This chapter begins with a history of American war propaganda. We survey the different meanings of propaganda, review the techniques employed in the production of government propaganda, and the functions it serves for those in power. We then explain why propaganda matters. First, the use of propaganda can lead to the adoption of costly policies that have negative effects on human wellbeing. Second, propaganda employs the rhetoric of liberal democracy to conceal illiberal and undemocratic government activity. Third, propaganda changes the nature of the citizen-state relationship. Instead of viewing citizens as the driving force behind the actions of the state, the use of propaganda is grounded in the idea that citizens stand in opposition to the goals of the political elite. Fourth, propaganda undermines liberalism by normalizing deception, which can spill over into other areas of political life.
This chapter provides a political economy analysis of government propaganda. We begin with a hypothetical ideal scenario where the interests of citizens and political actors are perfectly aligned. In this world there is no room for propaganda. The purpose of this ideal model to make clear how democratic institutions operate under first-best conditions. We then draw on insights from political economy to explain why real-world democratic governments deviate from this ideal model. Information asymmetries in democratic institutions create openings for state-produced propaganda. These openings are especially prevalent in the national security state due to the secret nature of security and foreign affairs and monopoly control over information by a small group of political elites. Also discussed are problems with the "noble deception" argument for propaganda, which holds that the state should benevolently use propaganda to advance the interests of citizens.
This chapter analyzes the creation and dissemination of propaganda in the post 9/11 period with focus on the lead up to the invasion of Iraq by the United States government in March of 2003. We first provide relevant historical information regarding the U.S. government's involvement in Iraq through the late 1990s. We then discuss the disconnect between what was known by U.S. government officials in the months preceding the invasion and the information that was presented to the American public. Specific topics of analysis include the supposed connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and the purported development of weapons of mass destruction by the Hussein regime, including discussions of chemical weapons and the purchase of materials used to create nuclear weapons. Our analysis shows that officials knowingly presented biased or false information to the public with the goal of garnering support for invading Iraq.
This chapter describes how the Bush administration misled the American public regarding the war in Iraq. In the face of declining popular support for the war, Bush administration officials knew that continuing the military occupation in Iraq required generating and maintaining popular support at home. The result was a massive domestic propaganda campaign aimed at reinvigorating support for the government's occupation. This included deliberate efforts by officials to shape the narrative surrounding the war by working to control the flow of information to news agencies, crafting talking points for news agencies reporting on the war, as well as providing, supposedly independent, "experts" to appear on television.
This chapter explores the use of propaganda in American sports. We discuss how the U.S. government has utilized sport to normalize militarism for both enlisted personnel and civilians, rally support for U.S. military operations, and as a means of military unification. We then analyze "paid patriotism" following the 9/11 attacks, in which a variety of professional sports franchises accepted funds from the Department of Defense to engage in patriotic displays to garner public support for the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. Finally, we discuss the misleading and false information provided to the public surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, a former professional football player and Army ranger, who was killed by fratricide while on deployment.
This chapter examines the creation and operation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). We consider historical and contemporary terror threats, including known quantitative data regarding safety in commercial aviation. We then explore the disconnect between these realities and the statements and actions of U.S. government officials, who consistently engage in threat inflation. We discuss several specific terror plots in the post-9/11 period, contrasting the known facts with the official portrayals of these events. In the event changes to security protocols were made in response to an incident, we analyze the efficacy of these changes in light of official claims about their effectiveness. This includes a discussion of the Federal Air Marshalls program, liquid bans, shoe removal, and the use of body scanners in airports.
This chapter analyzes domestic war propaganda in the context of film. We discuss how mass entertainment is influenced and altered by U.S. government officials to shape the attitudes and opinions of the public regarding U.S. foreign policy. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, officials with the Bush Administration met with industry leaders to coordinate how issues related to the attacks ought to be portrayed in film. We also examine the relationship between Hollywood film studios and the Department of Defense (DoD) and discuss how film studios often cede editorial control to DoD in exchange for the use of agency knowledge, personnel, and equipment. In many cases script alterations by government officials are accepted in their entirety by production studios in order to obtain military assistance. Several specific film projects are discussed in detail to illustrate the nature of the relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. government.
This chapter concludes with the implications of our analysis. We review the immediate and long-term consequences of government propaganda. In the short-term, propaganda aids in the adoption of policies that are not in the interest of citizens. In the long-term, the institutionalized use of propaganda threatens the foundations of a free society by empowering state actors at the expense of the citizenry. We consider four potential solutions for overcoming the information asymmetries that allow for government propaganda. These include self-constraint by those in power, whistleblowing, the media, and citizen inoculation against propaganda. We consider the strengths and weaknesses of each alternative, as well as the conditions under which each is likely to be effective in checking the deleterious effects of state-produced propaganda.