Is using the word "propaganda" to describe this statement inaccurate?


The definition of propaganda is:

information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Recently President Trump wrote:

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

I used the word "propaganda" to describe this statement, and it was argued that using that word was biased. Since no one can provide factual support for the claim that The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and CNN News are the

"enemy of the American people"

it seems that this statement easily qualifies under the definition of "misleading". If you look at the "fake news" claim, while most, if not all, of those large news organizations can be accused accurately of posting a fake news article at some point, it's abundantly clear that the president is attempting to make people believe that anything bad these news organizations say about him is "fake news". How could that possibly not fall under the category of "misleading"?

Nor could anyone provide factually based arguments to suggest that those news organizations are


in fact one or more of these companies presented data demonstrating that their subscriptions have gone up, not down, in recent months. So that claim, too, seems to clearly fulfill the definition of "propaganda" as "misleading" information

used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

So in every way, this statement seems to fulfill the definition of "propaganda". It's clear what I think the answer is, but I know that I'm often wrong, and am certainly no language expert.

Is using the word "propaganda" to describe this statement inaccurate? Why or why not?


Posted 2017-02-22T00:03:22.913

Reputation: 1 435

Question was closed 2020-05-10T23:57:10.733

This is really a question better suited to the English Language & Usage site. I think (as a native speaker) that in English propaganda is something disseminated by a state or other large group. When an individual makes such statements, it's generally just called a lie. – jamesqf – 2020-05-11T03:20:29.360

7Sorry to be an annoying downer, but I think this again falls into opinion based. Its very hard to factually call something as propaganda, especially without the benefit of historical hindsight. I personally agree with you that Trump tactics are at least very similar to propaganda, but I can easily formulate an argument as to why it isn't propaganda (ie all those media outlets have multiple instances of poor reporting) or why every president ever has used propaganda tactics. The problem is that all of those arguments would be based on my opinion of where the line for propaganda is drawn. – David says Reinstate Monica – 2017-02-22T00:11:02.063

4@DavidGrinberg But labelling albeit imperfect, but broadly reputable news organisations as "fake" is at the very least a gross exaggeration. It would have been different had he used a term like "inaccurate" or "sloppy". But the choice of the word "fake" especially suggests a deliberate policy of presenting fictitious reports. Such a grotesque assertion is unprecedented in recent western history, and seems to be a blatant attempt to undermine the freedom of the press.I don't know much about the US Constitution but one wonders if it could be challenged as a breach of the first amendment. – WS2 – 2017-02-22T00:41:25.807

3@WS2 It is most definitely not a breach of the first amendment, not even close. I totally agree with you that what Trump is doing wrong, and in my personal opinion what he is doing is at least very close to propaganda. However Stack Exchange is not a place for opinions; it is a place for questions that can be answered with factual answers. – David says Reinstate Monica – 2017-02-22T00:44:03.417


I'm not sure but shouldn't this be better suited on English Language & Usage.SE

– Panda – 2017-02-22T01:02:23.123

1In fact, this site has a tag [tag:propaganda] with 5 other Q within, and I see no reason why we should deny questions about what qualifies for "propaganda" and what does not. – bytebuster – 2017-02-22T01:04:09.750

2What panda said. This is a question about english rather than politics. – None – 2017-02-22T04:38:19.023

The statement is not aimed at promoting or exagerating Trump's POV, but at undermining/punishing/taking away credibility/audience to information sources. As such, I would qualify it less as propaganda itself and more as "part of a propaganda campaign"; the intent would be to either force the information source to agree to spread Trump's propaganda -or at least stop challenging it- or to get people to switch to media more friendly to Trump's propaganda. But I would not argue with someone who wanted to label it as "indirect propaganda" or just "propaganda". – SJuan76 – 2017-02-22T10:44:26.180

@SJuan76 Sorry, but another definition, Merriam-Webster's, for "propaganda" is "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person" – J.Todd – 2017-02-22T11:59:22.430

4@SJuan76 The assertion that almost an entire news industry was disseminating "fake news", if nothing else, would certainly seem to me to belong with Orwell's War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength rhetoric. – WS2 – 2017-02-22T17:44:16.827

Those quotes are plainly propaganda, making this Q itself a tautology, and in a sense, a form of propaganda that reinforces what its target readers already suppose. – agc – 2017-02-28T06:26:10.727

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a tautology, (e.g. "is a bluebird blue?"), which amounts to a rhetorical device promoting awareness of a fact. But a Q should not be just a fact. – agc – 2017-02-28T06:30:54.773

@agc if it were such a clear fact as "is a blue brid blue" then why is the definition so controversial with answers and comments? Surely if it were so clear, just a basic fact, it'd be quite easy to sort out wouldnt it? – J.Todd – 2017-02-28T07:59:26.743

@user6048918, Re "easy to sort out": propaganda speaks to embattled faith, (usually bad faith), not reason. The greater degree to which any statement is propaganda, the more zealously its faithful resist the loss of their anodyne. Result: a dead-end dispute, which wastes the time of the opposition, that serves yet another function of propaganda. – agc – 2017-02-28T14:05:52.920

@agc I think you meant to post on Philosophy Stack Exchange. – J.Todd – 2017-02-28T22:54:59.427



This's an interesting question and I've also thought of it personally.

As you quoted, the definition of propaganda from Google is:

information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

And the definition by Merriam-Webster is:

the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

I would agree that it constitutes to some extent to be "propaganda" from the language point of view. While there may be reports now and then that may be not true, not all news media may be false.

However, on the other hand, I wouldn't agree that it's entirely propaganda, since the source and background matters too.

Free speech and free press is protected under the constitution and there's a choice of whether to believe his statement. It's not like a dictatorship where one must agree. Basically, there can be a free debate of the topic.

Also, news organisations aren't blocked just because of his statement.

Thus, it's not entirely true to describe it as total propaganda though I agree entirely that it fits in the definition of "propaganda".

Sidenote: This question seems to be opinion-based, however I think that it can be answered based on references to dictionary meaning and expertise.

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.


Posted 2017-02-22T00:03:22.913

Reputation: 41 470

4I'm having trouble seeing the logic in your argument of "there's a choice of whether to believe his statement ... Thus, it's not entirely true to describe it as total propaganda" - What does the fact that people are free to choose whether or not to believe a statement have to do with whether or not that statement is "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view." or "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person"? – J.Todd – 2017-02-22T06:29:12.063

@user6048918 Maybe my answer doesn't state it explicitly but generally, I think the context is important since by English definition it's propaganda but with the context included, it's not really propaganda since one's given a choice. So, I've wrote about the argument for both sides of the story. – Panda – 2017-02-22T06:33:58.477

But what does having a choice to believe a statement or not have to do whether it's propaganda? The definition isn't "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person which people have no choice but to believe" – J.Todd – 2017-02-22T06:52:18.357

@user6048918 Actually, I do agree that it's propaganda. However, his statements do have an element of truth so I wouldn't constitute it as entirely propaganda. – Panda – 2017-02-22T09:22:44.723

5@Panda Propaganda doesn't have to be lies. For example during WWII the US released lots of propaganda against Japan many of which mentioned the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was still propaganda even though the attack was real. – JonK – 2017-02-22T12:56:02.353

4I disagree with the section about free speech. A country with free speech can engage in propaganda. – JonK – 2017-02-22T12:58:16.590

@JonK Actually, I do agree with you, maybe I'll try to update my answer later, thanks! – Panda – 2017-02-22T12:58:57.327

The problem with this answer (and really this question) is that when you say stuff like I would agree that it constitutes to some extent to be "propaganda" you can effectively label anything and everything you want as propaganda, thereby diluting the meaning of the word to nothing. You can call basically anything any president has said as propaganda. Heck, you can call all of politics propaganda... but when you start to do that then the word propaganda becomes meaningless. When everyone is super, no one will be.

– David says Reinstate Monica – 2017-02-22T14:36:55.327


Is using the word "propaganda" to describe this statement inaccurate? Why or why not?

It certainly fits your definition of propogannda, as the president's statement was designed to promote his view of those institutions, whether it is factually true or not. To out it another way, under your definition facts can be propogannda.

On the flip side, by your definition, those institutions are in the business of providing propogannda as they clearly promopite one view or another.

And to make it more interesting, your asking the question can be consider propogannda by your own definition of propogannda to the extent it is judged to promote a particular view.

That definition would lump pretty much any expression of view as propogannda.. an unorthodox but fair approach I think.


Posted 2017-02-22T00:03:22.913

Reputation: 2 543

2You're arguing that "pretty much any expression of view" is "misleading", and that's certainly a falsehood. Views and expressions can certainly be based purely on facts. By the way, that's Google's definition, not mine.You can't just leave word "misleading" out of the definition, that's the key of the whole thing. If the expression or statement isn't misleading, it isn't propaganda. – J.Todd – 2017-02-22T12:53:39.590

1You probably didn't understand what the phrase "especially ..." Means in that sentence. – dannyf – 2017-02-22T13:07:28.970

@user6048918 Completely incorrect. "Misleading" is an optional component, and doesn't mean non-factual. – Z. Cochrane – 2017-02-22T13:16:39.440

@zabeus and dannyf those are fair points. I decided to post this question to English SE as someone else suggested, since there seems to be quite a lack of clarity regarding objectivity of using such a word. See David's comment to Panda's answer for elaboration. I'm always aware that I may be wrong on any particular issue, but I also always make it my business to find out for sure. – J.Todd – 2017-02-22T15:31:37.067

I don't think it is a language issue but a definition issue. That is, what is "propogannda"? I thought your question belongs here. Though I have some reservations about the particular definition, I likely the fact that it allows for the possibility that facts can be part of a propogannda campaign, as they often are. Lies are most effectively told via truth. – dannyf – 2017-02-22T15:53:19.840