In liberal democratic societies, it has long been understood that the use of force to control the population is generally not a viable option. Therefore, controlling what people think is critical. Thus, an elaborate system of propaganda is needed. For that system to be effective it must appear invisible. In totalitarian states there is no ambiguity. Citizens know they are getting the party line. But in countries like the U.S., where ownership is private and formal censorship is absent, there is an appearance of a free flow of information. However, that flow passes through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print.
The media like to present themselves as objective, balanced and free from any bias or agenda. Reality suggests something quite different. The media function as weapons of mass distraction. Much of what passes as news is, sometimes subtle, sometimes crude, propaganda. The media are large conglomerates that serve to mobilize support for the special interests that dominate state and corporate power. In democratic societies populations are not controlled by force. Rather, they are subject to more refined forms of ideological manipulation. Emotionally potent oversimplifications and necessary illusions are created and repeated endlessly. Embedded ideas, such as Washington's right to intervene anywhere in the world, go unexamined and unchallenged. Consent is manufactured. The public, reduced to being spectators, is marginalized.
Most people associate the term "propaganda" with totalitarian dictatorships like Iraq or North Korea. Yet propaganda, in different shapes and forms, is an important element in democratic societies. The control and use of images and information can alter perceptions, frame debate and influence opinion. This special two-part program features Noam Chomsky in a seminar given at Harvard to trade union leaders from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Japan.
Michael Parenti says, “The first premise of propaganda in the United States today is that it doesn't exist, that there is no propaganda from the established media and from the government and that we have only ‘information.’ Propaganda is something that other people do.“ If you say that there is propaganda in the U.S. you are immediately marginalized and categorized as a “kook” with “a personal axe to grind.” He says, “The most effective propaganda is that which relies on framing rather than falsehood.” Parenti illustrates his analysis with examples from mainstream media reporting on Nicaragua, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Afghanistan. Interviewed by David Barsamian.
Olympic athletes to corporate executives at Volkswagen tell lies. Remember Tony Montana, the mobster in Scarface played by Al Pacino, when he said, “I always tell the truth, even when I lie.” The trick is to be convincing, have oodles of guile and be a smooth talker. In politics lying is an art form. There’s the joke about, How can you tell when a politician’s lying? Whenever you see his or her lips moving. When they are caught in a lie the PR damage control gurus rush in and coat the mendacity in, Well, it was taken out of context or the ever popular he or she misspoke. Lying in politics is strictly non-partisan. Eisenhower about the U.S. coup in Iran, Kennedy about Cuba. Johnson about Vietnam, Nixon on just about everything, Clinton. You get the picture. The list goes on and on.
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