“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell, 1984
The word propaganda is actually a Latin word that was originally introduced in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV in response to the global rise of Protestantism. He formed an “Office for the Propagation of the Faith” to oversee Catholic mission efforts in the New World. (“Congregatio de propaganda fide”) It is interesting that global forces and fears were the impetus behind these propaganda efforts, much like modern times.
During World War I propaganda became a secret weapon of our own government to turn public opinion against the Germans in order to prepare our nation for war. Before the war the word propaganda was so insignificant that it didn’t even have an entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. During the war it was little understood how much the media served as mouthpiece for the propaganda machinery that demonized “the Huns” and portrayed the Germans as Prussian barbarians.
In 1928 Edward Bernays, in a book titled Propaganda, argued that propaganda was a good thing, a useful tool for the ruling elite because the masses needed to be moved. They were sheep too dumb to know what was best for them without guidance. The government and the media should work together to create an appetite for the right goods, services, leaders. It was a positive, not a perjorative.
Within months of publication of this landmark manual the word was already getting a bad reputation. George Creel, in another book, revealed that our own U.S. Office of War Information had heavy-handedly practiced the art of public manipulation to seed the war effort. When the public learned they had been hoodwinked, manipulated by falsehood and innuendo, lies, exaggeration and half-truths, … well, the word had to be replaced by more positive terminology.
The new term is Public Relations. And what PR professionals practice is called “spin.”
Bernays used his book as a stepping stone to advance his own career as a publicist. He ultimately achieved the stature he desired, becoming a…