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“Propaganda—the dissemination of one-sided messages intending to convince the reader or listener of the rightness of the sender’s interests or opinions—is best understood as a cultural force whose ultimate effect has been to create distracted, decentered, unthinking publics, unable to tell the difference between philosophical principle and naked self-interest.” ~Thomas Wolfe 




Propaganda is the use of communication systems and educational systems to convince a population that one side of an issue, is better over another. It is usually attempted by large powers, such as government agencies or corporations. The agenda is accomplished by spreading the message through mass media. Every message has a bias, but propaganda has a specific purpose for its bias.




The following video explains the heavy constraints the United States media has put on messages portrayed through television. They must fit certain time frames. The content in the media is presented as the "truth" at all times, but no sources are needed to back up the data as long as someone has already heard the information somewhere else. It is presented as common knowledge or popular opinion.



General introduction/definition

“...communications involves the transport of a message from a sender to a receiver.” [1]


Communications can be described as technology, cultural meanings, a “crucial part of our present,” changed and maneuvered by the public into countless ways of spreading messages. Several factors, such as the advent of literacy, the printing press, and every specific technology affects its uses and influences. Print enabled political power to be announced and specific messages, which could be called propaganda, to be spread to the public. It allowed the messages to be more constant and specific, until the general population’s way of thinking fit the mold. [1]

Propaganda is not limited to those more obvious sources, such as political campaigns, but is used in any group that requires an agreement in thought process. Television took the constancy and intimacy of the printed word a step further, using the more personalized oral form to further propagate the desired messages.[1] (see


) When the audience is no longer referred to as “public,” but is called “mass,” it is no longer expected that they will need or desire to have any original thought. [1]


The United States has a system of education that it is based on propaganda. It is not propaganda based on government, but on powerful and educated persons’ agendas. Those who are spreading the messages may not even realize that the information they wish so desperately to share with others is not their own original thought. An extreme example of propaganda was exemplified by the Nazis, and is constrained to total conformity. Chomsky claims this is not even important to look at, since it is easy to determine the true message. The propaganda that causes the real problems is supported by “doves.” These are educated persons who control what is told about history, and what should believed about the present. Every imaginable theory has already been slanted to fit a mold. “It means the entire spectrum of thinkable thoughts is now caught within the propaganda system.” Chomsky believes the same critical thinking that determines what was wrong with the Nazi way of thinking should be used to free the contemporary public from the messages governing thought processes today. Those who sit passively by will continue to promote the same message, whether they believe it is true and good or not. [4]


Propaganda is necessary to mold the citizens in a large society into compatible parts of a whole working system. Mass media is a tool used to do this, using entertainment and information that influences their thinking so that they will meet the need of the system. This propaganda process is established and controlled partially through


. The messages presented in advertising are controlled by persons who want the society to meet their standards. It is appealing to the media because of the potential for profit. The competitiveness of the business, instead of promoting different messages, keeps different people clamoring to promote the same message in different ways. [3]

Supply and demand have some effect on the messages portrayed. Things that make it into the news do so simply because they occurred at the right time in front of the right person. Something is newsworthy and deserves our attention because it was recorded and mass produced by a person in the literary place of power. These persons who are waiting and watching for the news story worthy of print can be influenced by persons of higher power who have a specific agenda to promote, usually the government or a powerful media firm. [3]


A lack of involvement by the public in affairs that affect their society and government is something that increases their susceptibility to manipulation. This was viewed as a problem even eighty years ago. It is almost impossible to comprehend the entire workings of a society though, so how is one expected to make decisions and vote on things that affect the whole society? This is a contributing factor to the lack of involvement. And even when the public does come to a decision, it is not one decision, but thousands of unique minds arguing for their opinion. The average opinion has to be determined, and the resulting decision may not be even close to anyone in the general public’s original thought. [2]

Related to power, if the public or audience of the message decides to revolt, it can have an effect. “’Flak’ refers to negative responses to a media statement or program.” Unfortunately, this revolution is also stimulated by a hidden source, promoting their own agenda. It appears to be breaking the mold propaganda enforces, but it is actually a new mold that is only different in the content, not the intent. The more people who participate in the new mold, the larger effect it will have. An excellent example of a power influencing “flak” is the government. [3]

“...a propaganda approach to media coverage suggests a systematic and highly political dichotomization in news coverage based on serviceability to important domestic power interests.” [3]


Mass Media

“The mass media are perceived as opinion makers, image formers, culture disseminators.” [5]


The media is controlled by businesses and economics. Those interested in its benefits promote its uses and introduce new technologies, then use these to influence public opinion for their benefit. It is also controlled by public opinion (that elusive object that cannot really be obtained), and ultimately is a tool to mold society. [5]

Some examples of mass media include


, radio, newspapers,


, and the internet. These each have specific ways of swaying public opinion. There is mass media in writing such as posters, billboards, newspapers, magazines, books, and grafitti. Television may be the most powerful for many purposes. Television uses gestures, words, postures, and sounds and shows famour people, or members of the


, and other recognizable things to influence opinion. Public speakers,


, theatres, mass demonstrations, and picketing are other examples of mass media that can be used to sway public opinion. [6]

The following video is an example of


and animation portraying specific, one-sided messages.

Implications For Media Ecology

Throughout history, propaganda has been seen as a problem, a control issue. The public has been too apathetic, and the powerful people and corporations have had their way with public opinion. Each new technology that appears uses a different method of communicating the messages used to sway public opinion. Often, the way these messages are sent affects their content and effect on society. As the society adapts to these new technologies, media powers and the government use the new methods to continue molding the economy and popular thoughts in the public. If the effects and power of media undergoes continuing study, more common knowledge will become available to the public and they will be able to make informed decisions about the way they are receiving messages, instead of focusing only on the content.


[1] Wolfe, Thomas.

Communications, the Media, and Propaganda



[2] Lippmann, Walter.

The Phantom Public

New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1925.

[3] Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam.

Manufacturing Consent: A Propaganda Model

Pantheon Books, 1988

[4] Chomsky, Noam.

Language in the Service of Propaganda

Common Courage Press, 1992.

[5] Compaine, Benjamin.

Who Owns the Media?

New York: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1979.

[6] Encyclopædia Britannica.


Online: <


. 2008.

Comments (9)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:43 am on Sep 12, 2008

YouTube selection from Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent" is here:


You can embed via code on EmbedVideo page of this wiki or see me.

Playlist with all six episodes of "The Century of the Self" is here:

-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 16:25:27)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:43 am on Sep 12, 2008

large article on Britannica here:

-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 16:30:28)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:43 am on Sep 12, 2008

"Propaganda and the Free Press" from the Contemporary Review:


"Propaganda: Can a Word Decide a War?" -- long article from Parameters:


Propaganda and the War on Terror -- from The Independent:

-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 16:46:16)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:43 am on Sep 12, 2008

Maybe in the Mass Media section you could talk about the different biases that different media has. And then the way that propaganda would possibly conform specific to that media. For example, with television, there is a great use of images and catch phrases that can change the way situations are portrayed.
-- KathyRodine (2008-04-08 14:57:15)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:43 am on Sep 12, 2008

I put some interesting things about Propaganda in my VideoGames page. You might add an additional section for modern sources of propaganda and link to it.
-- ZachReiter (2008-04-13 22:12:02)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 12:23 pm on Sep 12, 2008

The You-tube video is great. It really helps the information jump out of the page. A little more detail would be helpful for this article. When I think of propaganda I think of the traditional "bandwagon" technigue (ex " Everyone is buying RAV-4 SUV's, so I will, too.") There is a great website that lists a lot of the most common propaganda techniques. It is just a basic sketching of the techniques and would need to be even more elaborated on, but they do provide a good basis.

Kate M. Fisher said

at 12:25 pm on Sep 12, 2008

The specific website for propaganda techniques is:

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