Propaganda 101

What makes for good propaganda? Ideally good propaganda appeals to emotion. The goal is to manipulate the emotions of individuals to win them over to your cause. However, better propaganda is also based on some amount of truth. If your propaganda is entirely fictitious, it will likely be discovered at some future point and the people you won over may not to happy with you. The best propaganda is not only based on some amount of truth but the lies, when discovered, can be waved away with deniability.

The girl on the cover of Time Magazine’s latest issue is an example of excellent propaganda:

The widely shared photo of the little girl crying as a U.S. Border Patrol agent patted down her mother became a symbol of the families pulled apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border, even landing on the new cover of Time magazine.

But the girl’s father told The Washington Post on Thursday night that his child and her mother were not separated, and a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed that the family was not separated while in the agency’s custody. In an interview with CBS News, Border Patrol agent Carlos Ruiz, who was among the first to encounter the mother and her daughter at the border in Texas, said the image had been used to symbolize a policy but “that was not the case in this picture.”

A crying girl is always a good way to manipulate emotions. Moreover, the current administration provided its detractors with a great deal of ammunition by separating immigrant children from their parents. These two factors already made the crying girl on Time’s cover a good piece of propaganda. But the icing on the cake is that the lie can be easily denied. The person who created the cover could easily claim that they were told that the girl that was to be included on the cover was an immigrant child separated from her parents. The editor could easily make the same claim. Even the photographer could claim that they were later informed that the girl was separated from her parents. It’s difficult to claim that Time Magazine knowingly lied in this case, which helps protect the magazine’s reputation even though it was caught lying.

One thought on “Propaganda 101”

  1. Did Time actually state that the girl was an immigrant separated from her parents? Did anybody who saw the cover think that it really was a photograph of Trump and a little girl together? I took it immediately as photoshopped and meant to be understood in that way. It is the equivalent of a political cartoon.

    Even if we agree that Time was being deliberately deceptive (engaging in “propaganda”), does that mean we can dismiss concerns about the separation of families whose parents want only a better life in a land of opportunity?

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