Propaganda’s Effect On Freedom

Statue of LibertyThe Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was concerned about the antagonistic effect of propaganda on our freedom. In 1937 Violet Edwards, educational director of the IPA, summarized its purpose:

There are three possible ways to deal with propaganda. You can suppress it, meet it with counter-propaganda, or analyze it and try to see how much truth there is in it. We are going to analyze it.

The IPA believed there were four aspects of freedom inherent in our constitution republic “set forth or definitely implied in the Constitution and federal statutes.”

1. Political—Freedom to vote on public issues; freedom of press and speech to discuss those issues in public gatherings, in the press, radio, motion pictures.

2. Economic—Freedom to work and participate in organizations to promote better working standards and higher living conditions for the people.

Strong-arm activity by unions makes it necessary to include freedom not to work or to participate in any organization.

3. Social—Freedom from oppression based on theories of superiority or inferiority.

Our politically correct world makes it necessary to include differences of beliefs and opinions.

4. Religious—Freedom of worship.

The IPA  wording is far too narrow. This was written almost eighty years ago, and I doubt the IPA anticipated the extent of change that would occur among many groups and authorities in their attitudes toward religion, especially Christianity.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and that goes far beyond freedom of worship. Our free exercise of religion means that we are free to live out and express our beliefs in any and every area of our life and in all aspects of our life. The IPA also included the phrase “with separation of church and state,” but I’ve excluded it because it is not in the First Amendment.

In a later IPA publication, “The Fine Art of Propaganda; A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches,” the editors, Alfred McClung Lee and Elizabeth Briant Lee, wrote:

“With all such general freedoms and the specific freedoms implied by them are associated definite responsibilities. Thus, with freedom of the press goes the responsibility for accuracy in news and honesty and representativeness in editorials.”

The majority of the press has forgotten any role or responsibility it has in guarding our freedom. I once heard Dana Perino state that the the press is to represent the people to the President; the media, however, has used their powerful platform not to represent us or to report the news factually, but to present the news in a way to shape public thinking. Suggestions have been made to encourage conservatives to go into journalism or to boycott newspapers and magazines. NewsBusters reports on bias and conflict of interests in the media. I’ve seen various ideas on how to prevent this.

Some options are only available to a few, but there is one thing we can all do: refuse to have our thinking shaped! I’ve been writing on propaganda because I want to encourage people to push back on the media’s attempt to conform Americans to their ideology.

The Lees described propaganda as positive or negative according to its effect.

“Because the action sought by a propagandist may be beneficial or harmful to millions of people, it is necessary to focus upon his activities the same searchlight of scientific scrutiny that the scientist invites. This requires a considerable effort. We all have a tendency to make a virtue of defending opinions or propagandas that apparently fit in with our own opinions and of opposing as vigorously any others. But socially desirable views and proposals will not suffer from examination, and the opposite type will be detected and revealed for what it is.

“Propagandas which concern us most are those which alter public opinion on matters of large social consequence-often to the detriment of large sections and even the majority of the people….

“When does a propaganda conform to democratic principles? It conforms when it tends to preserve and extend democracy; it is antagonistic when it undermines or destroys democracy.

“”What is truly vicious,” observed the New York Times in an editorial on September 1, 1937, “is not propaganda but a monopoly of it.” Any propaganda or act that tends to reduce our freedom in discussing important issues-that tends to promote a monopoly of propaganda-is antidemocratic….

“Some of the devices now so subtly and effectively used by…propagandists are as old as language. All have been used in one form or another by all of us in our daily dealings with each other.

“Propagandists have seized upon these methods we ordinarily use to convince each other, have analyzed and refined them, and have experimented with them until these homely devices of folk origin have been developed into tremendously powerful weapons for the swaying of popular opinions and actions.”

In Forming Illusions For Power I wrote that the word propaganda has become tainted after its use in the 20th century, and now it usually carries a malignant connotation. It has been used to stampede our emotions and coerce us by fear, and cause division through contempt and hate.

We may not be able to immediately change the onslaught of bias and manipulation from politicians and media alike, but we can grow in our discernment and ability to perceive the reality of words and deeds. We can learn to demonstrate and explain to others how to sort through truth and lies with wisdom and logic. It is vital for the well-being of our country that we learn to do and withstand the use of propaganda.

Remember—when propaganda influences our mindset, our liberties are undermined.
Violet Edwards, “Propaganda Analysis: Today’s Challenge,” ALA Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 1, Part I (January, 1940), p. 8. Published by: American Library Association.
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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.
Majestic Liberty Large photography by BigMacSC99: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported