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How You Can Fight Propaganda and Defend the Free Press

So fundamental to democracy is the right to free speech and a free press, that they are enshrined in the very first amendment made to our Constitution! Presently, the assault on the freedom of the press in our country goes beyond the epithets the President hurls at legitimate media sources, erroneously referring to them as "fake news" outlets; or calling journalists who seek to report accurate, though unflattering news, disgusting, dishonest people whom he hates; or colluding with a foreign power to cover up the grisly murder of a journalist; or suspending a journalist's press privileges when he dares to insist upon asking uncomfortable followup questions; or calling the Press the "enemy of the people" ~~ these are all methods in the bag of tricks of any real or would-be authoritarian.

The threat to a free press and our democracy, however, is more insidious than that! If we are not to unwittingly support this assault, we must resist normalizing any of this kind of language and behavior, AND we must take care to not delegitimize the press. We must maintain and support high expectations for the press, holding both them, and ourselves, accountable for what is reported, and perhaps more importantly, how it is reported! Be vocal about reporting that serves to support lies and misleading perspectives--respond to editors and journalists. They need our support...and at times a bit of education. The rules of journalism, such as the practice of displaying "objectivity" by using direct quotes from the bully pulpit, are no longer functional when reporting on a President who consistently lies and misleads. We must support the press, but also demand that they adjust to the circumstances of our time! See this important related article published today in The Atlantic:

It is essential that we avoid strengthening the underlying message of any propagandist by blithely repeating the charged language they use! Monitor your own--and your news source's--emphasis of the President's language, minimizing the use of charged phrases like "enemy of the people," "fake news," or "caravan of invaders." Simply repeating and denying an assertion strengthens the message, and with enough repetition--as Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels told us--it becomes "truth."

Rather, underscore what the truth behind their statement or frame actually is, and assert what you believe the President or other politician may be trying to obscure or distract us from seeing. Instead of using the President's pejoratives, speak of the the "forth estate," the "free press," or of "a group of disadvantaged people seeking refuge from violence and destitute poverty." Don't tolerate news sources using the emotionally charged language the President or the quasi-state media outlets use to vilify and create negative associations. Speak up, write letters to the editor, and reply directly to journalists to bring these concerns to their attention.

The work of cognitive linguist, George Lakoff is highly instructive in helping to frame this problem...and provide some approaches to mitigating it. In a Vox article, Lakoff reminds us that "[M]any journalists still assume that language is neutral, that you can just repeat language and it’s completely neutral. In fact, language is never neutral. Language is always framed in a certain way, and it always has consequences."

When the media simply repeats the President's language, they inadvertently become his great ally! Dr. Lakoff also considers the least detrimental way of framing quotes of the President's that actually require repeating, to be a "truth sandwich." He suggests that we should state the "...big-picture truth...right away (e.g...Little of substance was accomplished in the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, despite the pageantry). Then report what Trump is claiming about it... And then,...fact-check his claims....Avoid retelling the lies. Avoid putting them in headlines, leads or tweets...because it is that very amplification that gives them power. That’s how propaganda works on the brain: through repetition, even when part of that repetition is fact-checking."

Using the language of neural pathways, framing, and metaphor, Lakoff also provides us with an important framework to understand the great divide between conservative and progressive thought. Please take a look at the links above and below to clarify these important insights.

We treasure our free speech and free press--be sure to contribute to it by letting your voice be heard in it's service!


Four rules for a Free Press..."Framelab" podcast episode:

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