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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion
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on December 5, 2017
It's a bit surprising that this book is available in neither kindle nor audible. A pure ink and paper book in the 21st century of any quality is an oddity. That said, I begrudgingly found it useful, although I couldn't search it or listen to it on my commute.

What is propaganda and should government paid professionals be employed in its creation? Whether the public or the law think tax payer money should be spent on the creation of propaganda is largely determined by how it is defined. For many, there is an automatic assumption that anyone producing material on government payroll are automatically producing propaganda. One example of this assumption is in an article on the repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act in the Foreign Policy website, they referred to a Washington Post article indicating “the (U.S.) military is more focused on manipulating the news and commentary on the Internet, especially social media, by posting material and images without necessarily claiming ownership.” (Hudson, 2013) (Whitlock, 2013) As we will see later, author ownership is a legal requirement for government offices.
According to Jowett & O'Donnell, propaganda is an effort to influence: "Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist." (Jowett & O′Donnell , 2011)
The U.S. Congress has enacted a series of laws over the years, often with the appropriations bill, which limits what American taxpayers money can be spent on with regard to publicity and propaganda. However, many of these laws are hidden inside of budget authorizations and subsequently not only don't get the attention of the American public, are often unknown even to the people who prepare information for public consumption. The gist of the legislation has been an increasing tendency toward transparency in governance, regardless which political party was in office at the time the various laws were enacted.
These laws make certain activities that wold fit under Jowell & O'Donnell's definition of propaganda illegal. And when a government agency fails to comply with the law, they are sanctioned and called out publicly via a report by the Government Accounting Office.
While a systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a change in pending legislation directly contradicts the U.S. law and was the topic of the latest GAO report on inappropriate use of propaganda, support of existing legislation is an authorized use of publicity and funding for government agencies. One of the best and most noteworthy public campaigns is the Smokey the Bear campaign. According to the Ad Council website, “The longest running campaign in Ad Council history, Smokey Bear and his famous warning, "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires," was introduced to Americans in 1944. The Forest Fire Prevention campaign has helped reduce the number of acres lost annually from 22 million to 6.5 million annually today.” (Wildfire Prevention, 2017) This remarkably effective ad campaign is the product of the U.S. Forest Service. As such, it was created by a government agency at tax payer expense. The Forest Service also created one of the other famous ad campaigns for public service, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.”
GAO has identified core categories of illicit behaviors regarding publicity and propaganda, including three categories of agency communications that are restricted by the publicity or propaganda prohibition: (1) covert communications, (2) self-aggrandizement, and (3) purely partisan activities. (GAO, 2017)
To further examine the appropriate and inappropriate use of influence by U.S. government agencies, consider the “Waters of the United States” campaign by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding pending legislation in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “The EPA violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts with its use of certain social media platforms in association with its "Waters of the United States rulemaking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition though its use of a platform known as Thunderclap that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time. EPA engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA's role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience.” (Perez, 2015)
The GAO report cited U.S. Appropriations law 2015 (Sec. 715), which “prohibits an agency of the executive branch from using funds for publicity or propaganda purposes or for the preparation or distribution of materials designed to support or defeat legislation pending before Congress.” (Perez, 2015)
Considerable attention has been given to the repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act regulating U.S. propaganda overseas. The book International Propaganda by R. John Martin deals in detail with the historical roles of U.S. government agencies, principally the Department of State. (Martin, 1969)
The most valuable portion of the book is the definition of propaganda, which the author spends a full chapter on. He defines propaganda as, “Propaganda is promotion which is veiled in one way or another as to 1) its origin or sources, 2) interests involved, 3) the methods employed, 4) the content spread, and 5 ) the results accruing to the victims.” (Martin, 1969) This is consistent with the GAO's Principles of Federal Appropriations Guidance. (GAO, 2017)
According to the Principles of Information published in section 5 of Department of Defense Directive 5122.05, “The DoD’s obligation to provide the public with information on its major programs may require detailed public affairs planning and coordination within the DoD and with other government agencies. The sole purpose of such activity is to expedite the flow of information to the public; propaganda has no place in DoD public affairs programs.” (DOD Directive 5122.05, 2017)
While there’s no denying the U.S. government has not always been so clean. There is a history of government information which is partisan, self-aggrandizing and covert. McCarthyism is a prefect example. However, the recent misinformation in the general United State dialog is not an example of propaganda. While it is inaccurate, it is not prepared by government public affairs officers. In “The Green Scare is not McCarthyism 2.0: How Islamophobia is redefining the use of propaganda in foreign and domestic affairs,” Dalia F. Fahmy rather accurately explores the use of propaganda by Senator McCarthy. The author then changes to the inaccuracies regarding the new national enemy following 9/11, which is the Islamic world. The problem with this comparison is that the information, while certainly inaccurate, is not produced by the U.S. government, but rather ill-informed citizen-journalists. With the rise of blogging and everyone becoming a publisher, inaccurate information is rampant. The author alludes to a campaign involving veiled promotion. The problem is the paper is weak on the specifics of who is promoting veiled information. (Famy, 2015)
In “the Smith-Mundt Act’s ban on domestic propaganda,” the authors Allen Palmer and Ed Carter launch another ill-conceived attack on official U.S. government information.
The authors talk about a US Information Agency film, Czechoslovakia 1968 about a failed uprising against the Soviet Union. It won the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject and in 1997, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
This film sounds like exactly what government information is legally required to be: factually accurate, adequately attributed and independent of the democratic process, such as pending legislation, etc. (Palmer & Carter, 2006)
In his article on J. Edgar Hoover’s domestic propaganda, Stephen M. Underhill details the FBI used of yellow-journalism style embellished reports which saw their way into print and staged events for the benefit of the media. “Staged events, therefore, were used to create an impression among audience members that the moments themselves in which officials and journalists came together were matters of civic importance because of their reportage.” Indeed, the techniques used by the former FBI director due appear to fit the current laws banning propaganda because they were often covert, self-aggrandizing and undermined or attempted to shape legislation. (Underhill, 2012)
In addition to the early FBI and Senator McCarthy, the U.S Treasury Department has a sordid history that is well detailed in selling war bonds to support World War II. “The widespread war bond appeals were never publicly singled out as official propaganda, and perhaps for this reason they often succeeded in reaching the wary public when … (other government offices) … could not. Ironically, the intensity of partisan discourse in the Treasury's publicity rivaled that in the office of the war information’s truncated domestic propaganda.” (Kimble, 2006)
In Terrorism, Internet and Propaganda, A Deadly Combination, the author stresses transparency. “Counter-propaganda should avoid appearing biased and utilize a credible communicator.” This is very much in keeping with the Department of Defense principles of information. Accuracy is critical to maintaining credibility. (Lieberman, 2017)
In Propaganda and Democracy, the author comes very close to saying that propaganda is inherently incompatible with a liberal democracy. The current U.S. laws seem to align with his interpretation. (Wood, 2017)
In “UN Demands More Globalist Propaganda in School Textbooks,” the author uses inflammatory language to make allegations against the UN and UNESCO demanding the U.S. “totally withdraw from UNESCO” because of its “outright totalitarianism.” (Anonymous, 2017) This is the kind of use of the word propaganda that creates misunderstanding and mistrust.
In the book Primetime Propaganda, the author Ben Shapiro argues, “Primetime Propaganda examines the political orientation and history of television since its inception, not through secondary sources, but by looking at the actual words and deeds of the most important figures in TV over the last 60 years. The book makes the case that Hollywood content isn’t merely or accidently leftist, but is consciously designed by liberal creators and executives to convert Americans to their political cause.” The problem is no one Shapiro talks about are government employees. Rather these people are simply exercising their right to free speech. Shapiro can certainly disagree with their opinion, but it is not propaganda. (Shapiro, 2011)
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on November 16, 2017
I'll admit I didn't get very far in this book. It is extremely long winded and doesn't do a very good job of getting to the point. The authors seem to suffer from a common problem--not focusing on key points that they want to get across and cutting out everything that gets in the way. If people can't read a book because they bogged down in gobble-de-gook then what's the point in writing in the first place?
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on October 26, 2007
This book attempts to demystify propaganda and the persuasion process, and it does so in a fluid and engaging manner. The authors walk the reader through the social psychology academic literature, discussing pivotal studies, and how they apply to what we see in the world around us. I especially like the section provocatively titled, "How to become a cult leader." If you've ever wondered how media, advertisers, politicians, and religious charlatans manage to so effectively manipulate audiences, this book will tell you their standard tricks. An unethical person might get this book for the purpose of learning the techniques of manipulation. It is a witch's brew of information about how to subvert and manipulate a person's reasoning processes. This is, of course, not the author's intentions. Their intent is to help readers defend themselves against manipulation.

The book is also a sobering reflection on the difficulties inherent in having a fully functioning, and fully informed, democracy in an age of advertising, packaging, spin, and big-media manipulation.
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on November 28, 2013
'Age of Propaganda' catalogues a great number of techniques which are used to influence people. The aim of the book is to enable the reader to identify these persuasion techniques when they are being used on him. Each chapter focuses on one persuasion technique and, with almost every chapter, I was able to think of one or more times when these techniques were used on me. The book is a pleasure to read and I expect the information to be useful in my dealings with salesmen and politicians.
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on June 13, 2008
What I like about this book:
- It is great to help people become aware of how the media manipulates our fears, insecurities and prejudices to make us want to buy everything in sight.
- It shows how advertisers take advantage of our being in a rush when shopping and not being used to think about what we're buying.
- It points out how we fall into traps without noticing it, and that it is not enough to know that ads are designed to make us like the products they are selling.

The reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that many of the experiments are too old. Over 10, 20 or 30 years sometimes. I wish there had been more current studies used as examples.

Still, it makes very pleasant, easy, informative, and many times funny reading :-)
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on January 2, 2014
I recently took a college course on persuasion and purchased this book so that I could learn more about the subject. I would recommend this book to anyone that wants be more informed of techniques used by people or groups in order to persuade others to take desired actions. We live in a world filled with persuasion and propaganda. Its a wonder why these subjects are not taught below the college level. If you are not aware of how much our every day decisions are dictated by persuasion, you will be amazed after reading Age of Propaganda.
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This book really ought to be required of everyone, regardless of field. If you wish to remain abreast of the tricks that propagandists use to sway your opinion, this is an excellent introduction.
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on April 17, 2017
This book is great because it makes high-end media theory really accessible in an interesting way. I have a read a few books on the topic, and this one presented the material in a more conversational way that makes it easy to connect to the material.
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on August 23, 2014
Good but needs a new edition. It's 13 years old and we have had a lot of new and pretty heinous propaganda in that time.
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on October 6, 2015
There were some other things here which were not covered by the original book "the hidden persuaders" but both were similar in nature.
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