Anth/Soc 345

Media, Politics and Propaganda

Number of credits: 5

Instructor: Bill Grigsby

Course time(s): varies, at least every other year (winter or spring term), online version summer term

General Education: SSC (Social Science and Culture)

Catalog description: Americans are exposed to more propaganda–considerably more–than any other society. A good portion of it is presented as ‘news.’ Are we savvy about this, immune to it, or detrimentally unaware? This course examines the commercial and alternative news media, how they are structured, and how we consume them. News organizations get to decide what to cover, what not to cover, where to cover it, how to cover it, and how long to cover it. How are those decisions made? And what is the role of persuasion, either by news organizations, or through the efforts of outside forces and pressure groups, and how does propaganda coexist with democratic process? The object of this course is to provide students with a framework for understanding corporate news media and its effect on political processes and public opinion.

Prerequisites: None. Recommended: Soc 205.


Most recent syllabi: Spring 2016 (on campus); Summer 2017 (online)

Recent textbooks used:

  • Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson. 2001. Age of Propaganda: The everyday use and abuse of persuasion. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Robert Cialdini. 2009. Influence: Science and Practice. Boston: Pearson.
  • Project Censored. 2013. Censored 2013: The Top 25 Censored Media Stories. Mickey Huff and Project Censored (eds). New York: Seven Stories Press.
  • Neil Postman. 1986. Amusing Ourselves to Death. NY: Penguin.
  • Richard Paul and Linda Elder. 2005. How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
  • Ben Bagdikian. 2000. The Media Monopoly (6th edition). Boston: Beacon.
  • Barry Glassner. 1999. Culture of Fear. NY: Basic Books.
  • Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber. 2002. Trust us, we’re experts! New York: Putnam.
  • Harry Frankfurt. 2005. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

General topics covered: mass media, news media, propaganda and persuasion, techniques of deception, concentration of corporate media ownership, how commercial news is filtered, media democracy, television, science in the media, social power, advertising and the public relations industry, censorship

Learning outcomes: Upon completion, students will demonstrate capacity to:

  • Identify propaganda and techniques of deception used by powerful organizations, individuals, and media outlets in print, TV, radio and web-based media;
  • use multiple web-based tools and reference sites to investigate news events, individuals or organizations related to these events;
  • provide a coherent, structural explanation of the key relationships between corporate news media, public and private newsmakers, elected officials, advertisers and media consumers.
  • discuss the importance of a free press to democratic institutions.

We are inundated with media during our waking hours, and even while we’re asleep it likely is affecting us. Without media our lives would be radically different, even our conceptions of who we are would be different. We’ll be taking a small chunk of it-the news media and its relationships to politics and private corporations. By the time you finish this course, if you’ve put some effort into it and religiously paid attention to the assignments, you will be much more aware of the media around you. You will know many of the key corporate actors, some of the journalists and pseudojournalists and where they stand and what they stand for, you will have a good list of places on the Internet where you can go and do more homework on issues, individuals and corporations, and you will never watch the evening news the same way again. You will be familiar with many of the techniques of deception that are used to deliver, or in some cases, manufacture the news. We are surrounded by propaganda. You may choose not to engage it, but to do well in the class you’ll have to be able to identify it and understand how it operates. We will focus less on radio and television, and more on what is more universally accessible to us as members of the university community-print and online media. There are many good videos we will examine in the course as well.

The object of this course isn’t to teach you how to think-it’s to motivate you to think critically for yourself about mass media, and provide you with many helpful tools, both intellectual and practical, to do so.