FigTree Header 10.14


Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Propaganda can twist truth or teach

Admir Rasic reflects on his experiences of propaganda in Bosnia and the U.S.    Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor, dissects power of propaganda.

Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp and American Bosnian Muslim refugee Admir Rasic shared their perspectives on propaganda and media responsibility in a Jan. 28 workshop at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.

Mary presented an overview from her perspective as a journalist on what constitutes propaganda. Admir offered his personal experiences living under repression.

Both recognize that totalitarian regimes want media to be a “compliant state propaganda unit.” 

Admir, who was born in Yugoslavia, in the republic that became Bosnia, shared his experiences with propaganda tools used in another place and time, and what lessons can be learned from them.

“My family immigrated to Spokane as refugees in 2000.  I studied English literature at the University of Washington,” he remarked.

Admir Rasic at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference Workshop

Now he works as a technical trainer and is a volunteer with the Spokane Interfaith Council and the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force.

“My hope is for the United States to be as it was when I came, welcoming refugees and offering equal opportunity for all,” said Admir, who wants his three-year-old daughter to grow up in that America.

In the 1990s, the socialist, communist country of Yugoslavia went through massive changes.

“Along with democratization, there were problems with the economy and political parties vying for power,” he said.

Nationalism grew in Serbia as a vehicle for expressing economic and political frustrations, said Admir. It was used to rally people.

“Leaders turned to nationalism, rather than talking about the real problems,” he said. 

Admir said that a 1990 quote of Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian war criminal, seems to fit the U.S. today: “Serbia is being forced into submission, diminished and emasculated,” he said, seeking to convince the Serbian population—like white working-class U.S. people today—they were victims.

“The victimization theory means everything that happens is the fault of someone else.  In Yugoslavia, all the problems were caused by Bosnian Muslims,” said Admir.  “The Serbian government owned the media and it was easy to disseminate blatant lies.  They said Kosovoans were executing Serbs on the street.  Propaganda was a driving force to mobilize people to start a war.”

Media spread the idea that the majority ethnic group, the Serbs, contributed more than other ethnic groups but got less from the state.  Serbs blamed others for their problems.

“The portrayal of Muslims here today scares me and other Bosnian Muslims. The propaganda machine in Serbia claimed Muslims wanted to subvert the new democracy and build an Islamic state.  Many believe in a Muslim conspiracy to subvert the U.S.,” Admir said. 

“It was the same rhetoric.  It made people fear their neighbors they had lived with for decades.”

A long-time neighbor turned in Admir’s father, who spent time in a slave labor camp.

“Media are powerful tools. Even though people knew their neighbors, media convinced them Muslims were evil. The idea of a conflict between Western culture and Islam is scary for me here,” he said.

The evening after the legislative conference, Admir went out to dinner with his neighbor, who voted for Trump and said after the election he wanted to get to know Admir and his family.

Admir suggested: “Go out and meet your neighbors. It’s a powerful tool. The strongest tool to combat hate is human relationships.”

Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree Editor

Mary warned that press freedom enshrined in the First Amendment is at stake with the onslaught of fake news, alternative facts, and the disinformation, double speak and deception that are used to hide a dictatorship.

“It’s new, but not new,” she said.  “U.S. media have been partisan for centuries, and people choose media that back their beliefs.”

The idea of “objective” news in professional journalism meant “credible” media were to be neutral and cover “both sides” of issues.

Peace journalism developed, aware that there are multiple perspectives, not just two.  Playing on two polarizes people and undoes democracy, Mary said. It makes people susceptible for dictators to divide and conquer them.

Now some journalism schools teach “solutions journalism” featuring ways people are working to solve problems or “make a difference.” 

In 1978, she took a class on women in media seeing images of women—sexy and slender—and the invisibility of women’s voices on issues because there were few women reporters and spokespeople.  The result is stereotypes that women are less smart, capable and trustworthy than men.

“News” is what is unusual or reflects conflict, violence, controversy, sensation, sex, celebrity or problems.   These foster addictive consumption of media by people seeking solutions, Mary said.

“In the campaign, I was appalled that media followed the audacious tweets, giving undo coverage to the male, ignoring his dishonesty, but dwelling on the woman’s phony email scandal.  It was good for ratings and profits, but media failed to cover issues and gave “attention to unprecedented hate,” said Mary.

The celebrity of the GOP candidate rose every time his name was mentioned, she said.  Media gave him free publicity, because it made good ratings with his rantings, name calling and narcissism. There was no “equal time” for other candidates. 

 “We have been subjected to propaganda through the years in advertising that tells us what we want and value.  We may think we ignore it, but it permeates who we are,” she said.  “Constant, instantaneous access to media can consume us as we consume it, making us unable to act,” she said.

Understanding propaganda as a tool of politicians, advertising and dictators is important. News on the propagandist made money for media and for liberal candidates and causes. Email advocacy groups played on fear to raise money,” she said.  “Let’s hope media resume their role of watchdog.”

Mary described some propaganda techniques.

• Bandwagon plays on popularity, polls and winning.

• Repetition of lies makes them seem true.

• Repetition of simple messages helps people learn them.

• Name calling and labeling create enemy images.

• Scapegoating blames others to divert attention. 

• Fear builds anxiety and distrust, and creates an enemy.

• Celebrity makes a personality cult to appeal to plain folks and populism.

• Authority says someone has the answers.

• Superlatives exaggerate reality.

• Disinformation twists truth to create false history and fake statistics.

• Dehumanization makes an opponent subhuman.

• A bombardment of questions, misinformation and thought-stopping clichés confuses. 

• Glittering generalities use emotionally loaded language, often appealing to patriotism. 

• Stretching boundaries of what is usually accepted makes undesirable policies and actions seem to be acceptable.

• Isolation cuts people off from their support systems. 

• Bait and switch deflects attention from issues so they disappear. 

“We must remember that propaganda does not always achieve its goals.  Backlash may bring its demise,” Mary added, calling for people of faith to stand up and be counted, to talk with each other, and to persevere in promoting human rights, human decency, social justice, a free press, racial respect and free speech.

“We have no time to be fatigued.  We must stand up and speak out, because even if they come for Muslims and immigrants now, we are next. Our lives are intertwined,” she said. 

Mary noted that “propaganda” can challenge propaganda.

“Propaganda can be used to educate citizens.  Repetition can be a positive tool for teaching and learning. Educators can foster independent thinking and reflection,” she said.

Mary suggested being media literate, respecting diverse opinions, and continuing work to overcome gender, religious and racial bias.

She said for people to look at their own use of media:  “How many hours do we spend on screens or checking news?  Are we drowning in media consumption?

“Relationships, resistance, protests, solidarity, divestment, boycotts and a war helped end Nazi rule in Germany, communist rule in East Germany and apartheid in South Africa,” she said.

Mary also recommends using age-old advocacy techniques—phoning representatives, writing letters and emails, joining protests, boycotting products, building coalitions, nurturing relationships and speaking up.

For information, call 535-1813 or email or

Copyright © March 2017 - The Fig Tree