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BILL MOYERS: Here's something I wrestle with and a lot of journalists wrestle with it. That I'd like for you to address. We sometimes bend ourselves into euphemistic pretzels-- in order not to call a spade a spade or a lie a lie.

MARTY KAPLAN: Cause if a reporter does do that, they're completely playing into the hands of the candidate, as we saw over and over in the Republican debate. George Stephanopoulos asks a question about contraception and-- the candidates come down on him like a ton of bricks. "How dare you do this? That's just the liberal media." They have this trope of the liberal media, which they use in order to demonize anybody who is willing to enforce standards of accuracy.

BILL MOYERS: You once proposed that political ads be accompanied by a disclaimer. And it was this disclaimer, quote, "The scary music, photo shopped pictures, and misleading sound bites in this ad are tricks intended to manipulate you in ways of which you are not consciously aware. Voting for this candidate is unlikely to improve how awful things are." When I read that, I thought, "Fat chance."

MARTY KAPLAN: Yeah, fat chance. But at least we're talking about it. At least front and center is the notion that these ads are so powerful, because they are mini movies. They are dazzling dramas. They are full of conflict and story. We love paying attention to that stuff. We are suckered into them. And we lose our rational-- critical judgment when these things happen. Even if--

BILL MOYERS: Do you think these ads make us stupid?

MARTY KAPLAN: We start stupid. The brain is wired to be entertained. We don't pay attention to the words. We pay attention to the pictures and the drama and the story. If it's pretty, if it's exciting, if it's violent, if it's fast, that's where we are. So the fact that these mini dramas are being used to get us to vote for one person or another is just like what we all learned propaganda was used for and thought we learned our lessons from in World War II. They are propaganda. And propaganda is irresistible. If it were resistible, people wouldn't do it.

Marty Kaplan on What Makes Political Ads Work

April 24, 2012

In an extended preview of this weekend’s Moyers & Company, Marty Kaplan, Director of The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California‚Äôs Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, refers to political ads as “mini-dramas” that serve a propagandistic purpose. Talking with Bill Moyers, Kaplan also explains this disclaimer he’d place on campaign ads if he could:

“The scary music, photo shopped pictures, and misleading sound bites in this ad are tricks intended to manipulate you in ways of which you are not consciously aware. Voting for this candidate is unlikely to improve how awful things are.”

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Check your local listings.

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