Britain suffers from cognitive dissonance when it comes to recognising our own great propagandists, like Churchill
When Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda, set out in 1928 to explain what it was, he cited not Pravda, or puff from the Weimar Republic, but the New York Times. His point – analysing the front-page stories on relief for China, Zionism in the Middle East, and a report by President Hoover on US living standards – was not that American newspapers were propaganda, but that everything was.
Bernays, inspired in part by the work of his uncle Sigmund Freud, was hardly a glowing example of best practice. He used his command of propaganda – described as “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses” – for causes as diverse as civil rights, and persuading American women to spend more money on cigarettes. “Propaganda carries to many minds an unpleasant connotation,” Bernays wrote, “yet whether [it] is good or bad depends upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information published.”
‘History shall be kind to me, for I shall write it,’ is a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill