Sunday, April 14, 2013

White House Propaganda Machine

When does a message or communication become propaganda? When we look at the definition of propaganda we find it is a form of communication that is aimed towards influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes. Today a program at the White House creates a message by spinning, scrubbing, molding, and shaping it, they then send it out to the public. They often go as far as to make a, "call to action", where those listening are encouraged to push forward their agenda. 

This is one of the ugly realities of modern communication, the ability to send out millions of messages directly and unfiltered,  lends itself to be used in unsavory ways or to gain advantage. This becomes a real problem when one person or a small group controls the message and uses an army of tax paid employees to shape, spin, and send it forth. Capitalizing on the possibilities of the digital age, the Obama White House is generating its own content like no president before, and refining its media strategies in the second term in hopes of telling a more compelling story than in the first. This takes the idea of the bully pulpit to a new and dangerous level.

In many ways the massively expanded White House program might be considered a "tax payer funded Propaganda Machine". Equally or more distressful is the way media is treated or discredited if the fail to fall into lockstep and promote the message. As you might expect the White house program invariably cast the president as commanding, compassionate, and in a positive light. In the world that the White House has crafted Obama’s family is always photogenic, first dog Bo is always well-behaved and the vegetables in the South Lawn kitchen garden are always fresh. You’ll have to look elsewhere for bloopers, bobbles or contrary points of view, the messages coming forth are polished, flattering, and unscrutinized. 

At the same time, the White House is limiting press access in ways that past administrations wouldn’t have dared, and the president is answering to the public in more controlled settings than his predecessors. It’s raising new questions about what’s lost when the White House tries to make an end run around the media and begins functioning, in effect, as its own news agency. President Obama himself took note of complaints about the limited access the media has to him in his jokes last month at the Gridiron dinner, an annual event where political leaders, journalists and media executives poke fun at one another. Sadly humor does not change the fact that the media is losing its ability to inform us about the news.

Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary to President Bill Clinton, sees an inclination by the Obama White House to “self-publish,” coupled with tactics “I never would have dreamed of in terms of restricting access” for independent news organizations. McCurry went on to say “What gets lost are those revealing moments when the president’s held accountable by the representatives of the public who are there in the form of the media". In short a wall is being built between the President and the people that lessens the transparency so necessary in a democracy. The first thing that is lost when the White House takes control of the statements being put forth is the truth.

Recently a firestorm erupted when well respected reporter Bob Woodward disagreed with the White House's stand, and he was in effect threatened. In the flap over the Bob Woodward-White House exchange, three things have become evident. First, the White House does try to bully the media. Second, there are a number of left-leaning pundits whose instant reaction in any controversy is to defend the White House. Third, we are reminded how dishonest the White House has been on sequester cuts. This leaves me feeling uneasy and questioning where else the truth has been swept under the carpet, to make it worse, it is being done on the tax payers dime.

Footnote; Other related articles may be found in my blog archive, thanks for reading, your comments are encouraged,

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