This page is the Toxic Slime Menu

This section covers PR/spin/propaganda disguised as "news" – intentional dissemination of fallacies in the media. (It contrasts with unintentional media fallacies, caused by ineptitude etc, as covered in our Media Horseshit section).

General commentary on toxic slime:
• PR, spin, propaganda >
• Media "bias" & "balance" >
• Frame semantics & the media >
• Controlled by words >
• Semantic propaganda >
• Toxic slime database >
• Benign propaganda >

Some examples of toxic slime (from our database):
• Iraq "liberated" propaganda >
• The Mickey Mouse theories of neocons >
• God and Tony Blair >
• Greg Palast on "dependent" media >
• Critical studies of media on Iraq >
• Working from home – where's the media coverage? >
• Success of France's 35hr week censored >
• Work 'til you drop – the media on work >
• "Fuel tax revolt" propaganda >
• Advertising censorship >
• BBC deal to "not criticise" UK government >
• Laughter is the best dissent >
• The BBC and MI5 >
• "Pioneering" business leaders >

PR, spin, propaganda

Media Hell draws no line between "respectable" Public Relations (PR) and spin/propaganda. We also don't regard these activities as inherently bad. Everyone engages in self-promotion – relatively harmlessly in most cases. We regard PR/spin/propaganda as "toxic" only if it meets any of these criteria:

1. Contains significant fallacies.
2. Misrepresents its interests (eg masquerades as "news").
3. Monopolises communication channels.

Corporations and governments spend large sums on PR. This enables them to monopolise media coverage and wield the type of influence that enables PR to be presented as "news". Any individual (or small business, etc) can communicate a significant fallacy, but it takes major wealth/power for the "toxic" effect of a fallacy to have serious consequences for all.

Media "bias" & "balance"

We try to avoid labelling media coverage as "biased", as it implies that an unbiased position is possible. We've never seen an unbiased position on any issue. We've never seen a "balanced" viewpoint, either.

In a sense, all communication is "biased" propaganda. Even an airtight logical proposition is "biased" (ie biased towards the axioms of formal logic).

The question for us is not whether propaganda is "biased", but whether it's "toxic" (according to the criteria outlined above: fallacy, misrepresented interests, monopoly).

Toxic slime database

One aim of Media Hell is to build a database of examples of toxic propaganda, hyperlinked to our hierarchical fallacies database. We think this will provide a very useful resource. We have large amounts of raw data that we're currently working to incorporate into such a database. But we also need your input. We want examples of PR/spin/propaganda in media coverage (preferably with source details). Please contact us.

Frame semantics & the media

In recent years cognitive science has provided useful insights into the workings of propaganda. For example, "frame" semantics analyses how rightwing US think-tanks have successfully "framed" political issues in the media. (The most frequently cited case is the phrase "tax relief" – used to frame the issue of taxation as an affliction that needs to be relieved).

Frames are unconscious mental structures that shape our worldviews – eg by internal imagery/metaphor. One of the lessons of frame semantics is that when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame. For example, to argue directly against "tax relief" is to inadvertently strengthen the framing of the issue in those terms (ie tax as an affliction that needs relieving).

Another lesson is that when facts contradict a person's worldview (their conceptual "framing" of various issues), the facts will probably be ignored and the frames/worldview kept.

TV/newspaper reporters require stories, and each story needs a frame in order to make sense to the viewers/readers. The cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, has pointed out (in Don't think of an Elephant!) that after spending millions of dollars studying these issues, rightwing US think-tanks have the upper hand in spreading the type of frames that the media pick up and use. The solution, according to Lakoff, is not to react directly against these frames, but to reframe the issues with entirely different language/metaphors.

To intentionally frame an issue in a way which promotes one's own values can be viewed as an act of propaganda. Lakoff, however, advocates framing issues sincerely and openly – ie using frames "you really believe in, based on values you really hold". In other words it may be "propaganda", but it's not toxic – one doesn't misrepresent one's interests, present fallacies or monopolise the debate.

Benign propaganda

Elsewhere we've defined "uplifting propaganda" as:

Anything that removes the authoritarian "virus" from communication. Irony, satire and gentle mockery are standard methods used by counterculture philosophers of all ages.

Benign propaganda could be defined as any non-toxic communication – eg (according to our criteria for "non-toxic") any that doesn't contain fallacies, misrepresent its own interests or monopolise communication channels.

Since merely presenting the facts may not be enough (see above), we probably need to (unapologetically and unashamedly) become benign and/or uplifting propagandists to bring about the changes we desire.

The only difference between "benign" and "uplifting" propaganda (in our self-indulgent jargon) is that the latter leans more to satire and psychology than to straightforward political debate. Here's a good example of an "uplifting propaganda" project.