Special Report: The Lippman-Bernays Legacy
Vol: 106 Issue: 23 Friday, July 23, 2010
The word “propaganda” is a late Latin word meaning “things to be propagated” and was coined in 1622 to describe Pope Gregory XV’s “Congregatio de Propaganda Fide” meaning, “Congregation for Propagating the Faith.”
Therefore, the word ‘propaganda’ is actually a religious word that originally conveyed the sense of “that which ought to be spread” and was synonymous with proselytize, which means to “advocate or promote a belief or course of action.”
Christians use the word ‘proselytize’ to describe the “Great Commission” but it would just as grammatically correct to describe a Christian soul-winner as a ‘Christian propagandist.’
But our modern understanding of the word ‘propaganda’ would be closer to the definition of ‘brainwashing’ than it would be to the original meaning of ‘that which ought to be spread’ — thanks, not to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis — but rather to Woodrow Wilson and Walter Lippman of the New York Times.
The techniques of modern propaganda were first developed and codified scientifically by famed New York Times journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist Edward Bernays, nephew of the founder of modern psycho-babble, Sigmund Freud.
President Wilson had campaigned on a platform of American isolationism – it was clear that war was inevitable in Europe and Wilson was elected in part on his promise to keep America out of it.
In early 1917, Wilson hired Lippman and Bernays to develop a propaganda campaign designed to brainwash the public into entering the war on the side of Britain.
It is important to understand American public sentiment prior to 1917. Pastors across America blasted the war as “God’s punishment for sin.”
America’s cities were concentrations of ethnic groups – in New York, Chicago and Detroit three-fifths of the population were either immigrants or sons of immigrants. The American Midwest was primarily made up of German or Slavic immigrants who opposed going to war against their home countries.
The most vigorous opponents of America’s entry into WWI were America’s Irish Catholics who were adamant against doing anything to help the hated British Empire.
Wilson saw the European war as an opportunity. Using the fear of war as a cover, he had already rammed through the Federal Reserve Act, the imposition of income taxes, the introduction of the Internal Revenue Service and the segregation of the armed forces (to prevent white soldiers from contracting ‘black diseases’).
Wilson ordered the infant motion picture industry make propaganda films, commissioning films like “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Battle Cry For Peace” (1915) as part of its public brainwashing effort.
As a side note, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” which depicted the KKK as the noble defenders of American white race privilege, was reputed to be Wilson’s all-time favorite film and was used to justify his reinstitution of racial segregation as official US domestic policy.
In 1914, Americans felt that US entry into the European war would be a dreadful and costly mistake and they were determined to keep out of it.
In 1916 Wilson won re-election on the campaign slogan, “he kept us out of the war.” Wilson then issued Executive Order 2594 setting up the Committee on Public Information (CPI) whose sole purpose was to generate propaganda to create public support for US entry into the war.
And so by 1917, the same public was clamoring for Wilson to take the country into the war.
World War I was the world’s first experience with total war, and with it came America’s first systematic and institutionalized national propaganda machine.
The CPI was authorized to use censorship and coercion and even mass arrests to silence opposition groups.
The committee used songs, film, posters, and press censorship. Throughout the nation, speakers known as “Four Minute Men” gave brief speeches designed to galvanize audiences into action.
Germans were referred to collectively as “the Hun” and the “Prussian Python” while political posters portrayed ‘the Hun’ as a raging beast ready to devour American women and children.
The CPI circulated propaganda posters showing German soldiers bayoneting Belgian babies as they marched through that neutral country. The teaching and speaking of German in America was outlawed.
German-sounding words were changed the ‘frankfurter’ became a ‘hot dog’ while sauerkraut became ‘liberty cabbage’ and towns with names like “New Germany” were changed to something more “American-sounding”.
Wilson’s successful use of Walter Lippman’s mass brainwashing techniques attracted the attention of two new up-and-coming political leaders, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
Hitler believed that the Allied propaganda machine was the primary cause for the collapse in morale and the revolts inside Germany in 1918 the eventually resulted in the 1918 Armistice.
In 1933, one of Lippman’s most careful students, Josef Goebbels was placed in charge of the Nazi Party’s Ministry of Propaganda.
Shortly thereafter, all journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry’s subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theater, film, literature, or radio.
Hitler would meet nearly every day with Goebbels to discuss the news and Goebbels would obtain Hitler’s thoughts on the subject; Goebbels would then meet with senior Ministry officials and pass down the official Party line on world events. Broadcasters and journalists required prior approval before their work could be published.
The principles of modern propaganda codified by Lippman and Bernays proved themselves so effective that they have become so much a part of American politics that Americans living in the ‘land of the free’ and the ‘home of the brave’ have embraced them as either liberal or conservative ‘spin’ and the propaganda masters in charge of public brainwashing are celebrated as ‘spin doctors’.
It is so overt that nobody even pretends to hide it anymore and Americans have become so used to being propagandized that they demand it.
America’s news organizations are divided according to their propaganda specialties: Fox is ‘conservative’, CNN is ‘liberal’ and so on.
Everybody – from the White House down to the newsrooms on either side of the political divide uses the identical Lippman and Bernays techniques as outlined below.
Appeal to Fear: Some good examples include using global warming to justify mass wealth redistribution, or the fear of gun crime to justify disarming the public.
Appeal to Authority: Obama is an expert on this technique, which is to continue to cite popular authority figures to support his positions, ideas or arguments.
Argumentum ad nauseum: Hitler incorporated this into his principle of the “Big Lie” and the Obama administration has elevated it to an art form. Keep repeating the same lie and soon everybody will pick up on it.
A good example might be VP Biden’s incessant repetition of the lie that the administration has saved or created (put any number you want here) jobs every time a new jobless report shows a jump in new unemployment claims.
Bandwagon Appeal: This technique is similar to the one your mother used to yell at you for falling prey to. “If all your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?” Lippman and Bernays concluded, correctly, that the answer to that question is an unqualified yes.
Join the Crowd: This technique involves convincing the public that a particular program has widespread support on the proven theory that an irresistible mass movement is, well, irresistible.
Listen to any proponent of Obama’s health care takeover and they will tell you that ‘a majority of Americans’ favor the plan despite polls that show Americans are opposed to it two-to-one. The more times that gets repeated, the more the polls begin to shift in favor of Obamacare.
Inevitable Victory: Convince the public that your victory is inevitable and they will automatically come over to your side. Nobody wants to back a loser.
Direct Order: Obama likes this one a lot. The technique is design to simplify the decision-making process for the masses. This technique hopes to simplify the decision making process. The propagandist uses images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices.
Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping any other possible choices. That is how TARP, Obamacare and the various stimulus programs got passed by a Congress that admitted it hadn’t read any of the bills before voting on them.
Obtain Disapproval: This technique is used to persuade the target audience that a particular idea or action is preferred by groups that are hated, feared or held in contempt by those in the targeted audience.
Thus, if a group which supports a certain policy is led to believe that subversive, undesirable or contemptuous people also support the same policy, then they will change their views to avoid being tarred by the same brush.
Here’s how that works. The Tea Party is composed of anti-Obama racists.
Glittering Generalities: Here, Obama is a master. “Glittering generalities” are intense, emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information.
The technique demands approval without examination by appealing in broad, general terms to such concepts as love of country, home, love of family, peace, freedom, glory, honor and other emotion-charged topics.
Rationalization: This technique employs favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. For example, Obama’s rationalization of ‘spreading the wealth’ as a moral obligation.
The list goes on, including techniques like oversimplification, appealing to “the folks”, the use of testimonials, stereotyping, scapegoating, the use of ‘virtue’ words, sloganeering, unstated assumptions, market populism, etc.
These are ALL staples of the current administration – if you are paying attention, you can identify at least one of these techniques being used in every single Obama speech.
And if it is a long speech, sometimes you can run down the whole list.
What I find disturbing is that I’ve never heard an Obama speech in which I could NOT spot at least one of Lippman’s brainwashing techniques in action. I find that disturbing for a couple of reasons.
The first is because it is hard to conduct a reality check when there is nothing real against which to compare it. The second is because it causes me to doubt my own perception — how can everything be a lie?
It’s exceedingly effective. It is like having a conversation with a known liar. After awhile, everything starts to sound like the truth because there isn’t anything else to compare it to. Pretty soon you begin to ask yourself, “Is it me?”
A few weeks ago, we discussed the Olivet Discourse in which we compared the signs of the times given by Jesus to the unfolding of the 20th century, beginning with the 1917 Balfour Declaration setting aside the Holy Land for a Jewish homeland.
That set the stage for the unfolding of Jesus’ prophecies of wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences, persecution and so on. But what I want to highlight here is the FIRST sign, since it is the one that sets the stage for all the rest.
The first sign wasn’t wars or rumors of wars. It wasn’t the restoration of the Jews to the Promised Land. It wasn’t an increase in earthquake activity or a sudden persecution of Jews or Christians.
On April 13, 1917, Woodrow Wilson established the CPI and hired Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays as his official advisors. It wasn’t until November 1917 that the British government released the Balfour Declaration.
The FIRST sign Jesus gave was, “Take heed that no man deceive you.” (Matthew 24:4)