Propaganda in the United States

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An American propaganda poster from World War II produced under the Works Progress Administration.

Propaganda in the United States is propaganda spread by government and media entities within the United States. Propaganda is information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to influence opinions. Propaganda is not only in advertising; it is also in radio, newspaper, posters, books, and anything else that might be sent out to the widespread public.

Domestic[edit]

World War I[edit]

The first large-scale use of propaganda by the U.S. government came during World War I. The government enlisted the help of citizens and children to help promote war bonds and stamps to help stimulate the economy. To keep the prices of war supplies down, the U.S. government produced posters that encouraged people to reduce waste and grow their own vegetables in "victory gardens." The public skepticism that was generated by the heavy-handed tactics of the Committee on Public Information would lead the postwar government to officially abandon the use of propaganda.[1]

World War II[edit]

During World War II the U.S. officially had no propaganda, but the Roosevelt government used means to circumvent this official line. One such propaganda tool was the publicly owned but government funded Writers' War Board (WWB). The activities of the WWB were so extensive that it has been called the "greatest propaganda machine in history".[1] Why We Fight is a famous series of US government propaganda films made to justify US involvement in World War II.

In 1944 (lasting until 1948) prominent US policy makers launched a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the U.S. public to agree to a harsh peace for the German people, for example by removing the common view of the German people and the Nazi party as separate entities.[2] The core in this campaign was the Writers' War Board which was closely associated with the Roosevelt administration.[2]

Another means was the United States Office of War Information that Roosevelt established in June 1942, whose mandate was to promote understanding of the war policies under the director Elmer Davies. It dealt with posters, press, movies, exhibitions, and produced often slanted material conforming to US wartime purposes. Other large and influential non-governmental organizations during the war and immediate post war period were the Society for the Prevention of World War III and the Council on Books in Wartime.

Cold War[edit]

During the Cold War, the U.S. government produced vast amounts of propaganda against communism and the Soviet bloc. Much of this propaganda was directed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover, who himself wrote the anti-communist tract Masters of Deceit. The FBI's COINTELPRO arm solicited journalists to produce fake news items discrediting communists and affiliated groups, such as H. Bruce Franklin and the Venceremos Organization.

War on Drugs[edit]

A poster circa 2000 concerning cannabis in the United States.

The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, originally established by the National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988,[3][4] but now conducted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998,[5] is a domestic propaganda campaign designed to "influence the attitudes of the public and the news media with respect to drug abuse" and for "reducing and preventing drug abuse among young people in the United States".[6][7] The Media Campaign cooperates with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and other government and non-government organizations.[8]

Iraq War[edit]

In early 2002, the U.S. Department of Defense launched an information operation, colloquially referred to as the Pentagon military analyst program.[9] The goal of the operation is "to spread the administrations's talking points on Iraq by briefing ... retired commanders for network and cable television appearances," where they have been presented as independent analysts.[10] On 22 May 2008, after this program was revealed in the New York Times, the House passed an amendment that would make permanent a domestic propaganda ban that until now has been enacted annually in the military authorization bill.[11]

The Shared values initiative was a public relations campaign that was intended to sell a "new" America to Muslims around the world by showing that American Muslims were living happily and freely, without persecution, in post-9/11 America.[12] Funded by the United States Department of State, the campaign created a public relations front group known as Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU). The campaign was divided in phases; the first of which consisted of five mini-documentaries for television, radio, and print with shared values messages for key Muslim countries.[13]

NDAA and Overturning of Smith-Mundt Act[edit]

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (NDAA) allows for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to be released within U.S. borders and strikes down a long-time ban on the dissemination of such material in the country.[14][15][16]

Ad Council[edit]

The Ad Council, an American non-profit organization that distributes public service announcements on behalf of various private and federal government agency sponsors, has been labeled as "little more than a domestic propaganda arm of the federal government" given the Ad Council's historically close collaboration with the President of the United States and the federal government.[17]

International[edit]

Through several international broadcasting operations, the US disseminates American cultural information, official positions on international affairs, and daily summaries of international news. These operations fall under the International Broadcasting Bureau, the successor of the United States Information Agency, established in 1953. IBB's operations include Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Alhurra and other programs. They broadcast mainly to countries where the United States finds that information about international events is limited, either due to poor infrastructure or government censorship. The Smith-Mundt Act prohibits the Voice of America from disseminating information to US citizens that was produced specifically for a foreign audience.

During the Cold War the US ran covert propaganda campaigns in countries that appeared likely to become Soviet satellites, such as Italy, Afghanistan, and Chile.

Recently The Pentagon announced the creation of a new unit aimed at spreading propaganda about supposedly "inaccurate" stories being spread about the Iraq War. These "inaccuracies" have been blamed on the enemy trying to decrease support for the war. Donald Rumsfeld has been quoted as saying these stories are something that keeps him up at night.[18]

Psychological operations[edit]

US PSYOP pamphlet disseminated in Iraq. Text: "This is your future al-Zarqawi" and shows al-Qaeda fighter al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap.

The US military defines psychological operations, or PSYOP, as:

planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.[19]

The Smith-Mundt Act, adopted in 1948, explicitly forbids information and psychological operations aimed at the US public.[20][21][22] Nevertheless, the current easy access to news and information from around the globe, makes it difficult to guarantee PSYOP programs do not reach the US public. Or, in the words of Army Col. James A. Treadwell, who commanded the U.S. military psyops unit in Iraq in 2003, in the Washington Post:

There's always going to be a certain amount of bleed-over with the global information environment.[23]

Agence France Presse reported on U.S. propaganda campaigns that:

The Pentagon acknowledged in a newly declassified document that the US public is increasingly exposed to propaganda disseminated overseas in psychological operations. [24]

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the document referred to, which is titled "Information Operations Roadmap." [22][24] The document acknowledges the Smith-Mundt Act, but fails to offer any way of limiting the effect PSYOP programs have on domestic audiences.[20][21][25]

Several incidents in 2003 were documented by Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel, which he saw as information-warfare campaigns that were intended for "foreign populations and the American public." Truth from These Podia,[26] as the treatise was called, reported that the way the Iraq war was fought resembled a political campaign, stressing the message instead of the truth.[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Thomas Howell, The Writers' War Board: U.S. Domestic Propaganda in World War II, Historian, Volume 59 Issue 4, Pages 795 - 813
  2. ^ a b Steven Casey, (2005), The Campaign to sell a harsh peace for Germany to the American public, 1944 - 1948, [online]. London: LSE Research Online. [Available online at http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/archive/00000736] Originally published in History, 90 (297). pp. 62-92 (2005) Blackwell Publishing
  3. ^ National Narcotics Leadership Act of 1988 of the Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub.L. 100–690, 102 Stat. 4181, enacted November 18, 1988
  4. ^ Gamboa, Anthony H. (January 4, 2005), B-303495, Office of National Drug Control Policy — Video News Release, Government Accountability Office, footnote 6, page 3 
  5. ^ Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 (Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999), Pub.L. 105–277, 112 Stat. 268, enacted October 21, 1998
  6. ^ Gamboa, Anthony H. (January 4, 2005), B-303495, Office of National Drug Control Policy — Video News Release, Government Accountability Office, pp. 9–10 
  7. ^ Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1998 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999, Pub.L. 105–277, 112 Stat. 268, enacted October 21, 1998
  8. ^ Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 2006, Pub.L. 109–469, 120 Stat. 3501, enacted December 29, 2006, codified at 21 U.S.C. § 1708
  9. ^ Barstow, David (2008-04-20). "Message Machine: Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand". New York Times. 
  10. ^ Sessions, David (2008-04-20). "Onward T.V. Soldiers: The New York Times exposes a multi-armed Pentagon message machine". Slate. 
  11. ^ Barstow, David (2008-05-24). "2 Inquiries Set on Pentagon Publicity Effort". New York Times. 
  12. ^ Rampton, Sheldon (October 17, 2007). "Shared Values Revisited". Center for Media and Democracy. 
  13. ^ "U.S. Reaches Out to Muslim World with Shared Values Initiative". America.gov. January 16, 2003. </
  14. ^ "NDAA 2013: Congress approves domestic deceptive propaganda". Russia Today, 22 May 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  15. ^ The NDAA Legalizes The Use Of Propaganda On The US Public. Business Insider
  16. ^ First time since 1948, propaganda is now legal in the U.S. Max Keiser
  17. ^ Barnhart, Megan (2009). "Selling the International Control of Atomic Energy: The Scientists Movement, the Advertising Council, and the Problem of the Public". In Mariner, Rosemary B.; Piehler, G. Kurt. The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives. University of Tennessee Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-57233-648-3. 
  18. ^ BBC NEWS | Americas | Pentagon boosts 'media war' unit
  19. ^ Doctrine for Joint Psychological Operations Joint Publication 3-53, 5 September 2003 PDF
  20. ^ a b Rumsfeld's Roadmap to Propaganda - Secret Pentagon "roadmap" calls for "boundaries" between "information operations" abroad and at home but provides no actual limits as long as US doesn't "target" Americans by National Security Archive, January 26, 2006
  21. ^ a b Operations as a core competency by Christopher J. Lamb, senior fellow in the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University and has been Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Resources and Plans.HTML version
  22. ^ a b c Mind Games By Daniel Schulman, Columbia Journalism Review at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism
  23. ^ Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi - Jordanian Painted As Foreign Threat To Iraq's Stability By Thomas E. Ricks, The Washington Post, April 10, 2006
  24. ^ a b US Propaganda Aimed at Foreigners Reaches US Public: Pentagon Document by Agence France Presse, January 27, 2006
  25. ^ US plans to 'fight the net' revealed By Adam Brookes, BBC, January 27, 2006
  26. ^ Truth from These Podia - Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II by Sam Gardiner, Colonel, USAF (Retired), October 8, 2003, [PDF]