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War and Words: Researcher Looks at Free Speech and Information Control


from Titan Magazine (Summer 2003)

Nancy Snow
Nancy Snow

image by Jeanine Hill

“Just three days before the first military attacks in Afghanistan, the London-based magazine The Economist published an article that openly acknowledged an American war that was already underway and laying the groundwork for the shooting war: the propaganda war.”

And so begins Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9/11, the latest book authored by Nancy Snow, assistant professor of communications. Focusing on public diplomacy, the role of free speech in time of war and language manipulation, the book was published in April by Seven Stories Press of New York.

“While we live in the information age, it also is the age of information manipulation,” says Snow, a former Fulbright Scholar who teaches global media systems and the history and philosophy of American mass communications.

In the book she writes, “America is a nation in an information war with itself. On the one hand, American journalists and editors tout the virtues of a free and open media …. On the other hand, these free media principles have been wanting throughout the post-9/11 war on terrorism and incipient war with Iraq.”

Snow previously published Propaganda Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World. She earned her doctorate at American University in Washington, D.C., and worked at the United States Information Agency and U.S. State Department in the early ’90s.

“In a democratic society we often have a false sense of security,” she says, “because we hold to the ideal that a free press will always protect us from propaganda, defined as ‘the big lie often repeated.’ In reality, modern propaganda is driven more by half-truths, one-sided or incomplete information, so opinions are often easily managed and manipulated.

“Words and language can become vehicles of control, even in open societies like our own.”

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