W. Thomas Smith, Jr

Perception is everything. And when applied to the war in Iraq; perception, public opinion, and a far-reaching press are all variables that could ultimately have a hand in any setback or defeat for U.S. and coalition forces in that country.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m all for free speech. If anything, that is the single most important element of our free society. It is one of our essential individual freedoms, and it protects other freedoms.

I do, however, have concerns about false and deliberatively inflammatory propaganda aimed at manipulating audiences. I am not suggesting that any press – good or bad – be quashed. What’s good or bad is open to interpretation anyway. But I think we should recognize the difference between news (including reported facts, news analysis, and opinion) and propaganda.

PROPAGANDA 101

On February 22, a story published in the Italian-based Information from Occupied Iraq suggested that the FOX NEWS Channel (specifically, The O’Reilly Factor) was advancing a “radical new” “conspiracy theory” as to why no weapons-of-mass-destruction have been found in Iraq. The theory is that Russian special operations units may have spirited the WMDs over the border into Syria in early 2003. In fact, this is neither a “radical” nor a “new theory.” Nor is it a “conspiracy theory.” What makes the IFOI story propaganda is that it attacks the information with words like “radical” and “conspiracy.” It pretends it is new information (numerous media companies – including CNN and The Washington Times - were discussing the possibilty back in 2004), and it attacks FOX NEWS, which both the political left and disinformation websites like IFOI regularly do.

Saturday, IFOI published a story referring to U.S. and British troops as “locusts stripping Iraq bare.” IFOI’s website is often linked from other anti-Iraq-war websites, which only increases the size of its audience.

Granted, the difference between news and propaganda is not always as easy to discern as it is with IFOI stories, because one often strays into the realm of the other. But propaganda has a number of identifying features, including the deliberate attempt to manipulate a person’s perception about something, which shapes that person’s thinking, then directs that person toward a specific behavior, which “furthers the desired intent of the propagandist,” according to Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell in Propaganda and Persuasion.

Propaganda also has the ability to take root as “fact” if repeated enough times, even when it is not fact. And according to Jowett and O’Donnell, it is used to discredit or “embarrass an enemy or competitor.”


W. Thomas Smith, Jr

W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor. He is the author of six books, and he has covered war and conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and Lebanon. Visit him online at http://www.uswriter.com.
 
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