Jon Stewart Propaganda Techniques – Installment #1

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Jon Stewart is the most interesting propagandist working today.

After Shooting The Bull, my book on propaganda analysis came out, I watched how many in the professional agitprop business have evolved. Stewart is more interesting than most not because of any new method of propaganda he has invented, but because of how he knits together standard techniques to completely mislead his viewers.

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples in which Jon skews your understanding of politics.

{Daily Show clip – Romney bash}

This one is clever for a couple of reasons. First, Jon begins with the premise, humorously spun, that Mitt Romney is dumb. Doing so is essential in biasing viewers’ perceptions before introducing misleading elements. It is essential because if he presented the following unrelated clips without such pre-biasing, you would immediately question Jon’s assumptions.

{ Daily Show clip – Romney plan & prediction clips}

Notice the difference in content which Jon combined as if they were the same. In the first video, Romney is discussing policy and plans, and in the second he is speculating on the reaction of the public to an Obama defeat. Personal plans and public reactions are, of course, entirely different concepts, and entirely unrelated … which doesn’t stop Jon from relating them.

{ Daily Show clip – Stewart con}

This is what the Catalog of Canards, the summary chapter in Shooting The Bull, calls “The Lie of Context: Showing either a small snippet alone, or a string of snippets together, to create a false impression of what happened.” By juxtaposing unrelated items in a hurried and highly edited manner, and then proclaiming them to be associated … and in this case duplicitous … Jon reinforces the false premise with which he started the segment.

This is an important element in his style of propaganda. Unlike most in that distasteful business, he sets the stage first, then delivers the false information. Lesser practitioners reverse the process, which is much less effective.

In another example of invalid comparison, Stewart married two completely different news items whose only union was that students were involved. He begins with a story about voluntary participation by high school students in a music video concerning lousy cafeteria food:

{ Daily Show clip – high school video report}

After which he berates Fox News for having an opinion … well, one that differs from his. Where Stewart’s propaganda begins is when he compares it with a four year old news item:

{ Daily Show clip – elementary school clip}

In short Stewart is equating different things. First is the voluntary participation in a video by cognizant adolescents approaching adulthood, complaining about lousy school lunches. The second concerns very young and politically ignorant children … let me repeat, CHILDREN … being blindly lead in pro-Obama praise songs. Two different groups of people with vastly different degrees of development, education and independence, and two entirely different topics for which one group volunteered to participate and the other had no choice. Jon used The Lie of Non Sequiturs, the combining of completely unrelated information to create a false impression or conclusion, to then bash his favorite opponent … the only news network he doesn’t agree with … which should tell you something about the general state of television journalism.

There are more examples, simple ones like his use of mutually enforcing premises:

{ Daily Show clip – false duality stunt}

Core to his mission, Jon employs an old used car salesman trick. When you walk onto a car lot, the fellows in the plaid pants always start the conversation by getting you to agree with them. “Nice day we’re having.” “Cute kid you have there.” Anything that binds the salesman to the shopper – that creates an agreeable connection. Little in life is more agreeable than a good laugh, yet little less agreeable than deception.

Jon’s approach, using comedy to create emotional agreement with the audience allows him to insert propaganda with little objection, or at least for the bad information to be laughed off instead of being rejected. This isn’t original. One could argue that Will Rogers was occasionally a humor-leading propagandist. It is an old art. But Stewart advances the science with better editing and writing.

But it’s still bull.

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