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Consumer Cautions and Alerts

Linda Irvin-Craig April 30, 2023

One of the first lessons of my early journalism class was a discussion on “propaganda.” The timing of this lesson had a critical reference, since there was much in the reported news about the Russian leader Nikita Khruschev’s use of false assertions about the “peace loving” attitude of public policy within the Communist Party in Russia.

Of course, the entire Cold War era was a propaganda war, with the US and Russia trading barbs about the power of each to destroy the other. Comparisons made news nearly every day. It was an uneasy time, just following a period when children were taught to climb under their desks in the case of a nuclear attack and not to look at the blast light.

Our teacher, Mrs. Dorothy Sites, brought the word around to sources and advertising. Caution: Sources may provide information that is totally false, or maybe worse, only partially true. This is where fact-checking entered the discussion. Even an eye-witness can get part of what they saw slightly wrong due to the emotions inspired by an event. Alert: It is okay to report that source, with that caveat, but one needs to follow-up with additional investigation.

For me, the life-long message came when the lesson turned to advertising. Caution: All advertising is propaganda, dedicated to giving the consumer a positive view of the product. Alert: The current prevalence of health care products and dietary supplement ads on the airwaves makes me wonder how to learn about the true benefits of “Prevagen” and “Balance of Nature” without experimenting on myself.

Caution: For all of us today, the greatest challenge comes in discerning the truth in political advertising. All candidates will show you what they think you want to see, but they may also provide those dark, black & white vignettes showing their opposition in unfavorable light. The ability today to alter film with digital editing challenges our perceptions. Alert: The key here to have been paying attention to politicians prior to the advent of the campaign. Sadly, few voters really do that. A recent phone call from the Ted Cruz re-election effort gave me a few guffaws.

Then there are the “causes” campaigns that find their way into commercial spots during our favorite viewing. Pleasant or alarming music can set the mood the group wants to convey, played over the message. Caution: Before taking sides, you should be suspicious and wait for the line that tells who is sponsoring this “informational message.” Look up that source and follow the associated groups to the real sponsor. Surprises often await in that search.

My one remaining Alert surrounds the sneaky groups who use a white-on-white presentation for that line, making it difficult to read. That is when I go, “No, I do not believe this propaganda.”

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