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The widespread phenomenon of modern Propaganda

With thousands of advertisements seen by Americans everyday, and a corporate media that reinforces the needs of Empire, propaganda in the U.S. is more pervasive and effective than ever before. The manipulation of public opinion through suggestion can be traced back to the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, who discovered that preying on the subconscious mind was the best way to sell products people don't need, and wars people don't want.


To get a deeper understanding of how propaganda functions in today's society, Abby Martin interviews Dr. Mark Crispin Miller, professor of Media Studies at New York University.

Some interesting points:

WWI marked an important turning point in the rise of what we call public opinion as a consideration for political leaders and the science of propaganda, which was used and has been used with increasing sophistication to move public opinion in certain directions, basically to make sure that we don't succumb to anything like real democracy.

What Bernays understood brilliantly, was the need to influence the media in a general way to create an atmosphere in which large numbers of people would end up making certain choices, coming to certain conclusions, without really being aware of any stimulus.

Bernays bad mouthed advertising and disdained it in favor of his own method. It was to kind of create the climate in which people would do certain things to benefit his clients. For example, he represented a piano company. How do you get people to buy pianos? Well, he did this by creating a craze for music rooms in homes. He actually contacted people in the architectural magazines and so on, in the news media, people who wrote about lifestyle, in order to create a kind of trend for music rooms. So, you have a music room, what are you going to put in it? Obviously, most middle and upper middle class people wanted to buy pianos. So, even though he never mentioned the name of the piano company and didn't even harp on pianos per se in the propaganda, it had the general net effect of getting people to buy more pianos.

We live in a moment when propaganda has never been so pervasive, has never been so influential, has never been so dangerous. And I mean propaganda. The word sounds terribly quaint. I say propaganda and people think of Chinese voices coming squawking over loudspeakers in Beijing, or they think of Soviet posters, or Nazi propaganda.

Actually, propaganda is not a totalitarian phenomenon primarily, although we've long since learned to think that it is. Propaganda is as American as apple pie. Propaganda at its most sophisticated was perfected, and not just political propaganda, but commercial propaganda. Both kinds of propaganda were perfected jointly by the United States and Britain. Hilter, in his famous chapter on war propaganda, talks about how deeply he admired what a brilliant job the British propagandists had done in WWI, had nothing but contempt for the German propaganda and resolve to make sure that his own and the Nazi party's propaganda would be brilliant imitation of the British.

How many people the world of propaganda employee in the US? It isn't only people in Public Relations. It's also people in advertising agencies. It's also people in the world of so-called public diplomacy. It's also people in the world of what we call lobbying. There are countless euphemisms that we use today for propaganda. If you go up to a person in an ad agency, or PR specialist and say, 'how's the propaganda going?', they are going to be insulted, they are going to feel like you've called them a dirty name. They don't understand that they do propaganda. They do propaganda, and the rise of all those euphemisms for it, is a direct result of the successful effort to cast propaganda as something that they do in those closed societies: the Russians do it, the Chinese do it, the Iranians do it, the Venezuelans do it, the Cubans do it, we don't do it. We "educate" people, we "provide them with information". And that misrepresentation of propaganda has had the paradoxical effect of making it extraordinarily effective. Because propaganda works best when you don't see it for what it is.

People don't understand that even if they consciously scorn a particular ad is cheesy, or, they tell themselves they don't really believe the claims, that has nothing to do with what they'll end up buying if they happen to get thirsty and they go into a store somewhere.

The notion of conspiracy theory was pretty much non-existent in American journalism until the late sixties. If you go back and look to the archives of the NY Times and Washington Post and you type in 'conspiracy theory', you'll find very few examples. And the examples you will find are very inconsistent. The phrase is used in many different ways. Starting in 1967, this change. And this has everything to do with the fact that it was in the spring of 1967 that the CIA sent a memo out to all station chiefs worldwide, alerting them to the fact that there had just been published a number of books attacking the Warren Commission report.

The memo defends the Warren Commission report and urges the station chiefs for the CIA all over the world to use their propaganda assets and friends in the media to discredit the work of these authors wherever possible. From that moment on, we find Conspiracy Theory popping up more and more often, used over and over again, and always in the same way. It's almost always used to attack people who are raising questions about state crimes. So, it's the Kennedy assassination, of the Bobby Kennedy assassination, of the King assassination, it's around Contra, it's election fraud.

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