OPINION COLUMNS

Propaganda? Depends on your point of view

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, November 8, 2014
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Propaganda.

We of a certain generation grew up with that word. The most common meaning is “manipulating information to influence opinion.”

In history class, it was usually preceded by the word “Nazi” as we learned about Joseph Goebbels and the way he used the media to turn an entire nation toward war and genocide.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

On the evening news, it was often preceded by the word “Communist.” As the Cold War raged, leaders of the U.S.S.R. kept people under control by controlling what they knew, twisting everything to fit their world view.

Indeed, it was the spread of news that spelled doom for the Soviet Union. Once they couldn’t control information, they couldn’t control the empire. The fall of the U.S.S.R. was as much a failure of propaganda as a political failure.

The word originally had a religious context.

It comes from “Congregatio de Propaganda Fide” (Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) – established by Pope Gregory XV in 1622 to promote the Catholic faith worldwide.

That organization still exists. It was renamed “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” by Pope John Paul II in 1982, largely because Goebbels had given the word “propaganda” a bad name.

But propaganda is not inherently bad or untrue. In its purest sense, it’s PR – public relations – emphasizing information that supports a specific position while de-emphasizing what does not.

As my colleague who recently left reporting to go into PR explained – now she’s looking for the “good story” rather than the “big story.” She’ll still be telling the truth, but from a specific point of view.

But advertising continues to give propaganda a bad name.

When we walk past a cafe window and read, “Best burger in town!” or see a fireworks stand that shouts “Lowest prices anywhere!” we’re reading propaganda. Americans see so much of that kind of hyperbole that we think nothing of it. We filter it out.

In the movie “Elf,” Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, has no filter. He steps into a New York City diner to congratulate them on having the “world’s best coffee,” proclaimed in their window. The response has a lot to do with the fact that he’s a grownup dressed like an elf – but the point is made. The claim wasn’t true – it was propaganda.

Today, the term is most often associated with politics – the left wing and the right wing having no shortage of spin-doctors – but advertising, lobbying and yes, even religion, are all forms of propaganda.

Preaching, in fact, is likely the original propaganda.

In Latin, the word propagare means to reproduce a plant by cuttings, which are cultivated and grow into new plants. Spreading and sprouting – propagating – is how many species multiply.

James, in chapter 1 of his New Testament letter, says God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (v. 18) He goes on in verse 20 to tell us to “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

The gospel isn’t just listened to, and believed or rejected. It’s planted, to either flourish or wither and die. Its power is not so much to convince as to transform.

In a museum a few weeks ago, my wife took offense at the term “Christian propaganda” in an exhibit about the Vikings – who apparently, after being converted to Christianity, went back and rewrote some of the pagan burial inscriptions of their forefathers.

What they were practicing was, I suppose, revisionist history.

Or you could call it enlightenment, civilization, emerging from the Dark Ages – their response to discovering a higher truth.

What you call it depends on your point of view – which propaganda you choose to believe.

What’s planted in your heart, and what takes root there.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

One Response to “Propaganda? Depends on your point of view”

  1. Rusty White says:

    BOB,

    Interesting perspective, a subject that has troubled me for some time. I grew up in a time when if the news was on the TV, everybody knew to be quite so the adults could listen. As I got older I too picked up this tradition, simply because that is how we learned what was going on in the world around us!

    Todays news “on every” channel in “no way” resembles the broadcast ethics and honesty of those before them, IMHO! In the past there were no minutes of commercials taking up “more” time than the news minutes! They did not waste “news” time on commercials, hype and bragging on themselves!

    What is most disgusting and disheartening, today there is no “independent” news, on ANY CHANNEL! They “all” have the same “supposed independent” news stories, many at the same time slot on every channel! They “all” go to commercial breaks at the same time, knowing this fact, how on earth can they “each” openly claim of being an “Independent News” source? Years back there was a reason CNN, took over the number one spot for news, simply because it was all news! Sadly they too have lost their winning ways! Now days I try and watch the BBC, Internet or other forms of news mediums out side our country. Simply to avoid the “CONTROLLED” and “SUPPOSED” independent news being “REGERGITATED” on every channel!

    You spoke of the “Nazi, Joseph Goebbels”, sadly his tactics of “controlling” the propaganda the public is being “FED”, are still being used today!!!

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