WRH 315: Propaganda and You

Fox News-“Liberal” Arts Degree?

Posted on: March 2, 2010

This post will be focused on a story covered by Fox News’ morning program, Fox and Friends, on how a recent study showed that college graduates were more likely to have a liberal political stance after obtaining a degree. The commentator in the segment accused “liberal” professors of promoting “propaganda” to “impressionable young minds” in college classrooms. However, the news segment itself employs various strategies used by propagandists.

This segment employs the four stratagems of influence used in propaganda, including pre-persuasion, establishing source credibility, delivering the message in a way to focus the audiences’ attention solely on their main point, and controlling the emotions of the audience so that they respond in accord with the presenter’s desired course of action. Like most news networks, this news segment covers a topic that would gain the immediate interest of the audience: the possible decline of higher education. Thus, the “Trouble with Schools” news segment on Fox News uses various techniques found in propaganda in order to capture the immediate attention of their audience.

The first stratagem of influence demonstrated in this news segment, pre-persuasion, is established within the opening statements of Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson. He reviews a recent intercollegiate study that stated that obtaining a college degree not only makes young adults more liberal but also fails to increase “civic knowledge.” In order to emphasize this point, Carlson states, “According to this study, more than a third of all college graduates cannot name the three branches of government.” He establishes pre-persuasion in the segment by emphasizing that some college graduates lack a basic understanding of an aspect of the U.S. government that should be common knowledge for U.S. citizens.

The establishment of credibility, the second stratagem of influence, is utilized midway through the news segment. Both the lead male news anchor and Carlson emphasize that the study in focus was conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in order to legitimize the source of their data for the story.

The third stratagem of influence is apparent when Carlson reemphasizes the second portion of the study’s results: young adults become more liberal on social issues after four years of college. This statement focuses the audience’s attention on the threat of liberal influence in higher education rather than allowing the audience to question the data that supported this portion of the study.

The final stratagem of influence in this segment elicits an emotional response from the audience and offers a solution to the problem at hand. The news anchor provokes an emotional response from the audience by asking Carlson, “How do we fix this if degrees are making graduates more likely to support same-sex marriage [and] less likely to support school prayer and American work ethic?” The key words, “same-sex marriage,” “school prayer” and “American work ethic” would elicit strong negative and positive emotional responses from conservative viewers. Carlson offers a solution to this issue by suggesting that colleges have “diversity of opinion” by employing professors who aren’t “conventional lifestyle liberals.” Thus, this news segment utilizes four stratagems of influence found in propaganda while warning viewers of a “threat” (such as liberal viewpoints in education) like most news stories.

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