from the book
Trust Us, We're Experts!
Between World Wars I and II, the rise of the public relations
industry in the United States and the growing use of propaganda
by fascist and communist governments prompted a group of social
scientists and journalists to found a remarkable organization
called the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The IPA is best
known for identifying several basic types of rhetorical tricks
used by propagandists:
1. Name-calling - involves the use of insult words. Newt Gingrich,
the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is reported
to have used this technique very deliberately, circulating a list
of negative words and phrases that Republicans were instructed
to use when speaking about their political opponents-words such
as "betray," "corruption," "decay,"
"failure," "hypocrisy," "radical,"
"permissive," and "waste." The term "junk
science," is an obvious use of this same strategy. When name-calling
is used, the IPA recommended that people should ask themselves
the following questions: What does the name mean? Does the idea
in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning
of the name? Is an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed
through giving it a name I don't like?
2. Glittering generalities - is a reverse form of namecalling.
Instead of insults, it uses words that generate strong positive
emotions-words like "democracy," "patriotism,"
"motherhood," "science," "progress,"
"prosperity." Politicians love to speak in these terms.
Newt Gingrich advised Republicans to use words such as "caring,"
"children," "choice," "commitment,"
"common sense," "dream," "duty,"
"empowerment," "freedom," and "hard work"
when talking about themselves and their own programs. Democrats,
of course, use the same strategy. Think, for example, of President
Clinton's talk of "the future," "growing the economy,"
or his campaign slogan: "I still believe in a place called
3. Euphemisms - are another type of word game. Rather than
attempt to associate positive or negative connotations, euphemisms
merely try to obscure the meaning of what is being talked about
by replacing plain English with deliberately vague jargon. Rutgers
University professor William Lutz has written several books about
this strategy, most recently Doublespeak Defined. Examples include
the use of the term "strategic misrepresentations" as
a euphemism for "lies," or the term "employee transition"
as a substitute for "getting fired." Euphemisms have
also transformed ordinary sewage sludge into "regulated organic
nutrients" that don't stink but merely "exceed the odor
4. Transfer - is described by the IPA as "a device by
which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and
prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would
have us accept. For example, most of us respect and revere our
church and our nation. If the propagandist succeeds in getting
church or nation to approve a campaign in behalf of some program,
he thereby transfers its authority, sanction, and prestige to
that program. Thus, we may accept something which otherwise we
might reject." In 1998, the American Council on Science and
Health convened what it called a "blue-ribbon committee"
of scientists to issue a report on health risks associated with
phthalates, a class of chemical additives used in soft vinyl children's
toys. People familiar with ACSH's record on other issues were
not at all surprised when the blue-ribbon committee concluded
that phthalates were safe. The committee's real purpose, after
all, was to transfer the prestige of science onto the chemicals
that ACSH was defending.
5. Testimonial - is a specific type of transfer device in
which admired individuals give their endorsement to an idea, product,
or cause. Cereal companies put the pictures of famous athletes
on their cereal boxes, politicians seek out the support of popular
actors, and activist groups invite celebrities to speak at their
rallies. Sometimes testimonials are transparently obvious. Whenever
they are used, however, the IPA recommends asking questions such
as the following: Why should we regard this person (or organization
or publication) as a source of trustworthy information on the
subject in question? What does the idea amount to on its own merits,
without the benefit of the testimonial?
6. Plainfolks - ia a device that attempts to prove that the
speaker is "of the people." Even a geeky multibillionaire
like Bill Gates tries to convey the impression that he's just
a regular guy who enjoys fast food and popular movies. Politicians
also use the "plain folks" device to excess: George
Bush insisting he eats pork rinds; Hillary Clinton slipping into
a southern accent. Virtually every member of the U.S. Senate is
a millionaire, but you wouldn't know it from the way they present
7. Bandwagon - is a device that attempts to persuade you that
everyone else supports an idea, so you should support it too.
Sometimes opinion polls are contrived for this very purpose, such
as the so-called "Pepsi Challenge," which claimed that
most people preferred the taste of Pepsi over Coca-Cola. "The
propagandist hires a hall, rents radio stations, fills a great
stadium, marches a million or at least a lot of men in a parade,"
the IPA observed. "He employs symbols, colors, music, movement,
all the dramatic arts. He gets us to write letters, to send telegrams,
to contribute to his cause. He appeals to the desire, common to
most of us, to follow the crowd."
8. Fear - is a device that attempts to reach you at the level
of one of your most primitive and compelling emotions. Politicians
use it when they talk about crime and claim to be advocates for
law and order. Environmentalists use it when they talk about pollution-related
cancer, and their opponents use fear when they claim that effective
environmental regulations will destroy the economy and eliminate
jobs. Fear can lead people to do things they would never otherwise
consider. Few people believe that war is a good thing, for example,
but most people can be convinced to support a specific war if
they believe that they are fighting an enemy who is cruel, inhuman,
and bent on destroying all that they hold dear.
Control and Propaganda