In 1923 Edward L. Bernays wrote the book Crystallizing Public Opinion and later, in 1928, the text Propaganda, considered seminal works in the field. “There is propaganda and what I call impropaganda,” said the 98-year-old Bernays impishly when I interviewed him a few years prior to his death. Propaganda originally meant promoting any idea or item, but took on its current pejorative sense following the extensive use of sinister propaganda for malicious goals during World War I and World War II.
While all persuasion uses the techniques of traditional propaganda, what Bernays calls “impropaganda”is “using propaganda techniques not in accordance with good sense, good faith, or good morals…methods not consistent with the American pattern of behavior based on Judeo-Christian ethics.” Bernays, who is called the “father of public relations,”is worried about the increased use of “impropaganda”in political campaigns and has spoken out against it. “Politicians who use techniques like these lose the faith of the people,” said Bernays.
In 1936 Boston merchant Edward Filene helped establish the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis which sought to educate Americans to recognize propaganda techniques. Alfred McClung Lee, Institute director from 1940-42, and his wife Elizabeth Briant Lee, co-authors of The Fine Art of Propaganda, Social Problems in America, wrote an article in the periodical Propaganda Review in which they suggested educating the public about propaganda techniques was an urgent priority. The Lees also discussed the Institute’s symbols for the seven hallmark tricks of the manipulative propagandist:
- Name Calling: hanging a bad label on an idea, symbolized by a hand turning thumbs down;
- Card Stacking: selective use of facts or outright falsehoods, symbolized by an ace of spades, a card signifying treachery;
- Band Wagon: a claim that everyone like us thinks this way, symbolized by a marching bandleader’s hat and baton;
- Testimonial: the association of a respected or hated person with an idea, symbolized by a seal and ribbon stamp of approval;
- Plain Folks: a technique whereby the idea and its proponents are linked to “people just like you and me,” symbolized by an old shoe;
- Transfer: an assertion of a connection between something valued or hated and the idea or commodity being discussed, symbolized by a smiling Greek theater mask; and
- Glittering Generality: an association of something with a “virtue word” to gain approval without examining the evidence; symbolized by a sparkling gem.
The Institute’s last newsletter reflected that “in modern society an element of propaganda is present in a large portion of human affairs…people need to be able to recognize this element even when it is serving `good’ ends.”