News and Propaganda

While it is a serious mistake, as has been said, to overvalue propaganda, it is an equally serious mistake to assume, as some people do, that everything in the newspapers and on the radio, in the movies and magazines, is “propaganda’’—propaganda that is self-seeking, deceitful, or otherwise improperly motivated. This is absurd.

The channels of communication can, of course, be used for propaganda. -They can be used for “bad” propaganda and they can also be used for “good” propaganda. And they can be utilized for material that is not propaganda at all.

Let’s look at just one case—that of the newspaper. Under the Constitution, freedom of the press is guaranteed. Why? Because a democratic nation knows that free expression of opinion and the free flow of facts, unhampered by governmental restrictions, is fundamental to intelligent action on the part of its citizens—and is also a social safety valve.

The journalist of today has a responsibility to report facts as accurately, objectively, and disinterestedly as is humanly possible. The newspaperman who respects himself and his work—the average newspaperman—-accepts this responsibility. The honest, self-disciplined, well-trained reporter seeks to be a propagandist for nothing but the truth.

Of course propaganda does bet into the press. Sometimes it is presented in the guise of impartial fact because the newspaperman is not sufficiently trained—or smart enough—to recognize it for what it is. Sometimes the newspaper is a conscious propagandist—in news and headlines both. And sometimes propaganda is so obviously news, and so obviously a matter of importance to the newspaper’s readers, that the paper presents it knowing that the readers themselves will recognize it for what it is and evaluate it for themselves.

All this imposes a responsibility upon the newspaper reader, and it is with him that the responsibility of judgment ultimately should and does lie. The good newspaperman does his best to confirm the news, to weed out propaganda that isn’t news, and to present whatever propaganda the citizenry ought to know about. Having done that, he leaves it up to the reader for evaluation and criticism. He knows that the critical reader—one decently supplied with facts and having some knowledge of propaganda methods and purposes—can do his own job of separating the wheat from the straw, the important from the unimportant. That is the citizen’s responsibility and his privilege in a democratic society.