Card Stacking is too bland a term for what has become amoral perfidy. Card Stacking goes beyond Name Calling into destroying reputations and defaming ideas. Card Stacking goes beyond Glittering Generalities with its disingenuous claiming of virtue and Orwellian language of deceit.
A few of The Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ statements are dated because World War II and the Cold War proved that vicious propaganda readily monopolizes and arbitrates information when other spokesmen are muted or misrepresented in the media.
Propaganda Tricks of the Trade
#6: Card Stacking
Card Stacking involves the selection and use of facts or falsehoods, illustrations or distractions, and logical or illogical statements in order to give the best or the worst possible case for an idea, program, person or product.
What might well be called “monopolistic” Card Stacking is a direct violation of America’s Cracker Barrel Philosophy. Around our traditional cracker barrels, we expect each of our local spokesmen to present his case-to stack the cards-for a given proposal in the best way that he can. But we also insist that other spokesmen around the same cracker barrel speak right up and stack the cards in favor of their alternative proposals. From these conflicting arrangements and interpretations of evidence, we know that some fairly sensible compromise is likely to come.
The dangers of “monopolistic” Card Stacking, of submitting ourselves to a barrage of evidence presented from but one viewpoint, are what prompted an editorial writer for the New York Times to observe on September 1, 1937: “What is truly vicious is not propaganda but a monopoly of it.”
When we are confronted with an effort at Card Stacking, we must remind ourselves to suspend judgment on the propagandist’s proposals until we have answered such questions as these:
Just what is the propagandist trying to “sell” us?
Is this proposal in line with our own best interests and the best interests of society, as we see them?
What are the alternative proposals?
What is the evidence for and against these alternatives?
There used to be a subtlety to Card Stacking, and the propagandist once attempted to ensure his lies were not easily discovered. Today it is done openly and without shame, and the existence of videos, recordings, and witnesses that provide proof against its calumnies is brushed aside as a negligible factor. The media is complicit. Their commitment is to ideology and not to truth. Those who don’t work to verify the facts or who like the ear tickling of lies are complicit. In 1946 George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” Today that defense has become a cynical game in which the Card Stackers aren’t concerned with who knows they’re lying or even whether or not their own self-contradictory words provide evidence of their deceit.
Card Stacking. “Card stacking” occurs when the propagandist selects and omits facts, distorts information, under- and over-emphasizes, confuses, and uses every deceptive device available to “stack the cards” against the truth. An example would be to withhold negative information about an incident while making only positive aspects public.
A General Semantics Interpretation
- Non-identity. The argument for a point of view is not necessarily an accurate or complete argument, nor is it the thing it represents. It is not the same as the whole body of facts available . But the propagandist wants the audience to respond to the “facts” presented without questioning them.
- Non-allness. The propagandist hopes the audience won’t realize that the propagandist’s argument is not the whole story, not the fully accurate story, and that much has been left out on purpose.
- Self-reflexiveness. The argument has been “selected” from all available facts about the subject. This selection on the part of the propagandist is personal and incomplete, but the audience is expected to assume that what they have been presented is the full, objective story.
- Probability principle. The propagandist hopes here that people won’t realize things change. Even if some elements of the argument seemed appropriate once, they are not necessarily so now.
- Symbol-signal reaction. The propagandist doesn’t want the audience to do any thinking before they act, but hopes they’ll respond automatically to the information presented.
- Extensionalization. The propagandist wants people to respond to his or her argument, not to nonverbal evidence. The propagandist doesn’t want the audience to know what has been left out, distorted, or fabricated.
Card Stacking is caught out by integrity and wisdom, but it flourishes when discernment is at a low ebb—because card sharks only win their hand when playing against the naïve and foolish.
Here again are the IPA’s concluding words on propaganda.
Our seven ABC’s of Propaganda Analysis and our seven Propaganda Devices are offered…as workable means for aiding Americans to preserve their freedom of choice and with it their other freedoms embodied so largely in the expression… freedom of speech and assembly, of the press, and of religion. In closing, then, let us merely sum up the spirit of our seven ABC’s and seven devices in the following statements:
Don’t be stampeded.
Beware of your own prejudices.
Suspend your judgment until more sides of the issue are presented.
“The Fine Art Of Propaganda; A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches” by The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Edited by Alfred McClung Lee & Elizabeth Briant Lee, and published in 1939 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York via Phil Taylor’s Web Site, The Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, UK.
Charles A. Fleming, “Understanding Propaganda From a General Semantics Perspective,” Et cetera, (Spring 1995) 10–11.