The Power of Propaganda: Why Ethics in Media and Journalism Matters to Minority Populations

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    At some point in our lives, we were told to believe none of what we hear and only half of what we see. This bit of wisdom was shared with us as a warning against being swayed by gossip, rumors, and even malicious lies so that we could remain free to think and come to know the truth about a matter for ourselves. We took heed of that advice and considered ourselves capable of making up our minds about what matters to us. We believe ourselves to be open-minded, intelligent, and able to decipher the truth from a lie. But what if we are only half-armed with half-truths in our battle to be unbiased?


    Well, consider another old saying of our elders advising us to continuously view the source of the information we receive before entertaining any ideas or taking action. The warning made us aware that some data sources can be as incredible as a lie. Often, we were advised to examine the motives of the source spreading the gossip or rumor under the guise of informing us about a matter.

    Now, take both of those sayings and apply them to the massive amount of information we must filter every day that comes to us from the television, internet, magazines, blogs, podcasts, e-mail blasts, websites, and even your local newspaper. Is what we read, hear, and learn by clicking all those links true? Are the sources from which we receive what we believe to be verified facts credible and ethical in their motives to get so much information to so many people at record speed? Well, far too often, the answer to both of those questions is no, especially when we examine how minorities and people of color are portrayed.

    Propaganda is incredibly biased or misleading information used to publicize or promote a particular agenda, political cause, or point of view. Its primary purpose is to influence public opinion and aspects of human behavior.

    Once again, I ask you to carefully examine how minorities and people of color are presented to the public by the media. When you watch your favorite television show, tune in to the radio, scroll down the internet, pick a newspaper, and watch the evening news, very few positive images of minorities can be found. Every now and then, when it is impossible to overlook a phenomenal achievement by Black and brown people, a carefully edited story makes a brief appearance in the headlines of a newspaper, ticks across the bottom of your television screen, or pops up among ads on a website.

    Now, think again about the last story you saw on TV, read in the papers, or scrolled by on the internet that featured someone who looked like you. Was it uplifting, inspirational, or focused on something that made you proud of your people and culture? Was it about a person who is serving their city or community? Was it highlighting a significant part of Black history? Or was it another attempt to highlight poverty, ignorance, violence, criminal behavior, and other negative attributes so readily assigned to us by mainstream media?

    I have always found it most interesting that no matter the story being covered on the news, it seems that the only Black person they can find to interview is a toothless, inarticulate, uninformed resident! If you did not know any better, you would believe that an entire group of people were all bonnethead Betty, sagging pants Sammy, toothless Tommy, welfare Wanda, criminal-minded Craig, and violent Victor. This media madness is not confined to Mississippi or the South, for that matter. The unethical and intentional promotion of this propaganda by unscrupulous journalists happens all day, every day across the country in every city and state, from the first breaking news story at 5 am until the last headline for the local newspaper. During recent travels, I found myself in three cities in three states within a week. I watched the news to get the local weather and quickly realized that the format was identical to every other city.

    As I began to “watch the news,” I saw the subliminal and apparent similarities across all media outlets! It was as if someone went from city to city, state to state, station to station, editor to editor with a template and handed it to them saying, “All of you take this and cut all of your stories the same way, lay them out the same way, and present them exactly like this!”

    I was left wondering if originality, truth, and ethics in journalism still exist among those responsible for getting information to the masses. I pondered even further if those in control of what we see, hear, and read are ever convicted by their conscience to be mindful of the damage done to humankind, not just those targeted for misrepresentation.

    Spreading half-truths which are, in fact, still a whole lie, along with stereotypes and myths, melt far too many minds into one big ball of bias. This bias grows like cancer in our communities, creating complex barriers for the targeted groups to overcome. This bias builds walls that separate people and block progress toward the common good.

    Most devastating is the seed that media propaganda plants in the minds of the Black and brown people who are so negatively publicized in print, film, and all other outlets. “Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth” is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Psychologists refer to this as the” illusion of truth” effect. This illusion of reality is the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure. This “illusion of truth” phenomenon was first identified at Villanova University and Temple University more than forty-five years ago. This phenomenon of media propaganda is most dangerous to minorities and people of color.

    This “illusion of truth” has existed for more than forty-five years! Over the past thirty years, it has been intensified to infiltrate every bit of information about and for people of color. The 1990s saw an explosion in the use of this illusion in movies, videos, and music marketed to minorities promoting gross immorality, illicit sex, the use and sale of drugs, glorification of gangs, and the destructive street life that has filled graves and prison cells with the bodies of some of our most brilliant young men. The media have used this illusion to blur and block our vision of extraordinary and everyday heroes who walk among us. We are not all rappers and athletes, thugs and criminals, statistics or stragglers, goons and gangsters. We are hardworking, moral, and creative people who stand on the shoulders of innovative, ingenious ancestors who sacrificed their lives to build this country and contribute to its place as a world power. It is necessary that we be represented at our best and as who we truly are.

    The lion’s story will never be known if the hunter is the one to tell it is a proverb originating in Africa.
    This powerful proverb perfectly expresses the motivation of the founders of The Clarksdale Advocate Newspaper in launching this inaugural issue. Our stories and the truth about us will be heard, read, and told as they should be, not as others who profit from derogatory depictions want us to be.

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