Propaganda - Institute for Propaganda Analysis

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis existed from 1937 to 1941; it closed down because, with war approaching, they couldn't maintain a dispassionate analysis of all propaganda. Their premise was a concern about increasing amounts of propaganda being used on the public. Their goal was to educate the public about propaganda and help them recognize and deal with it. Their concern was that increasing amounts of propaganda would weaken the peoples' ability to analyze and think rationally about issues. Their propaganda devices, listed below, were useful in 1939 but would be considered simplistic now.

One of their efforts involved identifying "seven common propaganda devices" that were commonly used in propaganda materials. These devices appear to be well known even now; they appear in an exhibit at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and Technology in Albuquerque, NM. We'll present them as the IPA did, then expand a bit.

The Seven Devices

  • Bandwagon: "Has as its theme 'everybody - at least all of us - is doing it!' and thereby tries to convince the members of a group that their peers are accepting the program and that we should all jump on the bandwagon rather than be left out." "Everybody is doing this." You've heard that before. The idea here is to convey the notion that if you don't get aboard you will be left out. This can also appear as news organizations jump on a "story" so as not to be left out.
  • Card Stacking: "Involves the selection and use of facts or falsehoods, illustrations or distractions, and logical or illogical statements to give the best or the worst possible case for an idea, program, person, or product."
    • Facts or falsehoods: In propaganda, the use of truth or lie is governed only by its credibility. If you are not familiar with the subject, you might not be able to detect a lie.
    • Illustrations or distractions:
    • Logical or illogical statements: The various reasoning fallacies fall in here.
    You might also include Cherry-Picking. The propagandist uses only those facts and details that support their argument. The selected reasons are used to support the conclusion. You will get misled if you do not notice that important details are missing. The worst part of card-stacking is that it can be very difficult to detect if you are not really knowledgeable about the subject.
  • Glittering Generalities: "Associating something with a 'virtue word' and creating acceptance and approval without examination of the evidence." These are vague, broad statements that will connect with the audience's beliefs and values. They really don't say anything substantive. Slogans make great examples. The vagueness means that the implications, though varying for different people, are always favorable. Think of peace, freedom, justice, family values, etc.

    You can check if something is a glittering generality by asking questions of the speech/slogan such as "How?" or "With what?" or "By what means?" If those questions are unanswered, then you may be dealing with a glittering generality. If they do answer the questions, see if their answers are substantive (details supported by evidence) or whether their answers are even more glittering generalities.

    • Recent Examples:

      Gov. Mitt Romney, during his 2012 Republican National Convention Speech in Tampa, FL: "I am running for president to help create a better future, a future where everyone who wants a job can find a job, where no senior fears for the security of their retirement, an America where every parent knows that their child will get an education that leads to a good job and a bright horizon, and unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs.
      Paul Ryan and I have five steps. First, by 2020, North America will be an energy independent by taking invented [sic] of our oil, are coal, our gas, our nuclear, and renewables.
      Second, we will give our fellow citizens the skills they need for the jobs of today and the careers of tomorrow. When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.
      Third, we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements, and when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences.
      And fourth, to assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish, as have those in Greece. We will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget.
      And fifth, we will champion small businesses, America's engine of job growth. That means reducing taxes on business, not raising them. It means simplifying and modernizing the regulations that hurt small businesses the most, and it means we must rein in skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare."
      Link to the speech

      President Barack Obama, during his 2012 Democratic National Convention Speech in Charlotte, NC: "But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I'm asking you to choose that future. I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country – goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That's what we can do in the next four years, and that's why I'm running for a second term as President of the United States.
      We're offering a better path – a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.
      You can choose a future where more Americans have the chance to gain the skills they need to compete, no matter how old they are or how much money they have. Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life.
      I want to reform the tax code so that it's simple, fair, and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 – the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president; the same rate we had when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs, the biggest surplus in history, and a lot of millionaires to boot. "
      Link to the speech

  • Name-Calling: "Giving an idea a bad label and therefore rejecting and condemning it without examining the evidence." This is the use of negative words or labels to create prejudice against some person, group or idea. If you fall for this you have been driven to reach a conclusion without examining the evidence.
    • Recent Examples:

      President Barack Obama: "He’d ask the middle class to pay more in taxes so that he could give another $250,000 tax cut to people making more than $3 million a year. It’s like Robin Hood in reverse — it’s Romney-hood . . . " Video segment of speech

      Gov. Mitt Romney: "If I were to coin a term, it’d be Obamaloney" Link to excerpt of interview

  • Plain Folks: "The method by which a speaker attempts to convince the audience that he or she and his or her ideas are good because they are 'of the people,' the 'plain folks.'" The person speaking will adopt a demeanor that makes them look like "everyman." They will appear to connect with the audience and their point of view. Careful choice of clothing, vocabulary, and mannerisms is necessary to make the identity connection. Hitler was quite good at this.
  • Testimonial: "Consists in having some respected or hated person say that a given idea or program or product is good or bad." This technique has a well-known someone endorse, recommend or approve of a product, cause or program. Pop celebrities can work well here. Remember that testimonials aren't worth much, particularly if the endorser is not an authority in the field.
  • Transfer: "Carries the respect and authority of something respected to something else to make the latter accepted. Also works with something that is disrespected to make the latter rejected." This is an effort to transfer your approval of something you respect and approve of to another something that the propagandist wants you to approve of. Using a flag as a background for photographs helps.