Notable Quotables


…Another sort of war is already underway, one in which journalists are already playing an important role as a conduit or filter, though not just the scribblers and broadcasters from the West. It is the propaganda war. That word has come to have a derogatory meaning, of the dissemination of untruths. In this case, America’s task is (in truth) to disseminate truths, about its motives, about its intentions, about its current and past actions in Israel and Iraq, about its views of Islam. For all that, however, this part of the war promises to be no easier to win than the many other elements of the effort.
The Economist, October 4, 2001

A meme (rhymes with dream) is a unit of information (a catchphrase, a concept, a tune, a notion of fashion, philosophy or politics) that leaps from brain to brain. Memes compete with one another for replication, and are passed down through a population much the same way genes pass through a species. Potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts and transform cultures. Which is why meme warfare has become the geopolitical battle of our information age. Whoever has the memes has the power.
Kalle Lasn, Culture Jam, 1999

An aspect of political warfare consisting of the public dissemination of information, whether truthful or deceptive, intended to promote strategic or ideological objectives. Propaganda may be attributed, that is, acknowledged to be the product of the state that authorized it; unattributed; or attributed to a source other than its true one.
The Diplomat’s Dictionary, Charles W. Freeman, Jr.

In war, truth is the first casualty.

“Propaganda must be two-edged. It must cut through obstacles on the home front while it cleaves the mental armour of the enemy on the outer front. Next to the work of physical fighting, no work is more urgent than this…It must fit policy as a sabre fits the scabbard.”
Wickham Steed

A thorough understanding of the limitations of the propaganda gun is as essential as knowing the range of a piece of artillery is to its firing—-Propaganda can enhance the results of good policies and diplomacy and can mitigate the effects of bad policies and poor diplomacy, but it cannot be a substitute for either policy or diplomacy or indeed exist without them.
Charles W. Thayer, 1959

There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind
Napoleon Bonaparte


Did September 11 end the march toward deregulation and private concentration of media? No, official sponsored information is more centralized than ever and will continue to be squeezed into narrower channels. That’s why we–the rest of us, the Chief Agitation Officers of our own e-zines and Independent Media Centers–need more propaganda, not less. We need more attempts by global citizens to arouse world opinion to the `product’ of peaceful coexistence.
We Need More Propaganda, Not Less
Nancy Snow, October 17, 2001

A patriotism of dissent has been one of the most vital ingredients of American political life throughout history. It has always been in the national interest to speak truth to power, and never more so than in times of crisis. We are now entering an era in which the nurture of an active patriotism of dissent will be a most difficult, but most essential task. Patriotic dissent is required if we hope to achieve anything approaching rational and moral balance in American policy and behavior. It is essential for people of faith and good will, who seek to honor the prophetic traditions of all religions, to explore what we can say to predispose such an outcome.
Lloyd J. Averill, Sightings, October 1, 2001


Although now, perhaps more than ever, it is essential that the government speak honestly to the American people, there are disturbing signs that key federal officials don’t realize this. Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held a news conference in which he quoted Winston Churchill, “In wartime truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” The Pentagon later issue a clarification that Rumsfeld did not mean to imply the government would lie. Yet that seems to be exactly what Rumsfeld was saying.
Erwin Chemerinsky, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2001

According to a draft of the IPI charter obtained by the Washington Times, the core group’s mission is to counteract enemy propaganda, “to prevent and mitigate crises and to influence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S. foreign-policy objectives.” According to the charter, the IPI will control all “international military information” to influence “the emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups and individuals.” The aim of all this is “to enhance U.S. security, bolster America’s economic prosperity and to promote democracy abroad.” Critics fear that this new master spin agency is a government attempt to overtly apply psyop (psychological operations) techniques on both the world and American public using communication strategies refined by the PR industry. IPI’s proponents say it is better to fight a war with words than bullets, but that to do so requires some central coordination. The IPI has assumed many of the functions of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), which was disbanded last October, and operates out of a new Public Diplomacy branch of the State Department.
Joel Bleifuss, In These Times, March 2000

Propaganda should be based on a national policy, it should encompass allies and adversaries, and it should always remain cognizant of long-term objectives.
Paul A. Smith, Jr., 1989

Not all propaganda is deceptious–though much of it is. But all propaganda is tendentious. Governments do not wish to tell the world of their shortcomings. In deciding what to tell the world–the truth as one sees it, part of that truth, what is known to be untrue–expedience prevails over ethics. What matters is not the truth of the message but the credibility of the message. And the estimate of the credibility of the message is determined by the estimate of the gullibility of the masses.
James Eayrs, 1965

There can be no propaganda without a personality, a political chief. Clemenceau, Daladier, De Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt, MacArthur are obvious examples. And even more, Khrushchev, who, after having denounced the cult of personality, slipped into the same role, differently, but with the same ease and obeying the same necessity. The nation’s unanimity is necessary. This unanimity is embodied in one personality, in whom everyone finds himself, in whom everyone hopes and projects himself, and for whom everything is possible and permissible.
Jacques Ellul, Propaganda, 1965

Alone, propaganda has no creative force. It cannot forge alliances with our friends or spark revolutions to annihilate our enemies. But as the handmaiden of diplomacy, as an extension of the diplomat’s arm, it can…significantly [further]…international interests.
Charles W. Thayer, 1959

Good foreign policy and good propaganda go hand in hand.
George V. Allen, 1958

Propaganda, as inverted patriotism, draws nourishment from the sins of the enemy. If there are no sins, invent them! The aim is to make the enemy appear so great a monster that he forfeits the rights of a human being. He cannot bring a libel action, so there is no need to stick at trifles.
Ian Hamilton, 1921

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.
Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger, 1916

The enormous gap between what the U.S. leaders do in the world and what the Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominant political mythology.
Michael Parenti


In the United States, where political change means finding new ways to redirect wealth into the pockets of the already wealthy, and where political dialogue is an elaborate charade that excludes dangerous and difficult topics from public consideration, one must look to the literature of business to find serious talk about national affairs.
Thomas Frank


Here’s how to connect the dots: Eliminate the word “press” and substitute the word “public.” The only reason the press is a factor at all is because Americans read it and watch it. The Pentagon is not afraid of the press but of American public opinion…You say you share the Pentagon’s worries? You wonder about your neighbor’s resolve? In that case, our democracy is much weaker than we dare admit. To let ourselves be wrapped in a cozy blackout curtain because we don’t trust each other to know the truth is no way to run a free country, not in peacetime and surely not in wartime. We should remember the real lesson of Vietnam. It was not the press that lied when the communist troops kept coming and coming and coming. Or the soldiers or the Marines wallowing in the mud. Their blood was no lie; neither was their courage. The lies came from the men with stars on their collars and their bosses in the pressed suits. The lies came from the podium. This is a war for freedom. So let’s have some.
John Balzar, Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2001

It was, indeed, the Age of Information, but information was not the precursor to knowledge; it was the tool of the salesmen.
Earl Shorris, A Nation of Salesmen

Advertisement conquers all in our land, including the Stars and Stripes.
Charles MacArthur

We believe we live in the age of information, that there has been an information explosion, an information revolution. While in a certain narrow sense this is the case, in many important ways just the opposite is true. We also live at a moment of deep ignorance, when vital knowledge that humans have always possessed about who we are and where we live seems beyond reach. An Unenlightenment. An age of missing information.
Bill McKibben, The Age of Missing Information

Why are the pictures of the world painted by the mass media so persuasive? For one thing, we rarely question the picture that is shown. We seldom ask ourselves, for example, “Why are they showing me this story on the evening news rather than some other one? Do the police really operate in this manner? Is the world really this violent and crime-ridden?” The pictures that television beams into our homes are almost always simply taken for granted as representing reality. As the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels once noted: `This is the secret of propaganda: Those who are to be persuaded by it should be completely immersed in the ideas of the propaganda, without ever noticing that they are being immersed in it.” Once accepted, the pictures we form in our heads serve as fictions to guide our thoughts and actions. The images serve as primitive social theories—providing us with the “facts” of the matter, determining which issues are most pressing, and decreeing the terms in which we think about our social world.
Anthony Pratkanis, Age of Propaganda

We do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see.
Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion

News often makes you mad as hell and depressed about your own individual powerlessness. The entertainment-as-news and news-as-entertainment shows emerged and merged years after Marshall McLuhan wrote that the medium is the message. Popular news modified one of this most interesting insights. People who complained that the evening news was all ‘bad news,’ he said, did not understand what they were seeing. The ‘good news’ was the commercials. Buy this or try that and you get the job, get the money, and get the girl—all endings are happy, or at least pleasurable.
Richard Reeves, What the People Know

The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is, I think, the ultimate indignity of the democratic process.
Adlai E. Stevenson

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

Television is uniquely suited to implant and continuously reinforce dominant ideologies. And, while it hones our minds, it also accelerates our nervous systems into a form that matches the technological reality that is upon us. Television effectively produces a new form of human being—less creative, less able to make subtle decisions, speedier, and more interested in things—albeit better able to handle, appreciate, and approve of the technological world. High-speed computers, faxes, lasers, satellites, robotics, high-tech war, space travel, and the further suppression of nature are more palatable and desirable for us because of our involvement with TV. The ultimate result, in high-tech terms, is that television redesigns us to be compatible with the future.
Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred


No amount of genius spent on the creation of propaganda will lead to success if a fundamental principle is not forever kept in mind. Propaganda must confine itself to a very few points, and repeat them endlessly. Here, as with so many things in this world, persistence is the first and foremost condition of success.
Adolf Hitler, 1924

Propaganda is emotional engineering.
Aldous Huxley (attributed)

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.
Bertrand Russell

When one stops to consider the antiquity in which his origins are shrouded, public ignorance of the propagandist is truly remarkable. Wherever the chains of automatic fealty have been burst asunder, collective action depends upon coercion or persuasion. It is safer for even the tyrant to depend upon persuasion, since he cannot perpetually remain upon the alert. (Even the tyrant must sleep.) For the few who would rule the many under democratic conditions, there is no choice but persuasion.
Harold Lasswell

Without some form of censorship, propaganda in the strictest sense of the word is impossible. In order to conduct a propaganda there must be some barrier between the public and the event. Access to the real environment must be limited, before anyone can create a pseudo-environment that he thinks wise or desirable. For while people who have direct access can misconceive what they see, no one else can decide how they shall misconceive it, unless he can decide where they shall look, and at what.
Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1922

10 Things Everyone Should Know about Propaganda

  1. Truth is not the absence of propaganda; propaganda thrives in presenting different kinds of truth, including half truths, incomplete truths, limited truths, out of context truths. Modern propaganda is most effective when it presents information as accurately as possible. The Big Lie or Tall Tale is the most ineffective propaganda.
  2. Propaganda is not so much designed to change opinions so much as reinforce existing opinions, prejudices, attitudes. The most successful propaganda will lead people to action or inaction through reinforcement of what people already believe to be true.
  3. Education is not necessarily the best protection against propaganda. Intellectuals and “the educated” are the most vulnerable to propaganda campaigns because they (1) tend to absorb the most information (including secondhand information, hearsay, rumors, and unverifiable information); (2) are compelled to have an opinion on matters of the day and thus expose themselves more to others’ opinions and propaganda campaigns; and (3) consider themselves above the influence of propaganda, thereby making themselves more susceptible to propaganda.
  4. What makes the study of propaganda so problematic is that it is generally regarded as the study of the darker side of our nature; the study of their evil versus our good. Those whom we consider evil thrive in propaganda, while we spread only the truth. The best way to study propaganda is to separate one’s ethical judgments from the phenomenon itself. Propaganda thrives and exists, for ethical and unethical purposes.
  5. Propaganda seeks to modify public opinion, particularly to make people conform to the point of view of the propagandist. In this respect, any propaganda is a form of manipulation, to adapt an individual to a particular activity.
  6. Modern forms of communication, including mass media, are instruments of propaganda. Without the monopoly concentration of mass media, there can be no modern propaganda. For propaganda to thrive, the media must remain concentrated, news agencies and services must be limited, the press must be under central command, and radio, film, and television monopolies must pervade.
  7. One must become aware of propaganda, its limitations, its strengths, its influence, and its persuasive qualities, if one is to master it. To say that one is free of the influence of propaganda is a sure sign of its pervasive existence in society.
  8. Modern propaganda began in the United States in the early 20th Century. During World War I, the mass media were integrated with public relations and advertising methods to advocate and maintain support for war. The Creel Committee established the first American publicity campaign to spread and disseminate the gospel of the American way to all corners of the globe.
  9. In the United States, private commercial propaganda is as important to notions of democracy as governmental propaganda. Commercial appeals to the people through advertising, which plays on irrational fantasies and impulses, are some of the most pervasive forms of propaganda in existence today.
  10. Propaganda in a democracy establishes truth in the sense that it creates “true believers” who are as ideologically committed to the democratic process as others are ideologically committed to its control. The perpetuation of democratic ideals and beliefs in the face of concentrated power in propaganda institutions (media, political institutions) is a triumph of propaganda in modern American society.

Compiled by Nancy Snow, Ph.D.
Source: Jacques Ellul, Propaganda

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Reporters Without Borders


School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University

Tyndall Report


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