Now Legalized, US Propaganda Swears It’s ‘Fair and Accurate’

John Glaser, July 15, 2013

In May of last year I noted at this blog reports that an amendment had been slipped into the 2013 NDAA bill that nullified two U.S. laws - the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987 – that ban domestic propaganda. This month marks the official repeal.

John Hudson at Foreign Policy:

Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It’s viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran; self-immolation in Tibet; human trafficking across Asia; and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.

The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. In the 70s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe, and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” Fulbright’s amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky who argued that such “propaganda” should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. “from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity.”

Hudson then goes on to interview a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which produces government news for foreign audiences on “Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks.” This spokesman promises, from the bottom of her heart, they don’t engage in propaganda.

BBG spokeswoman Lynne Weil insists BBG is not a propaganda outlet, and its flagship services such as VOA “present fair and accurate news.”

“They don’t shy away from stories that don’t shed the best light on the United States,” she told The Cable. She pointed to the charters of VOA and RFE: “Our journalists provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible, discussion, and open debate.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth! The problem is, those engaged in propaganda for the government always deny – and indeed are virtually never aware – that they are engaged in propaganda. Today’s cable news companies, many of them owned by rent-seeking corporations with close ties and interests to the state, engage in propaganda all the time and continuously believe they are independent minds who report in a ‘fair and accurate’ way.

Take Glenn Greenwald’s recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. He accused host Mika Brzezinski of issuing White House talking points on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, while masquerading it as a balanced debate. She seemed shocked at the accusation, which was true despite her own ignorance of it.

Look at how confused this BBC journalist is when Noam Chomsky tries to explain the propaganda model to him:

He thinks he’s an adversarial journalist, clearly. But of course, if he was a different kind of journalist with a different set of views (say, anti-government views), he may not be working for the BBC.

And so, Ms. Weil’s protestations about being engaged in propaganda cannot be trusted simply because she says so.  As Hudson writes, “if anyone needed a reminder of the dangers of domestic propaganda efforts, the past 12 months provided ample reasons.”

Last year, two USA Today journalists were ensnared in a propaganda campaign after reporting about millions of dollars in back taxes owed by the Pentagon’s top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan. Eventually, one of the co-owners of the firmconfessed to creating phony websites and Twitter accounts to smear the journalists anonymously. Additionally, just this month, The Washington Post exposed a counter propaganda program by the Pentagon that recommended posting comments on a U.S. website run by a Somali expat with readers opposing Al-Shabaab. “Today, the military is more focused on manipulating news and commentary on the Internet, especially social media, by posting material and images without necessarily claiming ownership,” reported The Post.

A primer on the history of U.S. propaganda might help in convincing Americans that propaganda isn’t just another one of those horrible things that every other government does but ours is different, better.

During the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson set up the Committee on Public Information (CPI), a propaganda ministry meant to build public support for the war effort. The CPI distributed propaganda in news stories, street posters, advertisements, and hollywood films. It launched pro-war lecture circuits to mobilize public opinion, and publicly criticizing the president or the war effort was essentially criminalized.

“The propagandists in World War II,” writes historian Susan A. Brewer, “followed in the footsteps of the Committee on Public Information, while attempting to avoid their predecessor’s mistakes.”

The OWI’s [Office of War Information] objective, acknowledged privately, was the “coordination, synchronization, embellishment, emphasis, manipulation and distribution of facts as information rather than…gross overstatements and exaggerated misrepresentations.” To mobilize the population, the OWI drew on familiar advertising techniques such as repetition, catchy slogans, and celebrity endorsement.

…On December 16, 1941, President Roosevelt set up the Office of Censorship, headed by Associated Press executive news editor Byron Price. The Office of Censorship had authority over all civilian communication…Before news organizations released a story, Price wanted them to ask themselves, “Is this information I would like to have if I were the enemy?” In a 1942 press conference, he and [OWI Director Elmer] Davis explained the relationship of the Office of Censorship and the OWI with the news media. Price announced, “We tell what they cannot print.” Davis said, “We give them stuff we hope they will print.”

For those who still doubt we’re at greater risk now, the question arises: why were these laws repealed? The BBG spokesman admits they want to target, for example, Somali expats, to give them an alternative to the Al-Shabab propaganda and outlets like Russia Today. Hm.

38 Responses to “Now Legalized, US Propaganda Swears It’s ‘Fair and Accurate’”

  1. if their aim is to convince people to support US policies and glorify the US government they've got some stiff competition in MSNC, CNN, Foxnews, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc.

  2. I fail to see how this has changed much. Ever hear of the Ad Council?

    Or NBC?

  3. OBAMA neoPolicies: let us adopt an illegal child(israel) and iphone/kill all muslim children

  4. Great article, particularly the Chomsky piece where he points out how the U.S. press used Watergate to obfuscate and ignore the much larger scandal of cointelpro at the time.

  5. Americans are by far the most brainwashed and indoctrinated sheep on the planet.

    What's really hilarious is how aggressive Proud Amuricans are in boasting about the superiority of the Free Press compared to other nations.

    America is the nation that gave the world massive propanganda lies about WMDs in Iraq; the War on Terrorism; and the greatest lie of the all, Defending Freedom and Democracy!

  6. [...] Now Legal, US Propaganda Swears It’s ‘Fair and Accurate’ [...]

  7. This nation is certainly blessed to have such strong and exemplary advocates of truth such as Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald to counterbalance the massive hoards of "steeple" who know which side their bread is buttered and will not risk their access to power with a meaningful critique of governmental misbehavior.

  8. Sorry, that would be "sheeple" which autocorrects. Webster's New International Dictionary includes this new word to describe unquestioning echoing of media propaganda. Pathetic.

  9. [...] Now Legalized, US Propaganda Swears It’s ‘Fair and Accurate’ ( [...]

  10. Great article. Could also point out continued propaganda agencies in the US after WW2, such as Reagan's Office of Public Diplomacy….

    Another telling observation, which I heard from Chomsky in other material, is that after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it took a few years for the operation to be called an "invasion" in the Soviet press.

    However, in the US, the invasion of Vietnam has NEVER been referred to as an "invasion" in US press. Washington sent in troops, bombers, and authorized napalm and DDT.

    This shows you that perhaps an even higher level of obedience and totalitarianism has been achieved in some ways in the US.

  11. steeple = stupid sheeple

  12. Oh we are definitely in greater danger now. Just because it's already bad does not mean it can't get worse – much worse. The degree of brainwshing is already mindboggling but we're potentially in for a tidal wave of it, little could be worse.

  13. Understanding the propaganda that comes at you daily is a key factor is learning how to be free and to think for yourself. You have to be able to spot the propaganda in order to be able to ignore it and keep it out of your head.

    These days, I don't watch any of the American news/propaganda channels. Here's what I used to notice about them though. I'd un-mute the TV to hear a story about which I was independently knowledgable. For instance, claims that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. I'd listen to the propaganda news, and I'd be able to spot exactly what was wrong, untruthful and misleading about the story. Then, the propaganda would continue on into a story where I wasn't knowledgeable. And I'd notice that some of that would slip into my mind and come back out later on. Without the detailed knowledge about the lies I was being told, it was easier for those lies to get into my thinking.

    The safest thing to do is to turn them off.

    If you run into people who say things that seem counter to their normal personality, like normally kind and generous people ranting about how immigrants are leaching off of society, often its just the propaganda talking. If you try to engage in conversation to go deeper and find out why they think this way, often you will find that they are unable to respond, usually just repeat the original propaganda views more assertively, then will tend to end the conversation. This is because they really don't know why they think this way. Its propaganda that's gotten into their heads and is now coming back out and they are unable to talk or debate intelligently any deeper than the propaganda that they've memorized. That's a sign you are talking to propaganda and not a person.

    Turn it all off. Convince others to turn it all off. A goal is for all of these channels to talk, and yet no one listens.

  14. John, you are the man today. Thanks for all this great reporting.

  15. You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the article you write.
    The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you
    who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    At all times go after your heart.

  16. Talk about 911 in this context………. All other psyops pale in comparison…………

    Is it Snowdon's hole card……..?????????????????????????????????

  17. "governmental misbehavior" ……….????????? More like government criminality ………. !!!!!!!!!!!!!


  19. If you run into people who say things that seem counter to their normal personality, like normally kind and generous people ranting about how immigrants are leaching off of society, often its just the propaganda talking.

  20. The constitutionality of propaganda under First Amendment standards (viewpoint discrimination) is currently pending decision in the fully briefed Ninth Circuit case Johnson v. U. S. Department of the Treasury, No. 12-16775.

    See my article Federal Court Affirms Sweeping "Bully Pulpit" Government Right to Lie, at

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