Sunday, February 19, 2006 – Page updated at 12:00 AM
Propaganda: America’s psychological warriors
By Floyd J. McKay
Special to The Times
(…) Propaganda on a massive, organized scale dates to World War I, and the lessons learned in the often-crude application of WWI propaganda are ingrained in the spin doctors of the electronic world.
At its root, propaganda plays on emotions, often defying reason and facts in order to reach into the psyche of the audience. Propaganda is a mind game ? the skillful propagandist plays with your deepest emotions, exploiting your greatest fears and prejudices.
Propaganda researchers Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson define modern propaganda as "mass ‘suggestion’ or ‘influence’ through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual. Propaganda involves the dexterous use of images, slogans and symbols that play on our prejudices and emotions; it is the communication of a point of view with the ultimate goal of having the recipient of the appeal come to ‘voluntarily’ accept this position as if it were his or her own."
Fear is the best weapon of the propagandist. Fear of another 9/11 attack is stated or embedded into nearly every message produced by the White House. Labeling is another weapon of choice for the propagandist. In World War I, Germans were Huns, Krauts and Boche. World War II produced Japs and Nips, and Vietnam brought us Gooks. Today’s label, "terrorist," is seldom missing from White House speeches.
(…) Successful propaganda uses elementary tools such as labeling and fear-mongering and repeats a simple message over and over, until it is drilled into the heads of the audience. Once embedded, it often remains long after evidence has discredited it ? witness the fact that millions of Americans still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were connected, and an Iraqi was among the 9/11 terrorists.
(…) Psychologists Pratkanis and Aronson suggest four stratagem of successful propaganda: 1) pre-persuasion, establishing a climate in which the message will be believed; 2) source credibility, a likable or authoritative communicator; 3) a message focused on simple, achievable goals; and 4) arousing emotions and providing a targeted response.