Ethics & the Media: Propaganda

At an ethics conference in Virginia this year, Cara Biasucci and I met some of the people involved in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, which focuses on propaganda in Germany before and during WWII. Anyone who visits this exhibit, currently on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, will likely agree that it is a profoundly disturbing example of the insidious nature of propaganda and its ability to persuade otherwise reasonable people to act in horrific and tragic ways.

Over the last few months, we have been collaborating with the Bullock Texas State History Museum to shine a light on the behavioral ethics concepts, such as moral muteness, moral myopia and ethical fading, which often support the pervasive use of propaganda. Given the bruising election cycle that our country has been going through this year, we also saw an opportunity to explore a problem widely recognized by members of both political parties—national media coverage has become almost issue-free. Nearly all the public sees reported are the character flaws of the various candidates and who is ahead and who is behind in the polls. The facts, issues, and substance are all largely ignored. Coverage instead focuses on unsubstantiated rumors, name-calling of the worst kind, sensationalized details, and non-substantive issues. Indeed, during the election, both major presidential candidates were repeatedly attacked for using propaganda, for secretly wanting to become dictators, and (in confirmation of Godwin’s law) being potential Hitlers. Both candidates were the victims of utterly fake news that went viral. Any Google search linking either candidate’s name with the words “propaganda,” “dictator,” “totalitarian,” and “Hitler” will produce millions of results for each candidate in roughly similar numbers.

So, the message of Media Ethics & Propaganda is three-fold. First, propaganda is ubiquitous and dangerous. Second, the media is doing an inadequate job of policing propaganda in modern political campaigns and of informing the electorate regarding substantive policy issues. Third, it, therefore, becomes incumbent upon individuals to educate themselves so that they may vote in an informed way. Citizens must demand more of their candidates, of their media, and of themselves.

The first step in that journey is to identify and fight against unethical thought processes and behaviors. Please view this video and share it and this website with others. In early 2017, we will release Ethics Defined, a glossary of 51 short video clips that introduce and explain the fundamental ethical principles that enable civilized and peaceful coexistence.

Please join us in raising the level of thoughtful and productive discourse in our country and around the world. #EthicalLeadership begins with you!

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