White Propaganda: The Official Line

Propaganda is a fascinating topic but it's hard to find really good case studies of various elements that are going to be broadly agreeable to a broad swath of readers. I have been working on a post in its totality for many, many years now, like no joke, 5 years... I don't think it will ever be done in full and I want to pop a few things out to get this area started since I have several of these kinds of posts. So, with that in mind, what is Propaganda?

Propaganda is the more or less systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, hairstyles, designs on coins and postage stamps, and so forth). Deliberateness and a relatively heavy emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. Propagandists have a specified goal or set of goals. To achieve these, they deliberately select facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and present them in ways they think will have the most effect. To maximize effect, they may omit or distort pertinent facts or simply lie, and they may try to divert the attention of the reactors (the people they are trying to sway) from everything but their own propaganda.
Bruce Lannes Smith; Propaganda; Encyclopedia Britannica

Everything is propaganda and propaganda is everything. Advertising is designed to manipulate your attitude toward a product, by means of the symbol that is the brand logo, to influence you to buy it. Religion is designed to manipulate your beliefs and actions so that you live the chosen righteous life according to the beliefs of that religion via symbols such as how you pray, where you pray, who your chosen god or gods are etc. It is an everyday, normal thing that we experience. Sometimes we are skeptical, and it is only that which we see as concerning, wrong, different or manipulative that we take issues with as being propaganda.

Propaganda is vast, broad and misunderstood and I'm just going to give a few fun little tidbits here rather than dive deep into the whole thing, in This post I'm just going to look at White Propaganda, one of the three major areas. Just for context, Grey Propaganda is Propaganda that appears legitimate, doesn't appear to have an agenda and the evidence for it is in citations that cite other sources, that cite the original source to launder facts. An idea called the Woozle Effect, something best described by LazerPig sums up neatly, discussing the bullshit that is the Fighter Mafia.

There is also Black Propaganda, which is Propaganda that is disseminated purely for the purpose of subversion and from a source that obscures its origins. A prime example of this is the Soviet Disinformation operation to influence people's opinion of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s by using an Indian newspaper called Patriot. Patriot was a KGB front set up expressly for disinformation, they spread the story by presenting themselves as journalists quoting scientists and studies. Unlike the Woozle Effect, where the citations are self-referential, here the journalists, scientists and studies don't exist because the goal was not to appear legitimate, appear to have no agenda or to launder facts, it was to foment anti-Americanism internationally, sow distrust in the US Government and potentially also to destabilize the US. Textbook effects of good Subversion.

White Propaganda

White Propaganda — Propaganda disseminated and acknowledged by the sponsor or by an accredited agency thereof
US Joint Chiefs of Staff; Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, pp 462

White Propaganda is the official statement, from an official who is accredited to be a member of a given organisation. This could be the CEO of a corporation, the Pope or a Government Minister. You are aware of who these people are and what they are sping they are putting on the information. For example, when AMD releases a new product, you expect to see Dr Lisa Su get up on stage and announce at least in part, the product or build up to the product before handing it over to someone else to make the announcement, who is introduced as a member of the company working in a given division.

So in that context, if the pope were to browse Instagram and like the racy photos of a Brazilian model, and then do it a second time a month later, one might question is viewing such racy imagery is now seen as a righteous thing by the Catholic Church? Furthermore, when you see that both models have OnlyFans accounts, a subscription service popular with sex workers, but also others too, one might question is this a papal endorsement of pornography? Or is it an indication that Pope Francis feels that millennia of Christian Orthodoxy on the role of Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus Christ are to be reexamined?

When the Budget is announced for Ireland, you expect to have an extensive statement, from the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Expenditure. Over the course of their extensive statements cover the state's economic situation, the budgets for different government departments, capital projects, supplementary spending for various things and change to taxation regimes if needed to pay for all of this or to tax the general public less.

None of these examples are sinister, suspect or wrong in any way, but this is the point of propaganda. In a way, it is the honest manipulation of you. So with that in mind, let's take a look at some specific examples;

White Propaganda in the United Kingdom

My favourite example of White Propaganda is the Official History. While there are many, such as the Gulf War Air Power Survey from the US Air Force to document their performance in the war, the best example you will find is that of intelligence services in the UK.

Over roughly the past decade, there have been extensive books written by professional historians, with access to a lot of classified and archived materials, covering operations at these intelligence services from their predecessors and beginnings up to a point. The first of these, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 by Christopher Andrew and covers the history of MI5, now known as the Security Service, the domestic intelligence and counter-intelligence service, from 1909 to the near present ending after discussing operations post 9/11. The next is MI6: The history of the Secret Intelligence Service by Keith Jeffery which covers the history of MI6, or the Secret Intelligence Service, the foreign intelligence service, from 1909 to 1948. Finally, there is Behind the Enigma by John Ferris, a history of GCHQ, the UK's Signals and Cyber intelligence agency, from 1844 to 1992, with some details up to 2020.

As I noted, it's not limited to the UK. The single greatest example of this may be the absolutely titanic effort over the last 30 years and probably longer, by the German Military History Research Office to write the 12,000 page, 13 volume work, on the official history of the Wehrmacht in World War 2 titled Germany and the Second World War. It begins by examining the Weimar Republic, Hitler's rise to power, economics, rearmament and Foreign Policy in the build-up to World War 2.

White Propaganda in the Republic of Ireland

While generally when people hear about the concept of a Ministry of Propaganda, they think in terms of Joseph Goebbels and Nazi Germany or papers like Pravda or Izvestia run by people like Stalin or Bukharin, under the auspices of Agitprop in the Soviet Union, it's easy to forget that propaganda is not something confined to the evils of the Naiz's or the western views of the Soviet Union in the Cold War or before, but that a quick look for a list of Ministries of Propaganda has some unexpected names on it, such as Ireland.

On the 21st of January 1919, Sinn Fein formed a breakaway Government for Ireland and proclaimed independence from the British Empire. With Censorship still in effect from World War 1, republican ideas were censored in the press. In August 1919, the Censor was abolished, only for in September 1919, to have the Dáil outlawed. In response to this, in November of 1919, the Dáil began to publish the Irish Bulletin, published by the Department of Propaganda, which was set up on the 2nd of April 1919 under the leadership of an Irish poet, Desmond FitzGerald.

The Irish Bulletin was a daily publication on Republican successes and condemnation of the British and their actions. It quickly became essential reading for foreign correspondents who wanted a more full picture of goings on in the newly formed state and about what may really be happening in the guerrilla war, even if it had a particular spin on the information. It also became essential reading in Westminster, especially among members of the British Labour Party who had some sympathy with the cause of Irish Republicanism. At the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921, the Bulletin ceased publication.

After FitzGerald was arrested, Erskine Childers became the Director of Propaganda. As for a former British soldier who fought in the Boer War and World War 1 before becoming a champion of Irish Home Rule. As a former imperialist, he was perfect to combat British Propaganda of the time that described republican guerrilla action as the work of a murder gang, including making sure that it was official policy that this was all part of actions as part of a state of war between the independent state of Ireland and the British Empire on the 11th of March of 1921.

FitzGerald was released from prison in August 1921 and took his role back, only change the Director of Propaganda became the Minister for Publicity in September of 1921. It is now a former ministry that was never revived and it appears that in September of 1922 the ministry was dissolved, but I cannot find good sources for this.

None of this information would have come to light for me, if not for an article by Ian Kenneally, a PhD student researching Irish history, who wrote about censorship and propaganda in the Irish War of Independence for RTE, which lead me to more of his work, and highlighted that I had read some of it previously unknowingly. If you're interested in seeing the calibre of his research, I highly recommend reading the Revolution Papers. As well as the official history of the period as part of commemorations for the 100th Anniversary of an Dáil Éireann.

Paddy Kerley

Paddy Kerley