Politics and religion both thrive on propaganda, some of it factual, some creatively manufactured. Either way, people will buy into almost anything when you hit them at the gut level. Emotions ride highest when fear is used as the manipulation point.
In 1938, Orson Welles managed to terrify the radio listening public as he destroyed America by Martian invasion in his version of H.G. Wells’, “War of the Worlds.” Of course, it was all a Halloween offering, a prank, “the radio equivalent of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out from behind a bush and saying, ‘boo,’” as Welles put it. But it was, for lack of any other analogy, an hour of “propaganda;” a radio play written to sound exactly like genuine news bulletins, and people fell for it.
According to the dictionary definition, propaganda is information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, often used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. A deceptive radio broadcast may not be likely to have the same effect today, but if the current Ebola virus scare is any indication, Americans are still far from immune to the effects of well-crafted media spin.
With virtually no qualified medical information being distributed within the propaganda (probably the best word to describe most of the information being circulated), politicians, the media, and the endless barrage of know-it-all cable TV commentators are spreading speculation, misinformation and fear, unabated.
As one might expect, election season has to be one of the most prominent times for the spread of heavy-handed, negative propaganda. Despite laws to limit how “misleading” political ads can be, there is still so much being dispersed that it staggers the imagination of the thinking person as to how it is even allowed.
With fewer people concerned about the accuracy of news reporting these days, believing any blog they run across on Google, media spin no longer needs even to be well-crafted for the masses to fall victim to its intent. There are still, bafflingly, people out there who think that what they see on the news or Internet must be the truth. Not so much “fact,” but truth.
The spread of propaganda does not require facts but implies truth. Make enough people believe in an idea, factual or not, and it becomes “truth,” at least to those people. Once spread, that truth ends up being the predominant viewpoint and changing the minds of those who fall for it is a challenge, to say the least. Oddly enough, this is the same basis upon which every religion in history has been established.
As pointed out many times in “Deer In Headlines,” decisions are rarely made from factual information but more often based on emotional satisfaction. What makes a person feel good is far more powerful than a list of unemotional statistics. Once again, fear can be one of the most powerful emotions of them all and that is exactly the point.
Without fear, propaganda has much less of an effect. Political propaganda plays on the fear of the voter, suggesting that he or she will suffer under the rule of the opposing candidate – higher taxes, less food on the table, fewer jobs, and so on. In religious propaganda, the fear is purgatory, Hell, or whatever the particular denomination chooses to promote as the reason to show up every Sunday and ante up in the plate as it goes by.
There is, without question, a serious problem concerning the spread of the Ebola virus in the United States. But there is also, sadly, a tremendous opportunity here for politicians to cash in on the fears of those who are probably already paranoid about such things, enhancing the real threat enough to justify the need for such publicity.
Those fifteen minutes of fame come with a high cost, mainly in the stress and emotional trauma experienced by the people who trust their government to take care of them. Avoiding future panic means that people simply need to be cautious about what they take as “fact,” versus what they believe to be “truth.”
The Jamestown Comet.com editor Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at deerinheadlines.com.