Will Propaganda Win?

Did Betty White die because she got a Covid vaccine booster?

Evidently, that’s one of the messages being circulated by the (very busy) purveyors of what we politely call “misinformation” and what is more accurately labeled propaganda. 

According to the News Literacy Project,

 Propagators of anti-vaccine disinformation previously have seized on celebrity deaths — including baseball great Hank Aaron; boxer Marvin Hagler; Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh; and rapper DMX — to falsely impugn the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. Remember: Vaccinated people also die of other causes and a significant portion of the population, including celebrities, are vaccinated. Posts that falsely connect high-profile deaths to vaccines are often attempting to exploit the public’s emotions to generate fear and distrust.

With respect to a phony Betty White quote used in that particular effort, the Project noted

This particular rumor has another red flag: The fake quote has been added to a screenshot of a social media preview for an actual article in which the quote never appeared. This lends the fabricated quote an air of authenticity without providing a clickable link, making it less likely that people will check the alleged source to confirm that the quote is authentic.

I subscribe to a couple of newsletters devoted to news literacy. There are some valiant efforts “out there” to combat the “choose your own reality” media environment we currently inhabit–efforts to provide people with mechanisms for evaluating the credibility of social media posts.

In addition to debunking the suggestion that 99-year-old Betty White died from a vaccine booster, the most recent newsletter from the News Literacy Project highlighted the continued, determined campaign to peddle the “Big Lie.” 

A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the role of misinformation in fueling the historic attack continues to come into clearer focus, as does the extent to which falsehoods still shape Americans’ divided views of the deadly riot. Misinformation swept across podcasts, Facebook — as documented in this new investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post — and other social media platforms ahead of the attack, allowing false narratives to take root and spread. Some news organizations recently published fact-checking roundups that debunk persistent falsehoods and underscore the ongoing threat misinformation poses to democracy.

The problem, of course, is that the folks most susceptible to these falsehoods, and most likely to disseminate them further, don’t read or trust outlets like ProPublica and The Washington Post. Instead, they look for more ideologically compatible sources when they engage in what we used to call “cherry picking”–what psychologists call “confirmation bias”–in their search for information.

No matter how off-the-wall any particular belief might be, there’s a website out there confirming it. (As I used to tell my Media and Public Policy students, if you really believe that aliens once landed in Roswell, New Mexico, I can find you several websites with pictures of the aliens…)

Right now, credible media outlets are focused on very real threats to American democratic institutions. And although it is absolutely true that the country has previously faced and overcome significant challenges to our unity and constitutional system, I can’t help thinking about what is different this time. I think about  that quote attributed to Mark Twain to the effect that “that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.”

What is different about the stanza of that rhyme that we currently occupy is an unprecedented media environment–the extent of disinformation and propaganda, the ease of accessing false “evidence” proving that this or that conspiracy theory is correct, and the consequential, damaging absence of a widely shared reality.

It has never been easier to believe nonsense. It has never been easier to attribute the inevitable disappointments in life to nefarious (albeit non-existent) machinations of “others”– those people who look, think or pray differently.   

Political scientists and (some) politicians have long emphasized the critical importance of a free press to a free society. That’s why the First Amendment prohibited government suppression–i.e.,censorship. But censorship–like so much else–has evolved. Thanks to new communication technologies, contemporary autocrats have discovered that controlling the flow of information no longer requires suppression: censorship can be achieved simply by sowing confusion and/or drowning out disfavored news.

We are about to see what happens when credible journalism is buried in bullshit– swamped by outlets purveying partisan propaganda and lunatic conspiracy theories–and citizens at that media smorgasbord are invited to pick and choose from the copious selection. 

I’m very much afraid this “rhyme” is uncharted territory.


  1. It’s another sign of a truly sick society and, perhaps, civilization in general. There seems to be only one main reason to spread the idiotic lies about vaccines: THE QUEST FOR POWER.

    Why power? Money. Why money? So miserable people can feel good about themselves by surrounding themselves with “stuff”. These times of disinformation, lies, bigotry and hate have become so toxic that decent people are doing a Timothy Leary: dropping out, turning on. Is it any wonder that the illegal drug industry is booming? The last number I saw was $11 billion a year.

    That said, is it any wonder why so many people are fleeing their homes and countries to escape the criminality in nations supplying our sick people with escapist, deadly drugs? Sadly, I don’t see our nation – never mind all the others – turning around any time soon. I truly hate to say it, but I think we have a front-row seat to watch the end of our experiment in democracy.

  2. And Corporate America keep funding the crazy bull shit spreading networks so they can sell soap and cars. As long as there is money to be made, this crap will continue.

  3. I just wonder…if there weren’t political leaders spreading the Big Lie, or lying about January 6, or misleading citizens about a deadly virus, etc., etc., would the nonsensical garbage on social media gain any traction?

  4. I have several problems with today’s post – one of which is using WaPo and ProPublica as examples of credible journalism.

    ProPublica is a good example but the WaPo? LOL

    Bloomberg also owns a newspaper that isn’t credible.

    This is the problem with labeling “propaganda” propaganda. Who is making the charge?

    We still have people in our community who believe The StarPress, because it is owned by Gannett is the real news. They’ll defend it to their dying day because it comes 5 days a week.

    For my lawsuit, I tried to find their local offices, and the security guard at the Ivy Tech Center where they were located, told me they were in the abandoned Chase building downtown. I went over there and there’s a sign on the door with a 1-800 number to call. LOL

    Apparently, the remaining staff is working from their home.

    I also checked on the internet, and the found that the last known owner was Softbank, a Japanese multinational conglomerate.

    I posted this on Facebook and was still challenged that it was due to COVID and was charged with spreading misinformation. They refuse to believe what their own eyes read. LOL

    So, I ask, who is the determinant of propaganda? 😉

  5. Richardallen; I believe you have outed the primary source of the numbers of believers of misinformation. And those well known names keep appearing on ballots at election time and, because they are well known, they are reelected to keep the misinformation and propaganda alive. Which is why these 2022 elections are more important than 2024 presidential election/appointment of Trump or reelection of President Joe Biden. There are no bills against stupidity before congress; sadly, there are also no bills requiring our lawmakers to uphold their Oaths of Office to even act on, let alone pass the progressive bills.

    I woke up this morning looking ahead to the continuing isolation of this Pandemic which is the source of deadly misinformation and using the deaths of celebrities to gain attention. The ridiculous situation in Australia with the government at odds over one tennis player who refuses to be vaccinated and appeared in public after being diagnosed with Covid-19. Why should there be a question about allowing him to participate in competition? We are now watching news about Partygate in the UK regarding the Prime Minister’s parties (evidently there were 2) the night before Prince Phillip’s funeral.

    “No matter how off-the-wall any particular belief might be, there’s a website out there confirming it.”

    The situations with such as a tennis player and the Prime Minister of the UK ignoring factual warnings is aiding the “off-the-wall beliefs” being believed by the masses. But; the situations in Australia and the UK will not possibly bring down the ruling government while the United States is facing collapse as government officials support those “off-the-wall beliefs” and cover up life-saving facts and the salvation of our democracy, Rule of Law and support of the Constitution.

  6. Propaganda has a purpose. It’s not any more spontaneous than any pandemic is. In these days of informed awareness, it is consciousness at work. It is a decision on the part of many people to create and spread by infecting others, at the maximum rate, misinformation with a mission.

    Of course in a viral pandemic, the purpose is each virus trying to fulfill its purpose of species survival. Propaganda is about the survival of an idea. An idea like a virus whose mission is to impose on others what’s not best for them, but best for the creator of the propaganda.

    In our current propaganda pandemic, the purpose is the spread of authoritarianism at the expense of our freedom. Authoritarianism at the expense of democracy. Order, like corporate or military order, full of rank and privilege. These are the people under you, and these are the people over you, instead of Constitutional self-government.

    Each node of the network is a decision to support that and impose it on the rest of us.

  7. I just looked at the covid statistics. How many billions of dollars and thousands of lives will the country lose as a result of vaccine propaganda?

  8. IMHO the quest for truth has already been lost. The purveyors of hate & ignorance have won the day and I believe the war. The US is on a rapidly increasing slide into a one party rule which will result in a dictatorship. I don’t like saying this but nevertheless I believe it is happening. The empire of the USA is beginning to fall apart.

  9. Todd Smekens, You my not like WaPo, but the measure of credible journalism is fact checking and journalistic standards that pull information from an actual first hand sources, and not something that was repeated from somewhere else, and then fact checked against other first hand sources. I don’t subscribe to WaPo, but other than continued posts about it being “fake news”, mainly from the right wing, I don’t see much evidence that there is a much editorial influence from it’s owner.

    Every news outlet has some slant to their reporting and not always in the direction that you expect. I was listening to a piece on NPR about election reform, and they reported that “it was blocked by Manchin”. Well, I have to tell you almost all legislation in the Senate is not blocked by Manchin. It is being blocked by 50 Republicans that have checked their brains and souls at the door, and continue again and again to do anything and everything they can to obstruct any progress by the current administration against the best interests of their constituents and the US in general. Unfortunately that is just great marketing/propaganda from ALL of the Republicans and it is hard to resist the more complicated narrative when the easy narrative is being spoon feed by expert Republican propagandists.

    Will Propaganda win? In the short term I think it will. The barriers to publishing have gotten so low, and the risk of getting sued are almost zero. I can buy a domain name for about $8 a year. I can get a free web hosting platform from a large number of providers, and many of them don’t care what you publish as long as they got to sell you the domain name. They won’t face any liability if you get sued, since rules protect them. Plus many platforms will allow me to publish for free, like facebook and twitter with little or no oversight.

    The new form of censorship is to NOT block anything from being published, but to flood the space with so much conflicting information that nothing is believable any more. For a good percentage of the population this is working.

    I know this will be viewed as a “biased source”, but over the years I have read several articles in The Atlantic addressing this with some serious discussion on this very issue. It is a real crisis in this new age of overly free speech.


  10. As long as there are people who crave power, and the money it brings, and are craven enough to give not a darn about societal consequences, like The Former Guy, and others, the human tendency to fixate on first impressions will be used to steer the masses for fun and profit.

    Hey, I have a tall tale to tell:
    Once upon a time, long long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a nefarious Putin-thing, who hid away in his Kremlin palace, with his favorite toy, One of these his “World Changing Playstation.” He was known to while away his time twiddling with the buttons thereof. One of these was the “U.S.President” button, and another was the “Murdoch Brexit” button. Due to a very sophisticated wiring setup, these buttons were quantumly entwined.
    Well, as the story played out, over the years, he was last known to be toying with yet another button, the “Screw NATO” button, and …THAT’S ALL FOLKS!

  11. I was fascinated by the video of Ron DeSantis talking about how he fought the government to get access to the monochronal antibodies. He said that New York and the blue states were getting all of the variable treatments. And that he claimed out of fauci’s own mouth, he stated that a 50% of the population was vaccinated that would stop covid. Now I know for a fact that Dr. Fauci didn’t say that, he said a good start would be around 75 to 80% of the population evenly spread across the country would prevent a massive outbreak. But again, DeSantis claim to quote Dr. Fauci, and all of those listening, at least a majority, would believe Ron DeSantis. Now, there has to be some sort of penalty for spreading disinformation as blatantly as this speech by Ron DeSantis! The claim of freedom of speech does not allow anyone to say anything and claim it’s the truth. But regardless, if nobody has the spine to actually put a stop to what’s happening right now, the stupid will continue to harden themselves against any sort of truth. Willful ignorance which plagues close to half of society, is another official psychological disorder. It’s basically the belief and an alternate set of truths, in other words lies. If one wishes hard enough maybe their alternate reality will become actual reality. That in itself is really ignorant, hence willful ignorance.

    Ephesians 4:25 reads; “wherefore now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.”

    Those who claim their commission from Christ, completely miss the mark on Christian conduct. And, they do it purposely. Dr Ruth Hubbard made a statement in the early 90s, it was really on the mark.

    “When we open the daily paper and look at what’s going on, the problems are not scientific. They are problems of social organization, of things haven’t gotten too big, of people going after profit and ignoring human needs. I don’t really think that in a rational allotment of resources, science is likely to solve any or many of the problems that most trouble people in the world.”

    So, Dr. Hubbard, who was not a Christian by faith, recognized that the biggest problem we have in society is ignorance or irrationality.

    I would suggest you look up the term “Pluralistic Ignorance,” I really believe it’s a very accurate descriptor. Or maybe even “the Sociology of Scientific Ignorance.” (SSI)

  12. Our experiment is not over – yet – but it may well be unless we sturdily resist those whose greed for power knows no bounds. Thus we have seen how a propaganda win gave Germany a Hitler, but it was not just propaganda that delivered all power to this demented Austrian. It was also the indolence of the “Good Germans,” those who sat on their posteriors and thought this loudmouth’s speeches would go away with time and did little to nothing to put an end to such grievance-fed propaganda.

    The Good Germans were wrong and the world paid a terrible price for their ho-hum political assessment of this WW I corporal’s grievance-fed propaganda (Treaty of Versailles, French reparations, inflation etc.). We would do well in not emulating the laizzez faire conduct of the Good Germans and not arguing among ourselves as to how to handle our current brawl with a Trump and his delivery of grievance-fed propaganda to the masses, propaganda financed by White Nationalists fearful of the advent of a multicultural society by instead devoting our energy to vigorously indicting and resisting those who would destroy our noble experiment in democracy.

    We who believe in democracy are in office and have a decided majority of the polity, so it’s time to act like it. Athenian/Jeffersonian democracy was based on the basic idea of majority rule. Democracy’s survival depends upon our defense of it against all comers, Hitlers, Trumps et al. Let’s not allow ourselves to be historially recognized as the Good Germans of the 21st century, lest we have no history.

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