Propaganda and Journalism
- Mira SotirovicMira SotirovicCollege of Media, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Journalism defined itself as a profession in opposition to sensationalism and propaganda at the beginning of the 20th century. The American Society of News Editors statement of principles was written to codify “sound practice and just aspirations” of journalism after the public learned how the press was complicit in misinforming and deceiving the American people during World War I. As part of a massive propaganda campaign to win support for the war, the government fed false information and misleading stories to the press to make the public see the war as they desired it to be seen. Most definitions of propaganda converge toward the idea of organized influence on group attitudes through manipulation of symbols for a desired purpose of propagandist. The ASNE 1923 statement of principles clearly differentiated journalism from propaganda by its processes (to inform and scrutinize) and its purpose (to hold power accountable). However, many times since then the news media have been often accused of unintentionally becoming one of the most effective vehicles of political propaganda. Journalism’s proximity to the political world, and at the same time its obligation to bring independent and impartial scrutiny to that world, creates a set of contradictions and opens cracks where propaganda can get a foothold. In the political world, truth is to a large degree subjective and irreducible to facts. Journalistic practices that equate truth to a collection of facts, without questioning of why these particular facts are chosen and how they are presented, introduce various biases that amount to propaganda. Subtle suggestions based on facts, and faulty interpretations that do not follow from facts make propaganda truly dangerous because it is hidden behind ideologies of a free and objective press. With the growing mastery of media technology, propaganda is becoming an even more formidable force, perhaps easier to detect but more difficult to combat.