August 5 passed without my noticing that it was a year ago that day that I began writing OpEdge.
Over the year, I have posted a total of 177 entries. I thought it might be fun to review what I covered in the first 52 weeks of OpEdge. Interestingly enough, the common themes of a year’s worth of writing fall under four rubrics:
- Analysis of common propaganda techniques that the mass media, and in particular mainstream reporters, use to color the news with decidedly right-wing views.
- Identification of the core tenets of contemporary American ideology that serve as the assumptions and message points for virtually all the media we experience in all formats.
- Discussions of how specific news and news coverage reflect current and long-term social, media and entertainment trends.
- Presentation of my position on some of the pressing issues of the day.
Today we’ll look at the common propaganda techniques I analyzed over the past year. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the core tenets of contemporary American ideology and discuss important news trends. We’ll close this three-part series on Thursday with a review of my own political and cultural agenda.
Getting right to it, here is a list of the propaganda techniques that I analyzed over the past year. For most of these I found and discussed multiple examples of reporters trying to color reporting through the use of these rhetorical devices. In all cases, I named the rhetorical devices, although in some cases others may have previously used the same language to describe the same technique:
- Argument by Anecdote: saying that one story proves a trend even if the statistics show that case, while dramatic, is exceptional or rare.
- Conflation: Equating two events, objects, trends or facts that have nothing in common; for example, using fictional evidence to prove an historical trend or comparing Bush II’s spotty National Guard stint to the military record of war hero John Kerry.
- Criteria Rigging: Selecting the criteria that will prove the point you want to make, for example, the studies that use criteria that exist in the suburbs to show that the top places to live are all in suburbs.
- Expert Selection: Limiting the terms of the debate by the selection of experts; for example selecting an anti-labor professor to comment on an economic study or National Public Radio pitting David Brooks against E.J. Dionne and pretending its right versus left.
- False Conclusions: Putting a false conclusion at the end of a paragraph or article that is factually based and logically reasoned.
- False Labeling: Applying a false label to something, for example calling Obama a Socialist or saying that the cutting of hospital beds to meet reduced demand is rationing.
- Ideological Subtext: Having ideology guide the decisions you make in selection of details and points of view in your reporting or entertainment, especially when the presentation of these details treats the ideological assumption as a given or as already proved. For example, in the new Robin Hood movie, Russell Crowe’s Robin is not taking from the rich to give to the poor, but instead fighting against unfair taxation.
- Matt Drudge Gambit: Reporting that a disreputable reporter or media outlet, such as Matt Drudge or Glenn Beck, said something that you know probably is false.
- Nazi Edit: Editing what someone has said to change his/her meaning, as Andrew Breitbart did to Shirley Sherrod.
- Plain Old Lies: Knowingly publishing or saying something that isn’t true.
- Question Rigging: Selecting the questions to get a better answer. For example, instead of asking people if they believed global warming was occurring, research groups asked them if they thought the news media reported too much on global warming. When asked the second way, many more people seem not to believe that global warming is occurring.
- Speaking in Code: An old trick of racists everywhere, speaking in code means using euphemisms to refer to a group or its imagined collective failings; for example, when Reagan talked about “welfare queens” he spoke in code.
- Trivialization: Reducing discussions of important decisions into trivialities, for example focusing on the personality differences between opponents while ignoring their substantive differences.
- Wedging: Finding an area of common ground with a target group that will not agree with you on virtually any other issue.
- Wrong Focus: Focusing on a minor part of a study or survey to support your position while ignoring the major finding, which undercuts your position.
I’m starting to write a book on propaganda techniques and I just gave you my chapter titles. For each technique, I intend to write a short essay filled with examples from the mainstream news media. The hard part will be to select among the many daily examples of these cheap rhetorical tricks in main stream news reporting.