Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Indiana University study shows Bill O'Reilly using propaganda techniques

By Diane Silver

Why am I not surprised? Indiana University today released a study showing that Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly out-propogandizes one of the top hate mongers of the 20th Century.

The study published in the spring issue of Journalism Studies notes, and the emphasis in bold is mine:
Using analysis techniques first developed in the 1930s by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Conway, Grabe and Grieves found that O'Reilly employed six of the seven propaganda devices nearly 13 times each minute in his editorials. His editorials also are presented on his Web site and in his newspaper columns.

The seven propaganda devices include:

  • Name calling -- giving something a bad label to make the audience reject it without examining the evidence;
  • Glittering generalities -- the oppositie of name calling;
  • Card stacking -- the selective use of facts and half-truths;
  • Bandwagon -- appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd;
  • Plain folks -- an attempt to convince an audience that they, and their ideas, are "of the people";
  • Transfer -- carries over the authority, sanction and prestige of something we respect or dispute to something the speaker would want us to accept; and
  • Testimonials -- involving a respected (or disrespected) person endorsing or rejecting an idea or person.

The same techniques were used during the late 1930s to study another prominent voice in a war-era, Father Charles Coughlin. His sermons evolved into a darker message of anti-Semitism and fascism, and he became a defender of Hitler and Mussolini. In this study, O'Reilly is a heavier and less-nuanced user of the propaganda devices than Coughlin.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

yet he is #1 on newsnetworks every single night.

good luck with that study, Indiana. It is no suprise he uses those techniques - he is kicking everyones ass in ratings...nobody is even close.

Diane Silver said...

All of which is why it's important for people to understand what they're watching and why they're responding. I prefer to believe that once people realize they're being bamboozled, they'll turn the channel. At the very least, if people don't know what's going on they'll never understand the fraud they're participating in. That's why this study is so important.

Joe said...

Odd: most of those tactics seem to be employed by liberals as well.

Diane Silver said...

Hi Joe.

Two thoughts on your comment. First, it's important for all of us to be aware of propaganda techniques so that we can spot when anyone from any side of a political debate is attempting to snow us. Second, attempting to claim that "everybody does it" is a way to misdirect attention from the reality that, no, not everybody does do this. This study, in fact, is not directed at all conservatives or even all Fox News commentators. It's only focused on O'Reilly.

The issue is to label propaganda whenever we see it and to be aware of how people are trying to manipulate us.

Joe said...

As your post stands, the issue is to label propaganda whenvever Conservatives use it.

Why not post a little analysis on propaganda techniques employed by Al Franken or Barack Obama? (You know, just to even it out.)

Diane Silver said...

Joe, you might want to go back and actually read the post. First, it's about 80 percent quote from the IU study, and second, it says nothing about conservatives in general.

Here's a question for you: Do you think O'Reilly uses propaganda techniques?

Joe said...

You're failing to address my initial point. I have no problem with you "exposing" prominent public figures who use propaganda techniques. However, posting a synopsis of an article that focuses primarily on Bill O'Reilly is a gross example of bias. Why do you think the authors chose O'Reilly as the focal point of their paper? Was he randomly chosen among personalities suspected to use propaganda, or is this a targeted effort?

If you are most interested in enlightening your readers to the potential of propaganda methods in society, perhaps you could do a bit more research into academic journals and find a source that takes a broader approach to their research.

As far as my opinion on O'Reilly, I believe he engages in propaganda techniques. (Though I find this to be a very blurry line to draw, as persuasion is an ubiquitous objective in all facets of personal and mass communication.)

Now it's my turn: Do you think Al Franken uses propaganda?

Diane Silver said...

On Al Franken, I honestly have to admit that I don't have a clue. I never read him or listen to him.

Joe said...

How much Bill O'Reilly do you read or watch?

Diane Silver said...

Actually, I've seen a heck of a lot more of O'Reilly than Franken. On the other hand, I can't claim to be an expert, and I did not do a content analysis, which is what the folks at Indiana University did.

Joe said...

Ah, relativism. Can't beat it.

Diane Silver said...

Huh? Joe, I think you're hallucinating. You're comment doesn't make a bit of sense. I think it's time to put this thread to bed. Go off and enjoy your weekend.

Anonymous said...

It is clear to me that most comments related to this study are not so much uninformed about the realities of news and opinion based entertainment, but rather they are uninformed about research. Good researchers ask simple questions to which simple methodology can be applied. In the case of O'Reilly, they had to start somewhere. It is up to other researchers (or the same researchers) to either falsify the IU findings, or to apply the same methodolgy to other figures, like Olberman, Moyers, etc. Research is always biased when it comes to selecting a subject, but good scientific method eliminates it from the data. I believe that if one looks at the entire study one will find that the study is solid, and the same methods will return interesting, comparable data for a variety of other subjects.

Joe said...

Anonymous: As a scientist myself, I never faulted the IU researchers methods or results. In fact, I mostly agree with their conclusions and methodology. However, why they limited their study to solely Bill O'Reilly is intriguing, though somewhat obvious considering the immense ratings he pulls compared to his liberal competition.

My main point of contention was that in Diane Silver's noble quest to inform her readers of media figures using propaganda techniques, she cites only one source, i.e. a paper investigating a conservative talking head. My counter-posts were simply to inform potential readers that left-leaning media figures use the exact same tactics and we should "be aware of propaganda techniques so that we can spot when anyone from any side of a political debate is attempting to snow us."



"Actually, I've seen a heck of a lot more of O'Reilly than Franken." This is a statement based on relativity--not unlike many of your posts.