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Boomer Bytes #43: Propaganda: Twisting the Truth

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Propaganda: Twisting the Truth

By Steve Canipe

Nov. 7, 2014. One of the best things about Wednesday after election Tuesday is that there will be no more commercials that are designed not to tell the whole truth. Regardless of the party that you favor, I think a fair reading (watching) of the various commercials will leave you with an attitude of “are you kidding me?”

The Senate contest in North Carolina was one of the, if not the most expensive campaign in the country during 2014. According to ABC News, the total cost was more that $100 million dollars. Fox News reported that the two parties had “…90,000 ads – most of them attacks – aired across the state.” In one recent evening while I was watching television there were 6 ads in a row. One of the ads even repeated; and ended up being shown twice during the same commercial break. I personally got so fed up with the ads and the half-truths being told that I started muting the ads – for both candidates.


One thing that I don’t understand is why so many outside entities working on behalf of each candidate brought so much money into the state. I suppose it was good for the advertising budgets of the television stations but it was not good for me to have to watch the commercials ad infinitum. I found that I actually longed for the ads for something simple like cars, pain relievers, even drugs for ED!!

I labeled the column this week with the term propaganda. What is the definition? According to the online Merriam-Webster it is “…ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.” It is further defined as “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also: a public action having such an effect.”

Notice that in each definition, there is a deliberate action required. It seems that saying something often enough makes it true. This was also true in earlier times when the conventional wisdom was that the Earth was flat or the Earth was the center of the solar system. Believe it or not, there are still some people who still believe the flat earth and the centrality of the Earth. According to a recent survey commissioned by the National Science Foundation and reported in Discovery magazine about 25% of the population believe the sun revolves around the Earth! There is even a Flat Earth Society to promote the “…mission of the Flat Earth Society is to promote and initiate discussion of Flat Earth theory as well as archive Flat Earth literature.”

Much has been written and will be written about the elections and what affect various age groups played in it. It seems obvious from reports that the older the voter the more conservative the positions cast. The reverse is also true. What is also true is that older individuals vote in higher numbers than do younger voters. The total percentage of voters in the 2014 mid-term elections was relatively small; even smaller than the abysmal 40.9% in 2010. US News reports that only 36.6% of registered voters cast ballots in 2014. The under-30 age block was only at 13% of the total voters.

Political and elections propaganda are not confined to the United States. Countries that we have come to think of as totalitarian (Russia, China, Cuba, etc.) have often used their power to push a certain agenda. At first in the former Soviet Union, there was a lot of attention paid in this country to what we called “revisionist history.” This was not just the glorification of former leaders (that did happen) but also to lead to deliberately obscuring facts. Another term that is applicable is negationism.

Several examples come to mind – possibly the most widely knows is the Holocaust denial. It just never happened according to the proponents. While this view pervades some Middle Eastern leaders, denial is explicitly against the law in Germany, where the events originated. The other widely known is called Soviet historiography. It was J. Edgar Hoover who alerted the country to this aspect in his book Masters of Deceit.

I’m wondering if some individuals have created a situation where people are skeptical of everything. Pretty obviously with movie special effects you can make anything “look” real. There people in the United States and probably around the world who don’t believe we have landed on the moon. The Smithsonian Institution and others have written about those who deny the landings took place.

The current Ebola situation is filled with half-truths and innuendo. These were the same kind of issues that arose with the earlier AIDs virus. Some of us are old enough to remember the polio scares of the older boomer’s youth. Again half-truths said long enough caused people to worry for their children (this was us!!) I remember my mother during the summers when the polio virus was supposedly most catching would not let me go to the movies or the pool. Indeed I was really not allowed to congregate anywhere there were large numbers of potential carriers. When Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk developed vaccines this removed the scares for the younger boomers and others. Now thanks to world-wide action by clubs like Rotary International, the threat of polio is pretty well extinguished everywhere in the world. Only a few small pockets of virus still exist.

I’m probably being a bit of a Pollyanna and seeing the world through rose-colored glasses when I say I believe we can do a better job in electing politicians, dealing with scientific discoveries, and in general getting along with each other. This is to not let propaganda be used for ends that are not in the best interests of many folks. I know that I am so lucky to live in a country where it is OK to have different viewpoints. I really don’t like to live in a country where businesses are treated as “human.” Businesses are, in my view, not humans – they are businesses.

Individuals are going to differ on lots of issues. Whether these issues are simple like which is the best truck to buy: Chevy, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Toyota, etc. (note I did these alphabetically)? Or really complex about how to solve immigration issues or the national debt.

What I believe and hope for is that the new crop of elected officials can work together and not be total ideologues and not act like the propagandists and always point the finger. To me politics is about compromise. If legislative leaders can agree on the problem and then come to a solution it would be helpful. Surely everyone can see that we have issues with items like the national debt, terrorism, immigration, health care, etc. A recent Gallup survey identified a number of issues that most will agree are problems.

I also believe that reasonable people can disagree without be disagreeable. I hope that the pledge from the new Congressional majority and the President to work together can happen.

This column has been pretty wide-ranging touching on propaganda, politics, and cooperation. Please share your thoughts on any or all of these issues in the space below or via email to boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I will share a selection of your posts/comments in an upcoming column. We have got to work together if this is to be a country we boomers want to turn over to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.