The distinction between fake news and propaganda is scale

In the romantic comedy ‘Their Finest’ set in the 1940s, Tom Buckley says “Dunkirk, the miracle that put fire back in our bellies.” He was referring to the Ministry of Information’s Department of Film which was charged to motivate the British and manipulate the Americans into joining the fisticuffs.

In the film Roger Swain says of the departments efforts “If we were to capture the public imagination and their trust, we need a story to inspire a nation.” Indeed it was propaganda machinations at its finest. When propaganda is used against our cause, it is evil manifested, but when it promotes our interests, we find another word for it, such as Public Relations.

We may echo one of Henry Kissinger’s descriptions of F. D. Roosevelt when he noted that the president was as ruthless and cunning as the brutes in the Axis of Evil but the only difference was that he was on our side.

Propaganda gets a bad rap because it is usually used for selfish and sometimes scary aims, such as Joseph Goebbel, the Third Reich’s Minister of Propaganda, and his anti-Semitic rhetoric. In the movie ‘Wag The Dog’ the incumbent president running for re-election hires a communications Mr. Fix It to produce a piece of news, Hollywood style, to distract the public attention away from an emerging sex scandal.

I suspect that the political TV series ‘West Wing’ season 7 was produced to prepare us for an Obama presidency. We also heard that the prolific producer Aaron Sorkin met with David Axelrod, Obama’s chief advisor through the campaigns, to discuss the new script. Unfortunately, however, I haven’t watched anything that has prepared anyone for a Trump presidency, if that is at all possible.

Speaking about promoting good causes, the UK’s National Health Service sent emissaries over to the producers of the hit show Neighbours when it’s popularity peaked. A major character in the drama was expecting a baby, and they appealed to the script writers to prominently feature breastfeeding in the storyline. The aim was to influence young mothers that formed a big part of the show’s audience, to which they agreed.

Sometimes it feels as if we are loosing our national values and that life in Kenya is all about chasing shillings and cents. Often, I’ve spoken to budding film producers and asked why they don’t initiate movements to develop movies that promote positive values among us. Their collective answer is short and to the point — “What’s the budget?” I guess that’s the evidence that our successful producers have more shillings than sense.

When it comes to budgets though, propaganda gets significantly more resources that fake news, and when you compare the two, the purveyors of fake news are bringing a switch blade to a gun fight.

All in all, I’ve seen propaganda inspire patriotism and motivate men to go beyond their limits, but all I’ve seen fake news do is fuel hatred, suspicion and prayers for lightening to strike down every one of the 36 bloggers.

Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’ discourages the use of mercenaries (read bloggers) to win battles. He says that they “are useless and dangerous… valiant before friends, but cowardly before enemies… in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.” Finally he states that if you do choose to use mercenaries to win battles, you must eliminate them and send them into exile or they will come for you once they are off your payroll.


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