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There is little question that our world today is adrift in a sea of propaganda. Some of it comes from government, but a good deal of it comes from partisans of all stripes. And sometimes they bear the stamp of legitimacy.

In theory, a market economy should take care of this problem: News outlets that contort the facts to serve their agendas should wither and die, as readers and viewers find they are unreliable. Conversely, news outlets that accurately report the facts should flourish as readers and viewers find them an accurate and credible source for information.

Hasn’t always happened, has it? So perhaps something else is at work?

Perhaps it is our inattention spans.

Increasingly, I find headlines that are completely at odds with the story below (often in the financial press). Why would an editor do that? Perhaps he thinks you or I will not read the story that follows? Perhaps she thinks we will form our opinion based on the headline alone?

Have you ever helped out that editor? I know I have.

Here’s an example. Today’s column was going to be about how a Jan.11 U.S. Supreme Court opinion had paved the way for Shariah law in America. What I had read indicated that it required the courts to uphold church legal decisions based on church law. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? And the vote was an incomprehensible 9-0!

Fortunately, before I wrote the column I did something most of us don’t like to do. I read the original decision.

It looks to me like if you’re a minister within a hierarchal religious denomination, you’re stuck with their dispute-resolution process. The federal courts have been ordered to uphold the church’s dispute decision. If you’re not a minister, it doesn’t apply. The Shariah law angle sounds like a non-starter to me.

Here’s why propaganda of all kinds works so well today:

  • We’re all busy people. Our gadgets make it easy to scan the headlines and “keep informed”;

  • We like to pass on what we’ve “learned” during breaks at the water cooler;
  • Others who value our opinion are likely to pass it on as their own, probably with their own embellishment;
  • Politicians and candidates hire vast staffs to help them lie to us better;
  • Innocuous-sounding “public interest groups” are anything but;
  • Mainline media outlets long ago abandoned the separation of fact and opinion.

Given this, the “information age” we live in today and which is so widely praised is really the “propaganda age.” Those participating in the propaganda age think they are helping their side to win. I disagree.

I think propaganda in the information age is like throwing a dirty diaper up against a wall along the sidewalk. Some of the people walking by will get splattered and they’re not going to be very happy. Some of it will stick and perhaps influence a later passerby. Until the same passerby sees someone else’s dirty diaper scribblings splattered on another wall further along his route.

The next step is people decide the news stinks.

The step after that is they learn to avoid it.

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