The Crimson Bookshelf
MOBILIZING FOR CHAOS: THE STORY OF THE NEW PROPAGANDA. By O. W. Riegel. Yale University Press. 231 p. $2.50.
The following review was written especially for the Crimson by William P. Maddox, instructor and tutor in Government.
THE "new propaganda," of which Mr. Riegel speaks, is really a very old propaganda applied in an increasingly effective fashion by national governments in their competitive struggle for power. It is "new" only in the sense that modern ingenuity has multiplied the agencies which may be used for propaganda dissemination. Moreover, the modern government is employing specialists whose sole activity is the invention of new and marvellous ways of capturing a favorable public opinion, not only at home, but abroad as well.
If anything is needed to demonstrate the respect with which governments hold the power of opinion in international affairs, the array of evidence in this book should suffice. The material is here, although it is presented with all the unrestraint of journalistic sensationalism, and without that balanced judgment and perspective so badly needed in a book of this sort. Mr. Riegel sets out to "view with alarm" the world-wide battle of nationalist propaganda and indeed, few will deny that it is a story lending itself to sensational treatment. It is a story that should be widely publicized.
The special focus is on the use made of the press. The average man forms his impressions of world affairs largely from the columns of his daily newspaper. What assurance is there that these columns portray the truth? In fully half the countries of the globe, the news was probably gathered by local news agencies (governmentally-controlled) and turned over to the American press representative. He also has access, in some cases, to an official press bureau of the government, and to a government-inspired or-controlled local press. What material he assembles perhaps then must run the gauntlet of a more or less stringent censorship, and be transmitted over cable and radio facilities also nationally controlled. Nearly every source of information is slightly biased, every avenue of communication may be closed by one or another government if the news is displeasing. The news is further filtered through American editorial desks, cager, in many cases, to accentuate exciting foreign conflict, or developments calculated to arouse American patriotic ire--with beneficial circulation results. Thus appears the "news" out of which the average man forms his opinions on foreign affairs.
This, perhaps, is exaggeration. Certainly, so far as the United States is concerned, there is still the time-worn safeguard of competition--the competition of press associations, of newspapers, of cable companies--and freedom from censorship. The extravagance of one report may be corrected by the moderation of another. There is further the competition of news despatches from many foreign capitals. Affirmation clashes with denial. Oddly enough, national competition still has its value. But ruthless competition in any form (national, or that of profit-greedy newspapers, as during the Cuban crisis, 1895-1898) is as dangerous as autocratic, or monopolistic control. The middle ground of regulated, responsible competition is the modern democratic ideal, as it is also the international ideal. A few countries approximate the former domestically; the world is only very, very slowly attaining the latter.