David James

Why do people believe liars? Propaganda becomes effective through repetition and saturation. Seeing and hearing the same messages repeated daily can cause some people to tune out, but it also bolsters confidence that what people hear is truthful. Repetition leads to familiarity. Familiarity increases acceptance.

In Putin controls the media in Russia. He still allows elections, but controls who can vote by manipulating information about his own ‘brilliance’; while describing the ominous threats of enemies. In America, freedom of the press has enabled social media and faux news outlets to turn truth on its head. Many outlets project the message of autocrats through memes, slogans, videos, and now Artificial Intelligence. These are ways propaganda repeats itself, making truth questionable to a broader audience.

How did we get to this point? The “Fairness Doctrine” once governed American news. By requiring the media to present contrasting viewpoints. President Reagan ended it in 1987. The result was a burgeoning industry of media not dedicated to balanced reporting, such as FOX, OAN, and Newsmax.

Another contributor to perpetuating propaganda is the 24-hour news coverage. Attracting and keeping eyeballs engaged is the aim. When the Supreme Court declared that money is speech in Citizens United, it created a virtual explosion of money into the political process, creating more ways to monetize politics based on people’s prejudices and fears. Burgeoning conservative news websites, such as Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and radio programs starting with Rush Limbaugh, later expanded to hundreds of stations throughout rural America.

All the strategies of repetition, saturation, 24-hour news cycle, and the explosion of right-wing radio and media channels have produced a “firehose of falsehood” model introduced by the early 20th century Nazi state, modernized by Vladimir Putin, and co-opted by American Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort and the GOP.

Misinformation floods our media space with noise and confusion, drowning and spreading falsehoods, half-truths, and conspiracy theories that affect our open society’s resistance to propaganda. Trump reinforced these falsehoods at his rallies, on talk radio, and by Fox News over 30,000 times during his presidency.

People often support a strong “savior”, someone to save us. Personality cults increase a leader’s credibility because people want to believe. Once people bond with the leader, they decide to dismiss any evidence that conflicts with their claims. Sometimes supporters know he’s lying; decide they don’t care because they’re “taught” their leader is better than his enemy.

Hannah Arendt once observed that the more people become ensconced in a belief, overtime they cannot distinguish between fact or fiction. What we are witnessing in America today, is the culmination of many factors. Media sources and political leaders have created a “firehose of falsehoods” because they know why people believe liars.