They might not go as far as the British war machine did during the First World War when it falsely reported that German troops had crucified prisoners or, in one incident, nailed a Belgian child to a church door.
Today’s propagandists, those who lie, slander and spread fear to secure power, are less graphic, more subtle and more successful.
That James Clapper, America’s director of national intelligence, should report that Vladimir Putin ensured Donald Trump’s election confirms that. Clapper described the cyber-assault on the White House election as multi-faceted.
“It entailed classical propaganda, disinformation and fake news,” he warned. President-elect Trump — in 11 days he will be sworn in as president of the world’s premier superpower — naturally dismissed the suggestion.
His rejection suggests the most powerful democracy in the world has been duped. Trump’s dismissal was so sharp that Clapper, and Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of America’s National Security Agency, said that Trump had soured relations with America’s security services even before he assumed office.
That breakdown in what should be an unshakeable trust represents another clear-cut victory for the Kremlin.
Over the weekend an example of how another of Trump’s allies operates led to warnings in Germany that an election-year avalanche in fake news can be expected. The right-wing website Breitbart had claimed a mob chanting Allahu Akbar had set fire to a church in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.
The false report from the site was widely shared on social media and forced the Dortmund police to clarify that no “extraordinary or spectacular” incidents had interrupted festivities. Breitbart has been accused of producing “fake news, hate and propaganda”.
In a country divided by Chancellor Merkel’s position on immigration, this dishonest intervention, this poisonous propaganda should be seen for what it really is — a seditious attempt to undermine a democratically-elected government.
That Trump has appointed Breitbart chief Steve Bannon as his “head strategist” shows how deeply embedded right-wing propagandists are in the incoming administration. Just like Isis they will use social media to advance their cause in the most dishonest and dangerous ways.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the inception of the iPhone, one of the tools beloved by propagandists of all hues. These devices offer a direct link to those who wish to be reassured or persuaded in one way or another.
Imagine how Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany for 12 years, would have relished the opportunity such universal connectivity affords — he would be envious of those who have that opportunity today.
Reliable, primary sources of news with a credible record, most of which are under huge commercial pressure today, were never more important — as is our capacity to tell the difference.