundle of rods (often accompanied by an axe, which symbolized power over life-and-death) carried by  Roman officials as a symbol of authority.”

Fasces in the lincoln memorial
Fasces in the Lincoln Memorial itself as the support for a claim

  • he Lincoln Memorial (1922) uses the image of fasces are sculpted in the front of his seat, beneath his hands.

B the nazi s entartete kunst exhibit
B. The itself as the support for a claimNazi’s EntarteteKunst Exhibit

  • Entarte Kunst means “degenerate art.”

    • Art work that adopted from primitive forms, or in otherways could cause a “degeneration” in the (so-called) Aryan spirit.

    • This is contrasted with the Nazi’s preferred “Volkische” art (populist, or “of the people”).

    • Ironically, the show was exceptionally popular, with 3 million people viewing it.

The entartete kunst exhibit
The Entartete Kunst Exhibit itself as the support for a claim

  • In 1941, the exhibit appeared in 13 cities in Germany and Austria.

Image from the entartete kunst exhibit
Image from the Entartete Kunst Exhibit itself as the support for a claim

  • The exhibit purposefully used poor lighting.

  • On the walls were slogans such as:

    • “Nature as seen by sick minds.”

    • “Incompetents and charlatans.”

Joseph goebbels visits the exhibit
Joseph Goebbels visits the exhibit itself as the support for a claim

  • Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister and an art lover, visited the show.

Ernst ludwig kirchner the artillerymen 1915
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, itself as the support for a claimThe Artillerymen (1915)

  • The work of Kirchner, a German Expressionist, was included in the exhibit as an example of the type of art the Nazis considered degenerate.

Ernst ludwig kirchner bathers at moritzburg 1909 1926
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, itself as the support for a claimBathers at Moritzburg (1909 – 1926)

Ironically, Kirchner’s “Bathers: was initially approved of by Joseph Goebbels because of its anti-modernist aesthetic.

However it fails to promote Aryan beauty.

Max beckmann brother and sister 1933
Max Beckmann, “Brother and Sister” (1933) itself as the support for a claim

  • Beckmann, another German Expressionist, also was presented in the exhibit.

Wasily kandinsky composition iv 1911
Wasily Kandinsky, “Composition IV” (1911) itself as the support for a claim

  • Another degenerate style was abstract art.

  • Kandinsky, who taught at the Bauhaus from 19922 – 1933 (when the Nazis closed it) created a series of “Compositions” prior to WWI.

  • The first 3 “Compositions” were confiscated and displayed in the exhibit. They were later destroyed along with many other works from the exhibition.

C entartete musik
C. itself as the support for a claimEntarteteMusik

  • The Nazis were also concerned about degenerate music.

    • Notice the stereotyping of the black jazz musician, including the Jewish Star of David on his lapel..

D nazi art albert janisch water sport 1936
D. Nazi itself as the support for a claimArt: Albert Janisch, Water Sport (1936)

  • This is a classic example of “good” Nazi art.

  • The composition is classically structured, the figures are strong and masculine, and a heroic golden light shines from the rowers.

  • Note that 1936 was the year the Olympics were held in Berlin, and Janisch seems to represent that event, in which the Nazis hoped to prove their racial superiority.

Nazi art adolph wissel farm family from kahlenberg 1939
Nazi Art: Adolph Wissel, itself as the support for a claimFarm Family from Kahlenberg (1939)

  • Wissel portrays another favored theme of Nazi painting, the good German farm family.

  • Families were vital to producing more soldiers and workers for the Reich, and farms had the “honored” and critical role of feeding the nation’s warriors.

  • The painting also reflects the Nazi’s mythicization of rural, primitive (non-modern) life. The “re-generation” takes them back to a more idyllic, pastoral, time.

Nazi art julius paul junghanns plowing
Nazi Art: Julius Paul Junghanns, itself as the support for a claimPlowing

  • Junghanns also presents the classic Nazi vision of a re-generation as a return to the soil.

  • The romantic (anti-modernist, anti-rational, anti-intellectual) vision of the Nazis is displayed in the old-fashioned method of plowing the earth. (Unlike Soviet paintings, which frequently feature tractors, to emphasize the Communists industrial advances over the Czars).

  • Oddly, the Nazis were in fact committed to maximized efficiency through machine labor. Their public image and private reality were very different.

Nazi art ernst liebermann by the water
Nazi Art: Ernst Liebermann, itself as the support for a claimBy the Water

  • The Nazis had a very sexualized political ideology, which fused with their vision of superior Aryan beauty.

  • Images which emphasized the beauty of German women (and German men, such as Water Sport), especially when done in a classical style, are emblematic of Nazi art.

Nazi art karl albiker relay runners
Nazi Art: Karl Albiker, itself as the support for a claimRelay Runners

  • The Nazis also prized sculpture.

  • Typically, Nazi sculpture mimics classical styles, and treats its subjects as heroic figures (as befits a “master race”).

  • Relay Runners is one of the many poorly executed pieces created quickly to fill the empty exhibition space left by the confiscation and destruction of “degenerate” works.

Nazi art arno breker
Nazi Art: Arno Breker itself as the support for a claim

  • Breker’s sculptural works were of higher quality, and so, in a disquieting way, successfully reinforce the Nazi image of German superiority.

    • (click for two more Breker works)

The Warrior Departs

The Guard


D controversy
D. Controversy itself as the support for a claim

1. Exercise: For each of the following, classify it as “fascist” or “degenerate” based on the fascist aesthetic

2 films
2. Films itself as the support for a claim

  • Star Wars: Compare to Triumph of the Will

  • 300

  • LOTR: Helm’s Deep and Pelennor Fields

  • Starship Troopers

  • Rocky IV

3 is it true
3. Is it true? itself as the support for a claim

  • Is a fascist aesthetic inherent in coverage of some topics?

  • Is it fascist?

    • Beware affirming the consequent:

      • Fascists  art style, but does Art style  Fascism?

  • To what extent do nonvisual elements undercut or reinforce such an aesthetic?

  • What are the multiple messages sent by such imagery?

Iv propaganda and war
IV. Propaganda itself as the support for a claimand War

  • Example: Prelude to War

  • “The first casualty when war comes is Truth” ~ U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917

A promotion of propaganda
A. Promotion itself as the support for a claimof propaganda

1. Usual features

a. Promotes the negative image of the “enemy”

b. Reinforces it with rhetoric about the righteousness of own cause

c. War is sold as best for everyone except evil people (enemy leaders, enemies as zombies, etc)

2. War propaganda usually intellectually dishonest: principles used to demonize the other are not used to judge the self

B media preparation
B. Media itself as the support for a claimpreparation

  • 1. The crisis: The reporting of a crisis which negotiations appear unable to resolve. Politicians, while calling for diplomacy, warn of military retaliation. The media reports this as “We’re on the brink of war”, or “War is inevitable”, etc.

Media preparation
Media preparation … itself as the support for a claim

  • 2. The demonization of the enemy’s leader: Comparing the leader with Hitler is a good start because of the instant images that Hitler’s name provokes.

Media preparation1
Media preparation … itself as the support for a claim

  • 3. The demonization of the enemy as individuals. For example, to suggest the enemy is insane.

  • 4. Atrocities: Even making up stories to whip up and strengthen emotional reactions.

C ottosen s stages of preparing or justifying war
C. itself as the support for a claimOttosen’s Stages of Preparing or Justifying War

  • Ottosen identifies several key stages of a military campaign to “soften up” public opinion through the media in preparation for an armed intervention.

Stages 1 and 2
Stages 1 and 2 itself as the support for a claim

  • The Preliminary Stage—during which the country concerned comes to the news, portrayed as a cause for “mounting concern” because of poverty/dictatorship/anarchy;

  • The Justification Stage—during which big news is produced to lend urgency to the case for armed intervention to bring about a rapid restitution of “normality”;

Stages 3 and 4
Stages 3 and 4 itself as the support for a claim

  • The Implementation Stage—when pooling and censorship provide control of coverage;

  • The Aftermath—during which normality is portrayed as returning to the region, before it once again drops down the news agenda.

Dead baby story
“dead baby” story itself as the support for a claim

  • In the 1991 Gulf War, a U.S. public relations firm got a Kuwaiti Ambassador’s daughter to pose as a nurse claiming she saw Iraqi troops killing babies in hospitals. The purpose of this was to create arousal and demonize Iraq so war was more acceptable. More information:

D military control of information
D. Military itself as the support for a claimcontrol of information

  • Military control of information during war time is also a major contributing factor to propaganda, especially when the media go along with it without question.

  • The military recognizes the values of media and information control very well.

Key strategies
Key strategies itself as the support for a claim

  • Overloading the media with information

  • Ideological appeals

  • Spinning information

  • Withholding information

  • Co-option and Collusion

4 embedded journalists
4. Embedded itself as the support for a claimjournalists

  • Sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly make a decision to be biased in their reporting, in favor of the Coalition troops. They travel with the forces; it’s a way to get cooperation

5 dilemma of journalists and wartime coverage
5. Dilemma itself as the support for a claimof journalists and wartime coverage

  • Journalists need the military for information and protection

  • Journalists are supposed to objectively report on the military

  • A journalist without information is an unemployed journalist

F galtung s journalism concerns when does reporting become propaganda
F. itself as the support for a claimGaltung’sjournalism concerns – when does reporting become propaganda?

  • Decontextualizing violence: focusing on the irrational without looking at the reasons for unresolved conflicts and polarization.

    “By drawing attention to one short but bloody outburst of violence, an outburst that is cast and investigated as unusual, other periods may implicitly be rendered normal.” – quote from a Palestinian page on the Gaza conflict of 2006

F galtung s journalism concerns when does reporting become propaganda1
F. itself as the support for a claimGaltung’sjournalism concerns – when does reporting become propaganda?

  • Decontextualizing violence: focusing on the irrational without looking at the reasons for unresolved conflicts and polarization.

    Another example: Rwandan genocide as “ethnic conflict.”

Galtung … itself as the support for a claim

2. Dualism: reducing the number of parties in a conflict to two, when often more are involved. (Form of either/or fallacy). Such stories ignore internal populations of civilians who may not support either side, the differences within each “side,” and such outside or “external” forces as foreign governments and transnational companies.

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

3. Manicheanism: portraying one side as good and demonizing the other as “evil.”


  • Post-genocide writing dismissed the notion of Tutsi massacres of Hutus and ignored the Tutsi-on-Hutu genocide of 1972 in Burundi.

  • Rebels against tyrannical regimes often portrayed as heroes, despite legitimate concerns about them (Darfur, Libya, Afghanistan’s Mujahideen, Communists, etc)

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

3. Manicheanism: portraying one side as good and demonizing the other as “evil.”

4. Armageddon: presenting violence as inevitable, omitting alternatives.

Example: “Christians/Jews and Muslims have been fighting for a thousand years, so they (the other or both sides) ‘only understand force.’”

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

5. Focusing on individual acts of violence while avoiding structural causes, like poverty, government neglect and military or police repression.  “Structural Violence”

6. Confusion: focusing only on the conflict arena (i.e., the battlefield or location of violent incidents) but not on the forces and factors that influence the violence.

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

7. Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are acts of revenge and spirals of violence.

8. Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself.

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

9. Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists, especially big powers.

10. Failure to explore peace proposals and offer images of peaceful outcomes.

11. Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace.

Galtung itself as the support for a claim

12. Omitting reconciliation: conflicts tend to reemerge if attention is not paid to efforts to heal fractured societies. Omission reinforces fatalism and security dilemmas (perceived impossibility of cooperation)