Propaganda and politics

During the Republican National Convention in New York City, Senator John McCain called Michael Moore a “disingenuous filmmaker.”

Moore, whose movie Fahrenheit 9-11 has soared past $117.3 million domestically, has had a not-so-secret agenda to remove President George W. Bush this November.

In a scheme right out of Hollywood, McCain wasn’t told that Moore was at the convention as a correspondent for USA Today.

As the crowd booed Moore and chanted “four more years,” McCain repeated his phrase, while Moore simply lifted his thumb and index finger toward his forehead in a gesture meaning “loser” and said, “Two more months.”

Moore’s controversial “documentary,” Fahrenheit 9-11, came out in July and, and, according to this week’s post on his Web site, it will be released Oct. 5 on VHS and DVD. This breaks the nine-month distribution rule for films set by the Academy Award consideration for Best Documentary, but Moore doesn’t mind.

“If there is even the remotest of chances that I can get this film seen by a few million more Americans before election day, then that is more important to me than winning another documentary Oscar. I have already won a Best Documentary statue,” Moore said, referring to 2002’s Bowling for Columbine.


Wikipedia, a free online dictionary defines propaganda as a “specific type of message presentation, aimed at serving an agenda; even if the message conveys true information, it may be partisan and fails to paint a complete and balanced picture.”

Well, Fahrenheit 9-11 certainly seems to share some propaganda-type characteristics.

“Back where I’m from (Kuwait), if it documents anything it’s a documentary,” Qusay Al-Qattan, an accounting major, said. “If both sides don’t agree, then maybe it shouldn’t be called a documentary.”

Environmental and political science professor Michael Miller said that no matter what one’s personal opinion of Moore happens to be, the film does have some merit for voters to think on before the election.

“The film does have interesting points for people to explore the validity of, such as the Saudi Royal family, the money they’ve invested in the United States, and their relationships with important politicians such as Bush,” Miller said.

Miller said he is giving students in his Tuesday and Thursday Public Policy class an opportunity to get extra credit for seeing either Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9-11 for a variety of reasons.

“A lot of students are already familiar with both films, and they may be attracted to the exercise,” he said. “And another thing, the film is very controversial. That’s enough to get students or anybody interested in critiquing or analyzing the films, and (finally) both films are recent and therefore relevant with issues such as gun control and the ‘War on Terror.'”

Miller said students don’t have to agree with Moore, but rather, examine his claims.

“He was unfair in some cases. That shows that he was not really making a factual documentary because there’s an element of Hollywood. (Propaganda) can play a very important role in politics. A lot of it can depend on the method used to expose us to ideas,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more ‘Hollywood documentaries’ and that becomes more frequent.”

“It’s a means to get people on a side,” biomedical science major Nisha Krishnan said. “I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as people (realize his motivations), do their own research and not follow blindly.”

Krishnan said she thinks Moore’s film will influence voters on Nov. 2, but engineering student Jeff Rogers said he disagrees.

“I doubt it (will make a difference). Most people don’t believe what they see, especially if it’s a movie,” he said.

Rogers, however, said that he had not seen the film. In fact, out of 12 random students surveyed on campus about their opinion, only two students had seen a Michael Moore film, five didn’t know who he was and the rest planned to wait to see the movie when it becomes available for purchase in October.

“I haven’t an informed opinion,” said Cynthia Woolford, an English literature major. “All that matters is how much attention is given to it. It seems like most people have already formed an opinion.”

Natasha Borno, a literature and pre-med major, had seen both Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9-11.

“I personally think there’s a lot of propaganda. He shows all the footage the news reporters didn’t show,” she said. “As long as we have freedom of speech, he can use his skills to get ‘regime change.’ Just because we’re Americans, doesn’t mean we have to like everything Americans do.

Borno’s definition follows the thinking of the Romans who first used propaganda but who did not use it in the modern sense.


What most people think of when propaganda is mentioned is swaying public opinion with false and biased information. Originally, this did not mean spreading false information. In fact, the word “propaganda” itself comes from Latin and means “things to be propagated.”

Its’ modern sense came about when journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) were hired by President Woodrow Wilson to persuade citizens into supporting World War I.

Lippman’s and Bernays’ efforts would be so impressive that Adolf Hitler would later blame Allied propaganda for corroding German morale and prompted him to set up his own propaganda machine.

During World War II, the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany reminded the people of previous struggles with other nations, vilified Jews and celebrated German achievement in order to try to convince citizens of other countries that it was their governments starting trouble with Germany.

During the Cold War, Communist countries and Capitalist countries continued the cycle by using film, literature, radio shows and images to influence their citizens. For the Soviets, this may have included images of Stalin or texts of “The People and the Army are United.”

In the United States, George Orwell’s books Animal Farm and 1984 portrayed totalitarian rule, where words were regulated.


During the invasion of Afghanistan in the Fall 2001, U.S. aircrafts dropped leaflets, which showed Americans as friends and the Taliban as enemies. Psychological operations tactics (PsyOps) were hired to win over Afghanis to the American agenda. Has it worked? The number of deaths paints a ghastly picture. According to the Operation Enduring Freedom U.S. Fatality chart at, the number of fatalities is listed at 133. If one adds in the fatalities in Iraq, which is 1,004, then the number of fatalities comes out at 1,137.


While the meaning of propaganda has changed, the intent to change peoples’ minds remains the same: change minds with persuasive arguments. It remains to be seen whether Michael Moore’s films will or even should influence the election.

Al-Qattan, said it best. “Is he right or wrong? I don’t know.”