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Propaganda Techniques

by Hans Bluedorn

As we said last time, propaganda can be very useful when manipulating other's minds. Here are a couple more examples of propaganda:

"Exigency" is where someone attempts to sell you something, or in some way tries to get you to do something, because "your time is running out." An obvious example can be found in any mail order catalog: "Hurry, while supplies last!" It is hoped that the listener – you – won't waste time considering, but will buy the product before the chance is lost. "Exigency" is being used when nothing more than a time limit is given for persuasion.

Here is a real life example from, as usual, our President:

"This agreement (the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) is critical to protecting the American people from the dangers of nuclear war. It is therefore well worth fighting for, and I assure you the fight is far from over."

Here, the President says, without any supporting proof, that failing to pass this treaty will result in our peril. We are all in danger of becoming radioactive cosmic dust floating around the solar system, or something to that effect.

Why, after all these years of the atom bomb, only now are we in danger of nuking ourselves to bits from excessive warhead testing. Here Bill Clinton is using "exigency" in order to scare Congress into passing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.


"Innuendo" is being used when indirect hints are dropped that would harm others or benefit the speaker. Nothing is said in the open for fear they would have to back it up. Example: "I've never been suspected of sniffing cocaine!" We all know what the speaker is talking about, but nothing is said that would allow a challenge.

Here is another Clintonian example:

"Clinton said that since he took office in 1993, the number of computers connected to the Internet has increased to more than 56 million from 1.3 million, and the number of Web sites has reached 3.6 million from only 130.

Clinton maintained that his administration "has worked hard to unleash the power of information technology and to bridge the digital divide," noting that more than half of the nation's classrooms now are connected to the Internet." – from MSNBC website

This one is similar to the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy. If it happened while I was there, then it happened because I was there. Nothing is said that would back it up, but the inference is quite clear. Bill Clinton is using "innuendo" to make himself responsible for everything good in the last seven years.

Red Herring

Here is a old example I found on MSNBC.

"Julian Epstein, Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC that he doesn't think any new evidence turned up by Reno (about the standoff at Waco) will amount to much. "You can Monday morning quarterback this thing all you want, but that's not going to change what happened," he said. "The FBI had information that children were being hurt inside the building and they took action. Unless we come up with something that contradicts what the FBI was told, I don't think this investigation will amount to much."

This is a quite a clear example of Red Herring (wandering from a vulnerable subject to a more combatable one).

To paraphrase what is said; "you can argue all you want (this is the vulnerable subject), but the FBI thought there was child abuse going on (here is the change to the combatable one) so they took action. Unless you can disprove that, the FBI was in the right."

This is like saying: "You can argue all you want, but the FBI had dropped a box of donuts inside the building so they burnt it down to get them back. Unless you can disprove that, you're wasting your time."

What does suspected child abuse have to do with it? Does that justify using CS gas to get them out? We're not arguing about why they took action (although we could argue about that). We are arguing about the action they took. Does suspected child abuse justify the use of an internationally banned, flammable irritant on everyone, including the kids?

Does any one have any comments on this?


You Find the Fallacy

I can't remember where I found this, but it is talking about Rev. Jessie Jackson's recent protest at a Decatur, Illinois high-school over the expulsion of several black youths for causing and participating in a fight. See if you can find the fallacy(s) or propaganda technique(s) in this quote.

"While Jackson emphasized from the start that the dispute [over whether to allow the youths back in school] was about "fairness" and not race, some of the protesters Sunday and at a smaller demonstration at Eisenhower High today noted that all of the board members who voted to expel the students were white and the only dissenting vote was from a black member, Jeffrey Perkins, who contended that school officials were too quick to equate rowdy behavior by black youths with gang activity. The school district is 60 percent white and 39 percent black." – Unknown Source.

Note: The fallacy(s) or propaganda technique(s) in here was/were covered on this, or one of the past loops.

Hint: Focus in on, "some of the protesters Sunday ... noted that all of the board members who voted to expel the students were white and the only dissenting vote was from a black member.

I am awaiting your responses.


To: Logic Loop


Here's a quote from Bill Clinton in his defense of homosexuality:

"The biggest problem we have is the primitive, age-old fear, hatred, and dehumanization of other people who are not like us." (Note: I may not have the quote 100% correct because I heard it on the Headline News Network and wrote it to the best of my memory. However, I believe I am close.)

It seems to me that Clinton is implying that people who feel homosexuality is wrong are just like people who are racial bigots. To me I see elements of an ad hominem argument coupled with the propaganda technique of innuendo. Hans, what do you think?

(Note: It is amazing to me how much politicians rely on emotional instead of rational appeals. To me it says much about the inability of the average voter in this country to think logically.)

Randy Hoheisel


This is a good example of a "Wishful Thinking" Ad Hominem argument. An argument is made that deep psychological problems have tainted a person's thought processes so that they are now incapable of proper reasoning.

Example: "You only believe that because you fell down a well when you were three and now you can't think deep thoughts."

This quote is not addressing the topic, just attacking the opponent's psyche.


To: Logic Loop

Hi, Hans!

My name is Roger Van Couwenberghe, in Sonoma Co., CA

My contribution, but I don't know the name of the fallacy:

Headline in newspaper back East: "SUV Kills Pedestrian".

This is a direct fallacy, for sure, but it's also more subtly fallacious, since it provokes formation of an opinion over many instances of this kind of information. Is this an example of Poisoning the Well against SUVs, where eventually the mere mention of "SUV" invokes irrational loathing?

Roger Couwenberghe


Thanks for your example, you're making my job a lot easier.

While it may contain Poisoning the Well, I think your example would better fit into the category "Non Sequitur." This is an "all purpose" fallacy where the conclusion plainly just does not follow. The wording makes no sense. SUVs are incapable of killing anyone, accidents are ALWAYS the result of human error. It's like saying "World Trade Center bombs itself." After reading the article it would be impossible to properly conclude that. Whether it be the driver, "victim," or the manufacturer at fault, the tool used is never to blame, there is always someone at fault. As usual, this is another attempt at transferring blame away from the real culprit to a more punishable object.

When this is used many times (and it is) it is a propaganda technique called "repetition" where something is said often in order to make people believe it (Repetition was covered on the last loop).


You found the fallacy

Last time at the end of the loop I printed portions of an article that linked this decade's declining crime rate to the rise of abortion in the 1970's. I asked you to name a logical fallacy that was used. Here are the responses.

Hans –

In reference to the drop in the crime rate. I believe two fallacies were used here: (1) Fallacy of False Cause and (2) Fallacy of Hasty Generalization. If other fallacies were used, I do not have the experience to spot them. They do not tell you what other studies they looked at, nor what factors were looked at. They want you to accept their "facts" at face value, without their having to divulge how exactly they came to their conclusions. Thanks –


Dear Hans,

Ok, I will give it a shot. One logical fallacy that I see is this statement, "After the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the number of abortions exploded. This reduced the number of "unwanted" children, particularly those who would have lived in less-than-ideal homes filled with poverty, neglect, or abuse. The authors, citing other studies, say such children are more likely to turn to crime."

Not all "unwanted" children commit crimes, just as all children who are poor, neglected, or abused commit crimes. I think this would be considered a Fallacy of Hasty Generalization – that is, an impoverished teen robbed a store, therefore, all poor people will steal.

Another fallacy I see is in this statement, "But since they weren't born, the authors argue, crime came down." How can you count crime statistics that have never happened? How can crime rates have come down if the supposed criminals had never been born? How do we know the prospective victims had never been born? If the criminals haven't been born, and their victims haven't been born, what does that have to say about the crime rates? Or, how can a balloon fall from the sky when it was never launched? My guess is that this would fall in the category of Fallacy of False Cause (Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc).

How'd I do?

Since both responses more or less came to the same conclusion, I'll address them en-masse.

First of all, I'll say that Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc was the response both of you got, and the one I was looking for.

Quote: "The authors, citing other studies, say such children are more likely to turn to crime. And those kids would have hit their prime crime-committing years – ages 18 to 24 – in the early 1990's. But since they weren't born, the authors argue, crime came down.

They note, too, that the five states that legalized abortion before 1973 – Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York, Washington – all saw crime rates drop before the rest of the country did."

This shows definite elements of "these kids weren't around when the crime rate came down, therefore the kids' absence caused the crime rate to come down." Obviously this is a less than ideal form of argument. Craig Nitschke's response phrased it very well. Millions of other possible causes for the "lower" crime rate are ignored (among them: the only place the crime rate could go was down) to focus on one untraceable cause.

Secondly, however, while the quote has Generalizations in it, we don't have enough of the information from these men's thesis to tell whether it was too hasty. While they can never prove anything for certain, generalizations aren't all bad, they can actually give you very useful information. In fact all studies are generalizations. Only the ones that over-generalize with insufficient information are hasty.

An example of a hasty generalization would be: "All plumbers are brilliant, I know a plumber that can calculate Pi to the 289,954th digit."

"After the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion, the number of abortions exploded. This reduced the number of "unwanted" children, particularly those who would have lived in less-than-ideal homes filled with poverty, neglect, or abuse."

Like you said, do all "unwanted" children come from "less-than-ideal homes filled with poverty, neglect, or abuse?" Or just the ones they've seen? Unfortunately, we can't show whether this was hasty or not because it doesn't say whether any studies were used to show this. (I suspect not.)

Thanks for your responses. Getting feedback from other people helps out a lot and shows me what you guys want in this loop.

Copyright November 29, 1999, all rights reserved. 21160 views

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