excerpts from the book

Information War

American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control since 9-11

by Nancy Snow

Seven Stories Press, 2003


Walter Lippmann

"The public must be put in its place...so that each of us can live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd."

1960s anti-war poster

"War is good for business. Invest your son."

In a controlled society, propaganda is obvious and reluctantly tolerated for fear of the negative consequences. In an open society, such as the United States, the hidden and integrated nature of the propaganda best convinces people that they are not being manipulated.

"Un-American" is a favorite name-calling device to stain the reputation of someone who disagrees with official policies and positions. It conjures up old red-baiting techniques that stifle free speech and dissent on public issues. It creates a chilling effect on people to stop testing the waters of our democratic right to question the motives of our government.

As long as we continue to allow the media to function as a manipulative mind manager without fear or disfavor, we'll continue to see the brain-numbing effects of a society underexposed to real information and analysis, rendered incapable of critical judgment and social resistance.

The public's dilemma is to know how to consume the news with an ability to extract opinion from the simple facts and evidence... The best solution to the fact/opinion dilemma is to acquire more diverse information across the ideological and geological divide. If you find yourself relying on one source of information for the news, whether right or left, you are likely to be exposed to more opinion that reinforces rather than challenges your own.

Walter Lippmann, considered the father of modern American journalism, was also a writer of propaganda leaflets during World War I. He saw how easily people could fall for lies small and big, particularly captured prisoners of war who were easily manipulated by their captors. Lippmann became so disillusioned by the public's inability to analyze policy that he wrote The Phantom Public, in which he basically claimed that the public had no role to play in addressing important questions of state because the media system created a pseudoreality of stereotypes and emotional impressions along with facts. The public is easily manipulated, not because we're necessarily dumb, but because we're ignorant. We don't have the necessary tools to counter propaganda.

Much of our media now are so image-rich and content-poor that they just serve to capture the eye, manipulate our emotions, and short-circuit our impulses. The propaganda and advertising industries therefore function increasingly like adult obedience industries. They instruct their audiences in how to feel and what to think, and increasing numbers of people seem to accept and follow the cues without question.

Censorship ends the free flow of information so essential for democracy and makes dissent less likely. Propaganda injects false or misleading information into the media in order to influence the behavior of populations here and abroad... News organizations often willingly collude with efforts to censor because media owners are members of the political elite themselves and therefore share the goals and outcomes of government leaders.

Since World War I, the United States has borrowed and adapted many of the methods of British political intelligence that were first developed by the English aristocracy to manage its global empire. Most of our secrecy classification system in the United States is based on the British model. Britain has also long been a master of propaganda and deception. The British authors Phillip Knightly and Philip Taylor have shown in their work how the British propaganda machine of World War I inspired later efforts by the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Interestingly, Britain, with its Official Secrets Act, has never shared the American traditional ideals about the freedom of the press and the public's right to know. Nevertheless, the steady erosion of these ideals in the United States can be traced in part to the special relationship and mutual admiration between the United States and Great Britain.

... propaganda can be more easily injected into news from the inside than from the outside. Using CIA documents, the American reporter Carl Bernstein was able to identify more than 400 American journalists who secretly carried out CIA assignments over a twenty-five-year period between 1945 and 1970. Among media executives who cooperated with the CIA were the president of CBS, William Paley, Henry Luce of Time, Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, and James Copley of the Copley News Service. The most valued CIA assets were the New York Times, CBS, and Time, Inc. The New York Times alone provided cover to the CIA for at least ten operatives between 1950 and 1966. Bernstein found that those journalists who played along with the CIA by signing secrecy agreements were most likely to succeed in their careers because the CIA connection gave them access to the best stories. The journalists and their CIA handlers often shared the same educational background and the same ideal that both were serving the national-security interests of the United States. Included in the many examples of the intelligence community/media revolving door are: (1) the former CIA director Richard Helms (mid-1960s to early 1970s) was once a UPI wire service correspondent. (2) William Casey, the CIA director under Ronald Reagan was once chief counsel and a board member at CapCities, which absorbed ABC News in Reagan's second term. (3) Two prominent journalists, Edward R. Murrow and Carl Rowan, served as directors of the U.S. Information Agency under Kennedy, while the NBC Nightly News reporter John Chancellor was director of the government international propaganda radio service, Voice of America, under L. B. Johnson. (4) The first deputy director of the NSA, Joseph H. Ream, had previously worked as executive vice president of CBS, and after NSA, he returned to CBS without disclosing his association with the supersecretive agency. (5} Perhaps best known is the World War I propaganda apparatus known as the Committee on Public Information chaired by the progressive journalist George Creel with the assistance of Lord Northcliffe, owner of the Times of London and the Daily Mail, and a central figure in the massive British propaganda effort of World War I.

The point to be made is that the intelligence and media communities are and have been closely affiliated with each other. What such collusion leads to is censorship, such as when Arthur Sulzberger prevented his reporter Sydney Gruson from covering the United States-backed overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954 at the direct request of Sulzberger's good friend Allen Dulles.

Norman Solomon and Martin Lee wrote about Reagan-era propaganda strategies:

The pattern was set early in his administration: leak a scare story about foreign enemies, grab the headlines. If, much later, reporters poke holes in the cover story, so what? The truth will receive far less attention than the original lie, and by then another round of falsehoods will be dominating the headlines.

A more sinister version of domestic propaganda insertion is CIA sponsorship of global media, including Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty (Cuba), Radio Free Asia, and numerous print publications, such as Prevves (France), Der Monat (Germany), El Mundo Nuevo (Latin America), Quiet and Thought (India), Argumenten (Sweden), and La Prensa (Nicaragua).

The Tyndall Report by the media analyst Andrew Tyndall analyzed 414 stories on Iraq from the Major Three (ABC, CBS, and NBC) between September 2002 and February 2003 and found that all but 34 stories originated at three government agencies-The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.

... According to the Tyndall Report, of 574 stories about Iraq on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news aired between Bush's address to the United Nations on September 12, 2002, and March 7, 2003, just 12 stories dealt with the aftermath of the war with Iraq.

The American newsroom ... lacks diversity not only in ethnic, racial, and gender categories, but perhaps more important, a lack of diversity in upbringing and outlook... This attitude creates a bias born of class, race, and socioeconomic heritage.

James Carey, a scholar at Columbia University and author of Television and the Press

"There is a bit of a reformer in anyone who enters journalism. And reformers are always going to make conservatives uncomfortable ... because conservatives, by and large, want to preserve the status quo."

In the federal government, the largest public-relations division is inside the Pentagon, where government public-relations specialists provide M-F feeds to the national media.

It was 1917. Creel, an American journalist and editor and, more importantly, an F.O.W. (Friend of Woodrow), convinced President Wilson that what the country needed was not a Committee on Censorship to control the mind of the overwhelmingly pacifistic and apathetic American public's entry into World War I. No indeed, George Creel had the clever idea then to create a Committee on Public Information "for the production and dissemination as widely as possible of the truth about America's participation in the war." The CPI was an ad hoc committee whose membership included the leading persuasion and propaganda experts of the day, the avowed dean of American journalism, Walter Lippmann, and Edward Bernays, the grandfather of American public relations. But it was George Creel, that early George, who commanded the spotlight and knew that to win the Great War, he had to convince the American people, like George number 43 does in the first war of the twenty-first century, that this war was a fight over ideas and values more than a fight over land, people, and resources. Controlling public opinion was a major force during World War I as it was to become in World War II and now in the War on Terror. The issues of the day would be fought in the media and mental mindfields of men and women as well as on the minefields of battle. Creel wrote of his mission:

In no degree was the Committee an agency of censorship, a machinery of concealment or repression. Its emphasis throughout was on the open and the positive. At no point did it seek or exercise authorities under those war laws that limited the freedom of speech and press. In all things, from first to last, without halt or change, it was a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world's greatest adventures in advertising...We did not call it propaganda, for that word, in German hands, had come to be associated with deceit and corruption. Our effort was educational and informative throughout, for we had such confidence in our case as to feel that no other argument was needed than the simple, straightforward presentation of the facts.

What does George Creel teach us now about the War on Terrorism? In order to win the information war then, the administration, through Creel's Committee, had to convince the population that the Great War was not the war of the Wilson administration, but rather a war of one hundred million people: "What we had to have was no mere surface unity, but a passionate belief in the justice of America's cause that moulds the people of the United States into one white-hot mass instinct of fraternity, devotion, courage, and deathless determination. The war-will, the will-to-win, of a democracy depends upon the degree to which each one of all the people of that democracy can concentrate and consecrate body and soul and spirit in the supreme effort of service and sacrifice. What had to be driven home was that all business was the nation's business, and every task a common task for a single purpose."

To George Creel, the peace and labor movements of the early twentieth century created unacceptable conditions for generating a mass warmaking mindset. To turn a pacifist and neutral populace into one white-hot mass instinct, Creel made the Committee a totally integrative enterprise, with "no part of the Great War machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ." This included print, radio, motion pictures, telegraph, and cable messages and worldwide circulation of President Wilson's official addresses from Teheran to Tokyo, posters, and signboards, along with a volunteer service corps of 75,000 speakers known as the Four-Minute Men, who worked in 5,200 communities and made a total of 755,190 speeches, with "every one having the carry of shrapnel."

The Committee on Public Information was in the business of mobilizing world public opinion in support of American participation in the war. By the time of World War II, the United States government and military institutions were fully engaged in an all-out information war that built upon the efforts put forth by the ambitious George Creel.

The Bush administration's war on terror is in the same business of mobilizing mass public opinion both here and abroad.

In the early months of the October 2001 ground offensive in Afghanistan, the propaganda war began to heat up and the truth about war was, in fact, becoming its first casualty. The public diplomacy section of the U.S. State Department, under the leadership of Charlotte Beers, was beginning its global task of reshaping the image of America through international diplomatic efforts. Beers, a former Madison Avenue advertising executive, was assigned the most ambitious branding assignment of her life-repackaging America's image so to "sell" the war against terrorism to the Islamic world.

The information war on opinion and free speech intensified with the creation of several post-9/11 nonprofit organizations. These included Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (AVOT), whose intention is to "take their task to those groups and individuals who fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the war we are facing." Among those targeted by AVOT were Congressman Dennis Kucinich, chair of the Progressive Caucus and his cochair, Congresswoman Barbara Lee; Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine; and Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect. AVOT's work followed from the work of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), which issued a November 2001 report, "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America," that condemned dissident anti-war language propagated by liberal professors on American college campuses. The co-founder of Empower America, one of the wealthiest of the right-wing Washington, D.C., think tanks and former Secretary of Education under President George Bush, Sr. (George 41) William Bennett, has said, "We do not wish to silence people, " and added that AVOT plans to hold teach-ins and public education events, particularly on college campuses. Both organizations are united in their belief that the United States must retain its superpower empire for global goodness and redemption, keep military ethics and power the primary focus of the United States response to 9/11, and shout down the "morally coward liberals" on American university campuses and in Europe.

Propaganda is defined as any organized or concerted group effort or movement to spread a particular doctrine or a system of doctrines or principles.

Three important characteristics of propaganda are that ( l ) it is intentional and purposeful, designed to incite a particular reaction or action in the target audience; (2) it is advantageous to the propagandist or sender which is why advertising, public relations, and political campaigns are considered forms of propaganda; and (3) it is usually one-way and informational (as in a mass media campaign), as opposed to two-way and interactive communication.

President George W. Bush became an effective commander-in-chief of propaganda because of his ability to frame the war on terrorism in vivid and simplistic either/or terms. "The propagandist strives for simplicity and vividness, coupled with speed and broad impact. He stimulates popular emotional drives...in so doing, he must for the most part bypass factual discussion and debate of any sort." [Alfred McClung Lee, How to Understand Propaganda, 1952]

The message to the American public is to simply define the problem as an attack on freedom, to present a simplified, readily understood case that "terrorist parasites" want to destroy freedom and democracy. To support the case, an effective propagandist wants to make sure that the case includes plenty of omnibus phrases and symbols-American flags, U.S. Armed Forces, and experts who can lead us, like the avuncular Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as well as a suddenly popular wartime President. Omnibus words such as "freedom" and "liberty" are the shorthand symbols of the propagandists-they carry vague general meanings that arouse
emotions (fear or hate of our enemy, pride in one's own leadership, in our armed forces). These symbols provide a shorthand dictionary for the conflict. So when you are asked why we fight, you can answer quickly and with a moral imperative: "We fight to defend freedom."

... the 9/11 attacks were packaged as our generation's Pearl Harbor and the United States invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as Operations Defending Democracy, Liberty, and Freedom-all of which evokes positive emotional reactions in majorities of people. This leaves little wiggle room for someone to be against the war, because what does being against the war then mean? You don't support freedom, liberty, or democracy? President Bush quickly succeeded in defining the parameters of our national dialogue in the war on terrorism when he said, "Either you are against us or you are with us." He wasn't talking just to the terrorist "parasites" but also to the American people ...

"I think this conflict is going to require a suspension of freedom and rights unlike anything we have seen, at least since World War II, " said Marlin Fitzwater, the press secretary to Bush, Sr., in the New York Times of October 7, 2001.

Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public
[The public is] "a mere phantom. It is an abstraction. The public must be put in its place so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd.''

Bill Bennett is the Director of Empower America, one of the wealthiest of the right-wing Washington, D.C. think tanks, whose motto is "ensuring that government actions foster growth, economic well-being, freedom and individual responsibility." Empower America is not your typical inside-the Beltway think tank that issues annual reports or occasional policy statements known as white papers that go unread on some Congress member's staff assistant's desk. Empower America is a full-frontal assault organization involved in changing national policy through active engagement of public opinion... Empower America's board of directors includes former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen, Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, and Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick. But Bill Bennett serves as Empower America's omnipresent spokesman. Empower America favors a foreign policy that rejects "shortsighted isolationism and imprudent multilateralism," which could be redefined as advocating international intervention whenever the United States unilateral interests are at stake. Bennett, who served as Ronald Reagan's education secretary and George Bush Sr.'s "drug czar ... joined forces with former CIA director James Woolsey in the spring of 2002 to found Americans for Victory over Terrorism f (AVOT) as a sort of public relations arm of the Bush war on terrorism. A full-page ($128,000 1 AVOT advertisement in the March 10, 2002 Sunday edition of the New York Times attacked the radical Islam of the twenty-first century as an enemy "no less dangerous and no less determined than the twin menaces of fascism and communism we faced in the 20th century." But AVOT went further by blasting domestic enemies "who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of 'blame America first."' In that second flank attack, AVOT aligned with Lynne Cheney (wife of Vice President Dick Cheney), who helped to organize the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), whose fall 2001 report, "Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America, " citing blame-America-itis and anti-war bias among hundreds of American professors. The report included 117 critical quotes from university students and professors in the early days after 9/11 to show proof that American universities were the "weak link" in the war on terror.


University professors remain easy targets for allegedly causing their students to hate the United States by raising questions about the motives and policies of the government. To Bennett [Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism] declarations of war seem to imply cessation of critical thinking, especially on college campuses:

In short, many in the "peace party" who cloak their ~ arguments in moral objections to war are really expressing their hostility to America, and it does the cause of clarity no good to pretend otherwise. That hostility-in more than a few cases, hatred is a more accurate word-is many-sided and has a long history ... But where armed conflict is concerned, the arguments of today's "peace party" are basically rooted in the period of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. It was then that the critique of the United States as an imperialist or 'colonialist' power, wreaking its evil will on the hapless peoples of the third world, became a kind of slogan on the Left. This same critique would, in due course, find a home in certain precincts of the Democratic party, and in more diluted form, would inform the policy preferences of the Carter and Clinton administrations, and it is with us still. It is especially prevalent in our institutions of higher learning.

If you follow Bennett's logic, then America as a country worth fighting for must include a fight that is absolutist in language, thought, and action. If you don't absolutely defend your country, right or wrong, the logical fallacy goes, then you give aid and comfort to the enemy.

"In retrospect and in balance, the remarkable control of American consciousness during and after the war [Gulf War I] must be regarded as a signal achievement of mind management, perhaps even more impressive than the rapid military victory." Herbert I. Schiller wrote these words in May 1991 for the French newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique, to explain the first Bush administration's great success in controlling information about the war and American press acquiescence in withholding information that the public needed in order to make a sound decision about critical issues of war and peace. It wasn't until after the Persian Gulf War that the www.udesen.com press claimed any complicity in its reportage, as when Tom Wicker of the New York Times reported "the real and dangerous point is that the Bush administration and the military were so successful in controlling information about the war [Gulf War I] they were able to tell the public just about what they wanted the public to know. Perhaps worse, press and public, largely acquiesced in the disclosure of only selected information." That public acquiescence followed from the American people's habits of media consumption. As Michael Deaver, spin doctor to President Reagan, gloated in the New York Times, "Television is where 80% of the people get their "information, " and what was done to control that information in the six weeks of war "couldn't [have] been better."

A March-April 1991 Columbia Journalism Review (March-April 1991) survey of Gulf War coverage noted how much information about domestic dissent against the war was kept off those television screens. As pointed out by the consumer advocate and subsequent Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader in the article, the January 26, 1991, peace march in Washington, D.C. was "probably the biggest citizen demonstration ever...in winter," but CBS gave it a four-second mention. Similarly, a senior House Democrat, Henry Gonzales of Texas, who chaired the House Banking Committee, sponsored a resolution to impeach President Bush on the war in Iraq, but this action went unreported in the broadcast media. Bob Sipschen, Newsweek correspondent in the Gulf, wrote in the Los Angeles Times March 1991 that "Desert Storm was really two wars: The Allies against the Iraqis and the military against the press. I had more guns pointed at me by Americans and Saudis who were into controlling the press than in all my years of actual combat."

The United States media were as utterly unconcerned with Iraqi casualties in 1991 as they would later be unconcerned with Afghan citizen casualties in fall 2001 and again with Iraqi casualties in 2003. When asked in March 1991 about the number of Iraqi dead from United States air and land operations, then General Colin Powell stated, "It's really not a number I'm terribly interested in."

In the case of Iraq, slogans and facile statements of freedom over tyranny from the President seem to satisfy the appetite of the press, while opposing thought from the grassroots requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt. Is the lesson of September 11 as simple as this President would have us believe? Why do we as a nation continue to acquiesce in support of an administration that gets away with simplifying very complex situations of life and death? In part, the situation is due to instant bestsellers like Woodward's Bush at War that promote individual personality over the social context. He could have written America at War, a sort of people's history of life after 9/11, but that would have required more than a two-hour one-on-one with the President at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. More important, Jacques Ellul writes in Propaganda, there can be no unanimity of thought without the steady propaganda of a political chief, "in whom everyone finds himself, in whom everyone hopes and projects himself, and for whom everything is possible and permissible."

The President's pet slogan, "war on terrorism" remains a convenient state tactic to control public opinion, expand the ' climate of fear, and shut down opposition to war in Iraq and elsewhere.

Lt. General William Odom (Ret.) U.S. Army said on C-SPAN's Washington Journal

"Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism...

The purpose of such propaganda phrases as "war on terrorism" and attacking "those who hate freedom" is to paralyze individual thought as well as to condition people to act as one mass, as when President Bush attempted to end debate on Iraq by claiming that the American people were of one voice. The modern war president removes the individual nature of those who live in it by forcing us into a uniform state where the complexities of those we fight are erased. The enemy-terrorism, Iraq, Bin Laden, Hussein-becomes one threatening category, something to be defeated and destroyed, so that the public response will be one of reaction to fear and threat rather than creatively and independently thinking for oneself. Our best hope for overcoming perpetual thinking about war and perpetual fear about both real and imagined threats is to question our leaders and their use of empty slogans that offer little rationale, explanation or historical context.

The triumph of absolutist rhetoric like terror and freedom or good and evil impedes our ability to distinguish real threats, which must be combatted and controlled, from self-serving threats that reinforce state power and control over public freedom. Nevertheless, we cannot blame President Bush or the press for our own lack of initiative in organizing ongoing resistance to such power and control. Democracy demands constant vigilance.

Secretary of State [Colin] Powell promised, "I'm going to be bringing people into the public diplomacy function of the department who are going to change from just selling us in the old USIA way to really branding foreign policy, branding the department, marketing the department, marketing American values to the world and not just putting out pamphlets."

The question remains of whether it is necessary to rebrand the United States. To many throughout the world, America, already a brand, a multitrillion-dollar brand of mass consumerism, cultural and military dominance, led by such worldwide symbols as Marlboro, McDonald's, Boeing, CocaCola, and General Electric. The selling of America, even in a new format or packaging, may add to the global perception that continues to plague the United States. America, Inc. is presented in glittering generalities of good freedom and democracy fighting evil tyranny and fanaticism the world over, but our global audience knows that the reality of America is quite different from the rhetoric. Despite all the branding, to many the United States is seen as a violent international aggressor with a military doctrine of open preemptive strike, the world's leader in arms trafficking and economic globalization, an aggressive opponent of the International Criminal Court and anti-global warming treaties, and a staunch supporter of Israel throughout its brutal military occupation and collective punishment of Palestinians. For these reasons, and as long as United States international interventions favors military solutions over humanitarian assistance, many parts of the world will continue to be receptive to the kind of anti-United States sentiment and rhetoric of groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

... the United States cares most about market share and least about sharing.

Before the start of World War II, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was established in the United States by Edward Filene of Filene's Basement, who, along with other prominent businesspeople and academics of the day, was frustrated with media manipulations. IPA was founded in October 1937 "to conduct objective, nonpartisan studies in the field of propaganda and public opinion...it seeks to help the intelligent citizen to detect and to analyze propaganda, by revealing the agencies, techniques, and devices used by the propagandist." IPA disseminated its research through monthly bulletins, special reports, adult-education programs, and curricula for high schools and colleges. IPA disbanded after the United States entered World War II but left behind many publications that continue to inform what we know now about how propaganda influences our thoughts and actions. The organization is most famous for identifying the seven key propaganda devices most commonly practiced: (1) Name Calling: associating an idea with a bad label; (2) Card Stacking: literally "to stack the cards" for or against an idea by selective use of facts or logic; (3) Bandwagon: to give the impression that the idea is supported by everyone; (4) Testimonial: associating a person of some respected authority (doctor) or visibility (celebrity) with the idea; (5) Plain Folks: associating an idea's merit with its being "of the people"; (6) Transfer: carrying the prestige or disapproval of something over to something else such as displaying the American flag as an emotional transfer device to represent one's patriotism; (7) Glittering Generality: associating something with a virtue word; opposite of name-calling (freedom, democracy); often used to make us accept a concept without thoroughly examining its application.

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