School of the Counterpropagandist — What Is Propaganda?

Meatball 1 finds good stuff, like Finding Weakness in Jihadist Propaganda by
MAJOR Timothy R. King, all of which you should read. It’s a 58-page .pdf, so before anybody’s eyes glaze over, let’s focus on MAJ King’s first chapter:


A notional understanding

Lies, distortions, fabrications, exaggerations, disinformation, spin, and censorship are words that typically describe propaganda. If propaganda is synonymous with these terms then it is unethical and wrong. These terms are however, examples of a mere notional understanding of propaganda. According to our own Joint Doctrine, propaganda is “propaganda. Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly4. The civilian equivalent is similar; according to, the definition of propaganda is “The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause5. By these accounts, propaganda is neutral. Do we misunderstand propaganda because of propaganda? Why does it have such a bad reputation? Is there anything unethical about the propagation of a cause by using information that reflects the views of the advocate? By JP 3-53 and’s definitions, it is fair to say that we all are exposed to countless propaganda messages every day. Television programming and advertisements, radio commercials, political campaigning, print ads, “pop-ups” on our computers and junk mail are just a few forms of propaganda we encounter daily – and, it is completely acceptable. Does persuasive information become propaganda simply because it comes from the government? What about when the nation is at war – do the ends justify the means? What if the message is morally right and factually true – is it still propaganda? The issue with propaganda is that propagandists have shown little regard for truth in the construction of their persuasive messages and those we label as propagandists have an opposing ideology to ours. In war, one’s patriotic message is another’s wartime propaganda; it is perception and perception is reality.

Skipping on down to Ethics:

According to Stanley Cunningham, in his book The Idea of Propaganda: A Reconstruction, propaganda is pseudo-information with an important philosophical shortfall. His book is reliant on epistemology and ethics; he concludes that propaganda as unethical. He argues that propaganda is inherently unethical because is exploits information, poses as knowledge, generates belief systems, skews perceptions and systematically disregards epistemic values12. He also sites (but disagrees with) a propaganda neutrality thesis13. The neutrality thesis puts the ethical onus on the propagandist – not propaganda itself. Sort of like the adage of: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. If the neutrality thesis is right then the ethical onus falls on the ideology, not the process of communicating it. Cunningham argues epistemologically that propaganda cannot be knowledge because of its selective use of truth and its ability to alter beliefs14. Academically, his argument is compelling but the practical application of the argument makes the philosophical definition irrelevant. Philosophical debates seeking consensus in understanding the concept of knowledge cannot even agree on the definition of “truth”15. In the larger sense, it seems folly to be epistemologically concerned with the use of information that seeks to change minds as compared with other mind-changing kinetic methods such as direct combat.

Propaganda Techniques written by Henry Conserva is another interesting work on propaganda. Conserva’s background is in education and debate. As a debating coach, he armed his team with a practical knowledge of propaganda. By educating his debate team on the techniques of propaganda, the team could develop better arguments against it16. Conserva defines propaganda as a “… communication of a point of view, moral, amoral or immoral with the ultimate goal of the recipient of the view voluntarily accepting the propagandist’s view.”17 Conserva’s views then are in keeping with JP 3-53 and He regards propaganda with certain neutrality but acknowledges that the intentional biases preclude it from being true information. He summarizes by explaining that propaganda causes the reader to suggest, imply and assume; propaganda discourages reflection, reason and understanding.18 Propaganda is biased information that intendeds to persuade the recipient to accept the propagandist’s views. Conserva proclaims that the natural enemy of propaganda is education. If propaganda is so flawed and educated people recognize it as so, then why is it effective?

According to Cunningham, propaganda is effective not only because it simplifies the information (making is indiscernible to the intellectually lazy) but also because we are absolutely inundated with the messages. There are so many propaganda messages, many appearing as information, the victim of propaganda has little time apply to finding the real truth19. Additionally, much propaganda appeals to the prejudices and pre-established attitudes of the recipient. In other words, propaganda tells the recipient what he wants to hear. Preconceived notions and culturally installed biases reinforce propaganda. Propaganda reinforces what we already believe and forms a “safety net” for our norms. It allows us to legitimize our beliefs and it verifies our values are correct. Propaganda allows the individual to think collectively, with safety in numbers20. Cunningham suggests that the victims of propaganda have complicity in propaganda. The propagandee is not an innocent victim; he develops an appetite for the emotionally charged messages and, with acceptance, becomes a willing participant in their own oppression.21 Wartime propaganda feeds on emotions like hate, fear and patriotism – messages that support the individual’s emotions can bolster the passion of the people. Propaganda of all sorts has become so prolific that it becomes difficult to discern where it is and where it is coming from.

Categories and techniques

Perhaps the most useful section of Stanley Cunningham’s book is his categorization of propaganda. Chapter four of Cunningham’s book explains the nine basic categories of propaganda: Agitation, Integration, White, Black, Disinformation, Bureaucratic, Counterpropaganda, Hate, and Deed22.

Agitation Propaganda A form of propaganda that calls attention to a social or political problem. Agitation propaganda uses a variety of emotional messages to generate outrage, fear or anger.

Integration Propaganda A form of propaganda that calls for unity to a cause or group. Integration propaganda calls for people to join a movement.

White Propaganda propaganda that uses facts and truthful messages in a persuasive manner. Although is relies on truth, it is presented in a biased manner.

Black Propaganda the reverse of White Propaganda. Black propaganda relies on lies, or erroneous information.

Disinformation information that is intentionally designed to be misleading. Disinformation is designed to propagate rumors and assumptions.

Bureaucratic Propaganda the use of reports and statistics to convey a point of view. Bureaucratic propaganda masks itself as legitimate scientific findings.

Counterpropaganda – counteractive propaganda designed to nullify or reverse an opponent’s propaganda message. Counterpropaganda inadvertently provides feedback to the original propagandist.

Hate Propaganda a form of agitation propaganda that assigns blame for the problem on a person, race, or nationality. Perhaps the most prolific form of propaganda in the twentieth century. A major goal of hate propaganda is to demoralize the enemy.

Propaganda of the Deed symbolic acts that rely on media attention to convey the message. Deeds follow the adage “actions speak louder than words”. Through the use of video and photography, Deeds transcend language barriers.

Go read the whole thing.  We can do distance learning, too.  Remember Hate Propaganda and use it on BDS-afflicted moonbats.



Filed under PSYOP, PSYOP Auxiliaries

24 responses to “School of the Counterpropagandist — What Is Propaganda?

  1. There are only two kinds of propaganda, Canno. Competent and incompetent. Just as there are only two types of propagandists, competent or incompetent.

    In each kind, there are two sub-groups called ethical propagandists and unethical propagandists. Ethical propagandists tell the truth and deceive through telling only some of the truth. Unethical propagandists don’t tell the truth at all for telling the truth would make them incompetent propagandists given the fact that the “truth” would invalidate their message.

    If Islam told everyone what their ideology was really selling, few would buy it. Some still would, but not enough. Not enough to raise millions or billions of dollars in ransom and bribes.

    So we can also have ethical propagandists that are incompetent, just as we hvae unethical propagandists that are comeptent. People, like the military PAO or Bush, can tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but that doesn’t mean they are getting their message effectively.

  2. suek

    Every once in a while, there’s a ray of hope. Statements like this should get headlines – and _would_ if we had effective propagandists.
    The man may also need protection…

  3. A Zionist Muslim clergyman? My head spins from the cognitive dissonance. Hard to take the guy seriously.

    Should American effective propagandists be pushing this story?

    Maybe American Christian propagandists should be.

  4. Maj King declares

    In the simplest of terms, propaganda is deliberately biased information. It has a reputation for being constructed from lies, exaggerations, and falsehoods but it can be truthful. Because it intentionally omits known information, it is epistemologically unethical. Biased information, when recognized as such, is fairly harmless and generally neutral. The larger ethical problem is what idea or ideology the propagandist desires to convey. Wartime propaganda seeks to influence the recipients to support an idea or ideology. Totalitarian ideologies tend to be closed-minded and lack dialectic exchange. The lack of dialog supports the totalitarian leadership making them all-powerful in the minds of their people. Like propaganda itself, totalitarian governments are categorically unethical. Despite its ethical shortcomings, propaganda is prevalent in the modern global media and in Fourth Generation Warfare. Advertising, political messages, television programming and music are just a few forms of communication that covey messages with the intention of changing minds and attitudes.

    I don’t believe I am unethical when I tell you the truth about what I want you to know but don’t say much about everything else. I am not an academic or a news organization. I am not ethically bound to tell you the rest of the story. I am ethically bound to tell you no lies. I omit information that does not support my objective safe in the knowledge that the information I omitted is readily available from the other side.

  5. He argues that propaganda is inherently unethical because is exploits information, poses as knowledge, generates belief systems, skews perceptions and systematically disregards epistemic values

    So then it’s unethical to have an opinion on…anything and to voice that opinion in such a way as to try to persuade others to agree with you? That’s bunk, IMO. The only way it is unethical is if you deliberately tell a lie in order to persuade. Baghdad Bob lied in order to convince the Iraqis that they had defeated the Infidel – THAT is unethical. It is NOT unethical for me to tell you that there is a lot more good going on in Iraq than is being reported by the Enemedia in order to persuade you that our troops are not the bad guys that certain Congressholes would have you believe that they are. If my thoughts, expressed to you, constitute propaganda, so be it. Unethical they are not!

  6. I think MAJ King is expressing the general queasiness most officers have with Psychological Operations, Military Deception, Strategic Communications, and Perception Management. A lot of people resist the idea of having their attitudes manipulated, or they say they do while they complain about commercials on TV.

  7. suek

    Then more officers need to be in mock wars with some real consequences. _Then_ ask them if deception is permissible…!
    They need some courses in ethics and morality. It’s unethical to omit certain facts, but it’s ok to shoot/bomb people???? how nuts is that!!! If they find psyops unethical, they need to find another line of work.

  8. I agree Sue. There IS something to that saying “All is fair in love and war” I suppose.

  9. Integrity means a lot to some people. If by violating their integrity they successfully deceive the enemy and win the battle, will the folks at home and the “Loyal Opposition”who were deceived as well reward them for sucess or excoriate them for lying?

  10. That’s a tough question, Cannoneer. On one hand, we as Americans pride ourselves on going above and beyond to be fair…actually, IMO we become unfair because we tend to value the rights and feelings of the perp over a victim. (I know, we mostly say that we don’t, but our actions say otherwise. Is this a basic value of America that’s been handed down for generations? Or is it more PC baloney that we’ve just become accustomed to — I don’t know. But it would certainly go against the grain for us to purposefully lie in order to win…we would become what we mock. (Think Baghdad Bob.)

    OTOH, it is extremely frustrating to fight with one arm tied behind our backs.

    For me, I suppose, (not trying to get religious on you, but this is the truth) that my beliefs about what we should and shouldn’t do are based in my eschatology. I believe that God IS in control (even when I don’t see it), that He is Omniscient and Omnipotent and that He cares about what happens to use. I also believe that we often blow one of His characteristics way out of whack to suit our own personal agendas. (Think how the libs will stress a Merciful God, but will turn a blind eye to His persistent Justice, for example.) So I DO believe that we should behave in an ethical manner and let God handle the results.

    Unfortunately, many who share my eschatology believe that the fact that God is in control means they don’t have to act — they take it as a license to disengage. I believe that is an incorrect response. Therefore, I am here, looking for ways to help. I believe in being a Roaring Lamb.

    “Clear your throat. It’s time to roar.

  11. suek

    >>I know, we mostly say that we don’t, but our actions say otherwise. Is this a basic value of America that’s been handed down for generations? Or is it more PC baloney that we’ve just become accustomed to — I don’t know.>>

    I think it’s a combination of legal maneuvering and atheism. Have you ever heard of “pilpul”? If I understand it correctly, it’s a Jewish form of argument that is supposed to be primarily religious in nature, but which _may_ become a form of entertainment, I suspect. I’m not really knowledgeable about Judaism, so my information is limited. Nevertheless, if my understanding is correct, it’s no wonder so many Jews become lawyers – or that so many of our lawyers are Jews! They’re trained for it from childhood! The idea is to take the words, the phrasing and even the punctuation apart to test the meaning of each. We see this in our courts, and it’s a form of intellectual contest – where the lawyers never lose, just those they represent. Lawyers now write the laws, and they make them so complex that only lawyers can understand them – and manipulate them. One of the beauties of the Ten Commandments is that they are so simple – pretty hard to twist them.
    Atheism comes in because there is a need in all of us to see perfect justice. If you believe in a God and an afterlife, you can believe that God will render perfect justice after death. If you _don’t_, then you may try to render perfect justice in _this_ life. Twisting laws and demanding extreme consideration for the possible perpetrator of the crime is the way Liberals try to achieve perfect justice. The guilty person has to be both legally and _morally_ guilty – as if a person’s state of mind can be judged by another human! The result is paralysis of the legal system. There is no free will, we’re all just victims of nature and nurture – so no one is really guilty, and it’s unjust to punish someone for what is not _really_ their fault.
    Add to that that if you don’t believe in an afterlife then this one is all you get, and if you take it away from someone, you’re taking the most valuable thing that person has, so it’s unjust to have a death penalty – especially if it’s not _really_ their fault. Never mind that the person who gets the death penalty has probably taken someone else’s life – his/her most valuable possession – it’s not the guilty person’s _fault_. Nature and nurture. If we just make it so no one is really poor, people won’t do bad things. As if there are no criminals who grew up in middle class families!

  12. I see the argument and understand their logic, but IMO it is full or error.

    When I was in college, in Philosophy 101, we studied Pascal’s Wager…

    Wager for God
    Wager against God

      God exists
    Gain all

    God does not exist
    Status quo
    Status quo

    According to this philosophy, it makes the most logical sense to believe in God. The idea can be translated for lots of things… for example:


    Wager for using false propaganda

    Wager against using false propaganda

      Use of false propaganda is unethical

    Use of false propaganda is not unethical
    Status quo
    Status quo

    Using this analysis tool, I would choose NOT to use false propaganda. Hopefully the html will work on this — if not, Cannoneer, please remove the table attempts and just leave the link??

  13. Ugh — didn’t work. Sorry for the mess!

  14. Because it intentionally omits known information, it is epistemologically unethical.

    Well, that depends really, on whether it is epistemologically unethical to lie to a murderer about where your child is, isn’t it.

    You don’t use intentionally omitted information as part of propaganda, against friends. If you do, then it would be unethical. But against enemies? A deception involving nothing but the truth is better than most pirates and criminals ever could achieve.

    I omit information that does not support my objective safe in the knowledge that the information I omitted is readily available from the other side.-Canno

    The author may or may not have mentioned this, but you can’t treat your enemies the way you would your allies and friends. Two different goals here. It is wrong to harm an ally, it is right to harm an enemy. It is wrong to harm an enemy that is no longer an enemy. Things like that are the fundamentals of warfare dynamics in terms of human social groups.

    If slanting things in your favor is unethical, then obviously the motto should be “if you are cheating, you ain’t trying” instead of “if you aren’t cheating, you ain’t trying”.

    Also advertisers should tell people just how good their competitor products really are, along with the weaknesses in the advertiser’s product. That would be “ethical”, but it would also be meaningless in terms of how our nation fights a propaganda war with an enemy. Just as it would be meaningless and ineffective as advertisement.

  15. suek

    So…maybe instead of calling it “propaganda”, we should call is “advertising”…

  16. ymar, whatever product you put out is received by both friends AND enemies simultaneously.

    In my brain, MILDEC is a totally separate Information Operation from PSYOP, even if Black Propaganda is part of the deception plan.

  17. ymar, whatever product you put out is received by both friends AND enemies simultaneously.

    That isn’t what affects the ethics though, which is the subject the author brought up.

  18. So…maybe instead of calling it “propaganda”, we should call is “advertising”…

    I don’t think it really matters what you call it. If you are competent, then you win over the incompetent enemy. If you are not as competent as the enemy, then the enemy propaganda will have more effect, which includes people believing that you are doing propaganda, which is bad, while the enemy, CAIR, is simply being compassionate.

    Just like on the battlfield, victory and posession of the field is 9/10ths the problem.

  19. suek

    >>I don’t think it really matters what you call it. >>

    Disagree. Propaganda(the word) has taken on a negative connotation. Like the use of the word “niggardly” taking on a racist tone. Change the vocabulary, change the perception of the reality. Of course it’s stupid – but that’s the way the enemy (internal) operates, so it seems reasonable to imitate them in this particular venture.

  20. What I mean is that once you grab hold of a person’s mind and perception, it doesn’t matter what word you use, for you control the thoughts that people will think in response to that word.

    Thus propaganda is seen as bad because the Left has more control of a population’s mind and perceptions than we do.

    Propaganda is the most effective when people think they are immune to it. If folks believe propaganda is bad and are busy being against government propaganda, then they will easily ignore the fact that propaganda has already worked on them. They just won’t and can’t admit that.

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