"You can fool all the people all the time if the budget is big enough" (Joseph Levine)

    Harry Anslinger, America's drug czar from 1930-1962, used to tell some pretty fantastic stories while he travelled on the lecture circuit, talking to church groups, citizens, and schools.  His most popular story was about a 21 year old Florida boy who smoked marijuana and then killed his family of five (the age of this boy-killer got younger each time he told the story, and by 1961, it was a story about a 16 year old boy).  Other stories consisted of a gang of boys who smoked marijuana and tore the clothes off two school girls and raped them repeatedly, one boy after another, while the girls screamed.  Yet another story involved a man who smoked marijuana, tried to shoot his wife, killed his grandmother instead, and then killed himself.  These stories, and many others, make up the early, "classic" period of propaganda, while the "modern" period, characterized as it is by the multimillion dollar advertising budgets of today, consists of many more insidious myths (e.g., the gateway myth, the potency myth, the supporting terrorism myth, the dope-fixing sporting events myth, the drugs cause crime myth, and the unsafe schools myth, to name a few).  Some good lists of modern propaganda exist at places like the Drug War Facts website which lists 16 modern distortions as well as ONDCP's response in the form of its Top Ten Myths about Marijuana.

    Modern propaganda tends to be more sophisticated in terms of incorporating modern marketing and advertising principles such as the idea that telling the truth is always a losing strategy as opposed to the classical idea of truth sometimes being the best policy.  Advertising's fundamental theorem, it is said, has always consisted of the maxim that perception trumps reality.  Godin (2005) goes further, however, and outlines the modern form of the stuff -- which consists of the following properties -- commanding attention; being consistent and authentic (not necessarily true); offering a promise (e.g. enlightenment, entertainment, inspiration); being trustworthy because it is subtle and appeals to all of our senses (seldom, if ever to our logic); being crafted for a specific audience; not containing any self-contradictions; and finally, being in alignment with what the audience already knows, feels, believes, etc.

    In this lecture, rather than try to trace the connections between classic and modern myths in some orderly fashion (which would be time-consuming), the phrase "classic modern" propaganda is used.  This should be seen as an attempt to provide a solid, simple explanation of what propaganda is, and how it has always worked.  A plethora of websites provide more detailed information on the specifics of particular propaganda campaigns, or conspiracies.  A list of these "alternative news sources" would include: Above Top Secret,,, Common Dreams, Conspiracy Nation, Conspiracy Planet, CounterPunch, Covert Action Quarterly, Digital Freedom, the Disinformation Website,, FAIR,, Guerrilla News Network, High Times, Indymedia, Information Clearing House, Infowars, Jeff Rense, the Konformist, Michael Moore, Mother Jones, Moving Ideas, NameBase, Online Journal, Paranoia Magazine, ParaScope, PrisonPlanet, Project Censored, Propaganda Matrix, Renegade,, the Smoking Gun, TalkLeft, Truthout, and Yellow Times).  [Infowars, PrisonPlanet, and Propaganda Matrix are run by Alex Jones &/or associates, author of documentaries like 9/11: The Road to Tyranny, and all such websites can be best searched using SearchInfowars]  


    Propaganda, from the Latin ["that which ought to be spread"] is a word associated with the Roman orator and historian Livy (Titus Livius) who invented the technique of denigrating a government's enemies while exhaulting a government's virtues. The Catholic Church also used the word, in their doctrine having to do with Propagation of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando) and the department of pontifical administration charged with spreading Catholicism.  The first political science of propaganda was created by Edward Bernays (1891-1995), a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer in the scientific study of how to shape and manipulate public opinion. Instead of calling it propaganda, he preferred the phrase "engineering of consent" and defined it as "the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses" (Bernays 1928).  During World War I, Bernays was a psychologist for the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda group who tried to package, advertise and sell WWI to the American people as the war that would "Make the World Safe for Democracy." Cartoons and movie stars were used to make Americans more patriotic and want to buy war bonds and/or enlist in the Navy.

    The next major figure in the history of propaganda was the master journalist and Presidential advisor Walter Lippman (1889-1974), who during World War II, was the one who coined the phrase "Cold War."  Lippman believed that the vast majority of Americans would not recognize propaganda when they see it, and he came to believe that the public needed to be controlled by an intellectual class.  As an advisor to at least six Presidents, Lippman exerted an enormous influence over the shape of American politics.  His numerous newspaper columns and books spelled out exactly how political leadership ought to go about steering public opinion by using short slogans and stereotyping an enemy.    

   Propaganda can be defined as organized persuasion designed to obtain some response (now or later) from a target audience.  The two basic types of propaganda are: (1) conditioning propaganda (which softens up the audience for some long-term purpose); and (2) command propaganda (which seeks an immediate response from the audience).  In a time of war, both types of propaganda can be expected, as words become a weapon of war.  The stages of war may determine the specific form of propaganda, but because wartime produces so much propaganda, sometimes with unique qualities, scientists have come to postulate a third type, (3) wartime propaganda.

    This third kind seems overwhelming because it defends as well as attacks.  Wartime propaganda involves the deception of people in one's homeland and the attacking of people designated as the enemy.  Wartime propaganda involve drawing upon people's emotional weaknesses and fears while at the same time attacking one's enemies and critics with labels.  There are two forms of wartime propaganda:  (1) social propaganda (which is directed at an internal audience to boost morale, enhance solidarity, and build a sense of social bond); and (2) psychological propaganda, also called psychological warfare (which is directed at an external enemy who is demonized, demoralized, and terrorized).

    The following propaganda techniques exist:


    Propaganda is an asymmetric form of non-traditional warfare.  Both sides are fighting for the most effect with limited resources, and the desired effect is winning the hearts and minds of the population.  The techniques engaged in are sometimes called PsyOps (Psychological Operations), also abbreviated PSYOP or PSYWAR (psychological warfare).  A psychological warfare campaign is a war of the mind, and involves the use of communication, television, radio, loudspeakers, leaflets, newspapers, books, magazines, music, and posters to deliver a message that supports loyalty to the objectives of those in power.  In a technical sense, PsyOps are not a form of force, but a force multiplier that uses nonviolent means in a violent environment.  On the other hand, PsyOps have been a recognized weapon of war ever since Alexander the Great.  Today, the U.S. military recognizes three kinds of PsyOps:

    The use of propaganda is a prominent feature of psychological warfare, and intelligence agencies often classify propaganda as one of three kinds: (1) so-called "black" propaganda which consists of planted material that makes it look like the enemy are bad people; doctored sound- or video-recordings of them saying they don't really care about their own people or that they are cross-dressing perverts are some examples; then, there's (2) "white" propaganda, which is usually easy to obtain and verifiable, that can truthfully point out how bad the other side is; for example, letting it be known that an enemy leader has six illegitimate kids with six different women; and finally, there's (3) "grey" propaganda, of the half-truth, half-falsity variety, otherwise known as misinformation, which often leads to blowback, a term for the unintended consequences of secret operations.  Grey PsyOps involve cover and deception, and are sometimes extremely complex and intricate affairs. 

     The most frequently used means of conducting PsyOps in warfare are by radio broadcast and by dropping leaflets.  During World War II, the Soviets and Germans dropped leaflets containing sexual propaganda, suggesting to the citizenry that the enemy behind the front lines were ravishing the native women.  North Koreans still use this technique today to keep their soldiers stirred up.  The U.S. has a formal ban on sexual propaganda, and prefers to drop simple leaflets letting the citizenry know which radio frequencies to tune into, for example, like the leaflet shown.  Numerous libraries of leaflet drops over Iraq can be found on the Internet.
     Leaflets were dropped over Afghanistan, Kosovo, Grenada, Somalia, Vietnam, during the first Gulf War, and the Invasion of Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2002-03).  Leaflet varieties range from the simple "Surrender or Die" theme to "Safe Passage" tickets for deserters when hostilities are most active, and information leaflets, loudspeaker teams, and radio broadcasts tend to replace leaflets when hostilities are declining.
     Radio and television broadcasts for the "hearts and minds" of people have reached new level of sophistication in recent years.  Most people are familiar with Radio Free Europe, but Clandestine Radio Watch tracks the surging development of this phenomena worldwide.  In 2004, the United States launched a Virginia-based, satellite TV station known as Al Hurra (the Free One) which is intended to be a fair and balanced answer to outlets like Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite network that fans so much anti-Americanism in the Middle East.  The U.S.-funded Al Hurra channel cost $60 million in seed money plus $40 million added by Congress to get started, but it reaches 80% of Iraq's population with over-air transmitters.  The former Iraqi regime's (Saddam Hussein's) state-owned television station was taken over by a U.S. venture group, out of San Diego (SAIC, or Science Applications International Corp.) that now calls itself Al Iraqiya and resembles Al Jazeera in many ways.  Both Al Jazeera and Al Iraqiya are broadcast 24/7 in Arabic.  Al Jazeera is considered by many in the Arab world as the "voice of truth" because, despite repeated requests by the U.S. to the Emir of Qatar (who subsidizes Al Jazeera to the tune of $30 million a year), the Emir keeps repeating he believes in freedom of the press and Al Jazeera enjoys total freedom.  From time to time, Al Jazeera receives videotapes from Osama bin Laden and/or Ayman Al-Zawahiri, which are not turned over to authorities on grounds of freedom of the press.

The Problem with Television Stations

      Television stations as a tool in the war on terrorism may have limited effectiveness, and in fact, may produce countereffective reactions (if the broadcasts are seen as too strongly tilted or too dull).  In the Middle East, for example, where over 100 TV stations exist, Al Hurra tends to rely upon the attractiveness of their female news reporters (which backfires) as a way to counter dullness, and other news reporting is seen as too strongly tilted pro-American. Effectiveness might be increased by abandoning any attempts at "real-time" news reporting, abandoning entertainment programming, and just sticking to documentaries and educational programming. A strong web site also helps with today's media.

    Propaganda can have a "thermostat effect" which heats up or cools down a crisis, and propaganda can also have a "wildfire effect" when it gets out of control and produces long-term, unpredictable effects. Some of these long-term, undesirable effects include the creation of zealots who, years after a crisis, are still carrying out hate crime against a demonized enemy of years ago.  Other extremists may construct conspiracy-type distortions based on "outdated" ideas from earlier propaganda. Certain beliefs and attitudes, emotions and feelings, can rather easily lead to political extremism and fanaticism. Many of the crazies and fanatics in the world today exist because some government, somewhere, engaged in propaganda.  It's a dangerous, dirty business, and no self-respecting government ought to engage in it because it borders on being state criminality (Johns & Borreo 1991).


    The French philosopher and psychologist Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) coined the term "ideology" to refer to a people's unconscious habits of mind.  Propaganda is always based on ideology.  Ideology is like a theory of ideas (or a theory of theories), which consist of presuppositions (beliefs, assumptions, expectations) that make up our view of human nature (ontology), how we know things to be true or false (epistemology), and what we like and don't like (axiology).  For example, take ontology.  If we adopt an ideology that all human nature is inherently wicked, then a certain set of "root" theories can be derived; e.g., that only free will can keep people from making wicked choices; and then, only a certain set of "unit" theories can be derived after that; e.g., that the enemy is to blame for freely choosing to be wicked.  It's not that all ideology is a lie, but that the "root" theories derived from them almost always contain errors, and the "unit" theories derived from them almost always are lies.  Ideology may be an essential part of our social structure (Durkheim's position in sociology), or ideology may be a useless and superfluous part of our social structure (Marx's position in sociology).  Who really knows, since no one has ever been able to get past all the errors and lies to objectively analyze the utility or truthfulness of those "starting points" we call ideology.  One has to believe in something in order to believe in something else, and it's exactly this kind of manipulation that's involved in propaganda.  It (the propaganda) usually gets recognized as a big lie when the ideology is too complex (containing elemental or inconsistent errors from the mixture of ontological, epistemological, and axiological presuppositions).  The very complexity of ideology is sometimes taken as a sign that all ideology rests upon, or contains, a lie, although Durkheim would say that it always rests upon, or contains, a kernel of truth (Chambliss 1976).

    If the ideology behind propaganda is responsible for distortions of reality and truth, let's take it a step further, and discuss the concepts of hegemony and dominant ideology.  The concept of hegemony was advanced by Gramsci (1971) and the dominant ideology thesis was put forward by Alexander et. al (1980).  Both of these concepts relate to the issues of power and knowledge control, or in other words, how we address the fact that knowledge is power.  If one believes that the rich and powerful in society struggle for the hearts and minds of common people in order to convince them of the rightness of their worldview, then one is looking at propaganda as hegemony.  The classic way this is done is for the powerful to pretend they are in touch with the basic needs (food, shelter, sunlight, recreation, work) of people.  Hegemony is phony or fake humanism, but is assumes that the powerful have a coherent and consistent worldview or ideology to put forward.  On the other hand, if one believes that the rich and powerful are clueless about worldview, and only desire power for the sake of power, then one is looking a propaganda as dominant ideology, or an attempt to shape the contours or parameters of debate.  Dominant ideology tries to close off certain lines of discussion and thinking, not necessarily to produce outcomes in thinking.


    Most criminologists believe that the media itself (the fourth estate) plays a role in the distortions that are part of ideology and propaganda (Surette 1992; Barak 1994).  The media serve a propaganda function by working within the parameters of the dominant ideology.  This is especially so when the credible "sourcing" of a news story involves checking with a government official, which almost always ensures that the current government in power's ideology is the one put forward.  Further, when the media sources itself or other media, they reinforce the public's acceptance of the distortion (Parenti 1986).               

    Icons and celebrity cases are often needed as news stories so the propaganda can be disseminated through the news media.  There should always be a victim with whom the general public can identify, and a perpetrator (alleged or actual) who is to be feared, reviled, and despised.  If victims cannot be found that the public identifies with or feels pity for, then "fools" will do, as long as the other characters (heroes and villains) are present (Klapp 1962).

    It's important to read between the lines of the news and see what isn't being reported.  Distraction techniques are as effective as active propaganda. One way to test for distractions is to look for items that appear repeatedly in the foreign press and that don't appear in your own.  Another sure sign of propaganda is when a story changes, or reverses itself, after a sufficient number of facts become known.   


      The discipline of criminal justice, as an academic field of study, is no stranger to the critique that it, too, reflects a conservative bias.  Ever since the landmark article by Walter Miller (1973) in this regard, others (Kania 1988; Walsh & Ellis 1999) have periodically pointed out this tendency.  The conservative bias in criminal justice is drawn from an ideology (of Thomas Hobbes) that in a state of nature, the individual is bad.  The causes of deviance and crime, therefore, lie within the individual, and not with society or the state (people bad: society good).  Conservatism as an intellectual movement in criminology places great faith in state control of individual badness. 

    Propaganda in criminal justice uses stereotypes of criminals to constantly redirect our attention to a conservative ideology that all crime is because of individual badness.  This creates at least two problems for the discipline of criminal justice: (1) crime statistics cannot be trusted because they will not reflect the actual crime rates but instead reflect the perceptions of crime problems as reinforced by ideology and the media; and (2) criminal justice processes will never be truly aimed at reducing or eliminating crime because those processes will be too busy serving ideological purposes and achieving political goals.

    On the flip side, there are countervailing forces at work regarding a liberal bias in criminal justice. 

Breaking News in Drug War Propaganda
Disinfopedia Article on Propaganda
Disinfopedia Article on Propaganda Techniques
Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
Lippman, Liberty, and the Press
MegaLinks Lecture on War on Crime
Noam Chomsky Archive of Books and Articles
Noam Chomsky on Media Control
Propaganda Analysis website
Propaganda Techniques

PsyOps and Psychological Warfare
Teaching Aids for the Study of Political Rhetoric
Thinkquest: Wartime Propaganda
World War II Propaganda

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Last updated: 01/19/06
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