This section covers PR/spin/propaganda disguised as
"news" intentional dissemination of fallacies
in the media. (It contrasts with unintentional media
fallacies, caused by ineptitude etc, as covered in our Media
PR, spin, propaganda
Media Hell draws no line between "respectable"
Public Relations (PR) and spin/propaganda. We also don't regard
these activities as inherently bad. Everyone engages
in self-promotion relatively harmlessly in most cases.
We regard PR/spin/propaganda as "toxic" only if
it meets any of these criteria:
1. Contains significant fallacies.
2. Misrepresents its interests (eg masquerades as "news").
3. Monopolises communication channels.
Corporations and governments spend large sums on PR. This
enables them to monopolise media coverage and wield the type
of influence that enables PR to be presented as "news".
Any individual (or small business, etc) can communicate a
significant fallacy, but it takes major wealth/power for the
"toxic" effect of a fallacy to have serious consequences
Media "bias" & "balance"
We try to avoid labelling media coverage as "biased",
as it implies that an unbiased position is possible.
We've never seen an unbiased position on any issue. We've
never seen a "balanced" viewpoint, either.
In a sense, all communication is "biased" propaganda.
Even an airtight logical proposition is "biased"
(ie biased towards the axioms of formal logic).
The question for us is not whether propaganda is "biased",
but whether it's "toxic" (according to the
criteria outlined above: fallacy, misrepresented interests,
Toxic slime database
One aim of Media Hell is to build a database of examples
of toxic propaganda, hyperlinked to our hierarchical fallacies
database. We think this will provide a very useful resource.
We have large amounts of raw data that we're currently working
to incorporate into such a database. But we also need your
input. We want examples of PR/spin/propaganda in media coverage
(preferably with source details). Please
Frame semantics & the media
In recent years cognitive science has provided useful insights
into the workings of propaganda. For example, "frame"
semantics analyses how rightwing US think-tanks have successfully
"framed" political issues in the media. (The most
frequently cited case is the phrase "tax relief"
used to frame the issue of taxation as an affliction
that needs to be relieved).
Frames are unconscious mental structures that shape our worldviews
eg by internal imagery/metaphor. One of the lessons
of frame semantics is that when we negate a frame, we evoke
the frame. For example, to argue directly against "tax
relief" is to inadvertently strengthen the framing of
the issue in those terms (ie tax as an affliction that needs
Another lesson is that when facts contradict a person's worldview
(their conceptual "framing" of various issues),
the facts will probably be ignored and the frames/worldview
TV/newspaper reporters require stories, and each story needs
a frame in order to make sense to the viewers/readers.
The cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, has pointed out (in
Don't think of an Elephant!) that after spending millions
of dollars studying these issues, rightwing US think-tanks
have the upper hand in spreading the type of frames that the
media pick up and use. The solution, according to Lakoff,
is not to react directly against these frames, but to reframe
the issues with entirely different language/metaphors.
To intentionally frame an issue in a way which promotes one's
own values can be viewed as an act of propaganda. Lakoff,
however, advocates framing issues sincerely and openly
ie using frames "you really believe in, based
on values you really hold". In other words it may
be "propaganda", but it's not toxic
one doesn't misrepresent one's interests, present fallacies
or monopolise the debate.
Elsewhere we've defined "uplifting propaganda"
Anything that removes the authoritarian
"virus" from communication.
Irony, satire and gentle mockery are standard methods used
by counterculture philosophers of all ages.
Benign propaganda could be defined as any
non-toxic communication eg (according to our criteria
for "non-toxic") any that doesn't contain fallacies,
misrepresent its own interests or monopolise communication
Since merely presenting the facts may not be enough (see
above), we probably need to (unapologetically and unashamedly)
become benign and/or uplifting propagandists to bring about
the changes we desire.
The only difference between "benign" and "uplifting"
propaganda (in our self-indulgent jargon) is that the latter
leans more to satire and psychology than to straightforward
political debate. Here's a good
example of an "uplifting propaganda" project.