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Razor Ready to Parse and Diagnose A Propaganda Message

This article that we are going to take apart and explore is a good sample of the propaganda currently being pushed out into the Internet. It was published back in October, and it is in reference to the College Board Advanced Placement US History course.

The AP History course has had a consistent single complaint. Every year the teachers have voiced this complaint. For the last 20 years, History teachers across the nation told the College Board that the course was too stringently defined. There was no room in the AP Course for "Teaching." 

The course was laid out completely, with nearly an hour-by-hour description. The teacher's felt that they were unable to explore or contribute. "You didn't even need to be a teacher. A recording would have done," said one teacher.

In 2013 the crew at the College Board working on the AP US History, came up with an idea to solve this problem. They defined a Framework, which had in it the main ideas, the concepts and levels of expectation needed for the students in order to take the test with a reasonable chance of passing. 
There was no curriculum
The teacher would choose the material, and events of history to cover, as well the people of that era to explore. Everything would be covered by the teacher. Obviously, in order to explain this "building of curriculum" some "sample" data was required as "place holders" in the course manual. Larry Krieger saw his chance, claimed that the Sample Data was the True data, and began a Big Lie campaign in an attempt to get the AP to return to the previous format. 
Since this campaign is now mute, and everyone now understands the swindle by Larry Krieger, Jane Robins, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram we can explore without controversy.
So, before you go further into this, please read this Overview.
To Verify the overview the College Board has published this document to clearly debunk the confusion spread by Larry Krieger, Jane Robins, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram.
Once done, let's get into one of the Articles, which was posted as an Editorial on the AP History Problem. Oct 4, 2014

High-school students in Jefferson County, Colorado, are [outraged] about censorship of their history curriculum. In a recent protest, one student carried a sign reading, Teaching Partial History is a lie. One might conclude that these students are upset over the [College Board's recent rewrite] of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course, which [excludes reams of information] about their country that they would have learned under the [previous APUSH course]. But no, they're upset that [some adults] want to return to the more accurate and complete course. [And the College Board is cheering them on] in their [adolescent confusion].
Paragraph Sentiment :
Negative   -0.545187
Word Count:
Count of (dis) Information
Count of Emotive Incitements:
Grade 14
Target Audience:
Parents and the Unmarried or those without kids. Age demographic 30s - 60s
Tactics used
Atrocity letter
The only notable aspect of this paragraph is the level of emotive verbiage, while remaining absolutely passive in voice. In voice Jane is choosing is something close to Older Aunt, who -- with an exasperated sigh --  is gathering the information to discern what the hell Sally is doing now?

Comments on the Atrocity Letter Tactic

Atrocity propaganda is a term referring to the spreading of deliberate fabrications or exaggerations about the crimes committed by an enemy, constituting a form of psychological warfare.

The inherently violent nature of war means that exaggeration and invention of atrocities often becomes the main staple of propaganda. Patriotism is often not enough to make people hate – propaganda is also necessary."So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations", wrote Harold Lasswell, "that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no ambiguity about who the public is to hate."

The Atrocity Letter is simply the tactic in written form, though "tradition" suggests that these began as letters to the newspapers, editors, politicians and even to families.

Not much more to comment on at this point. Let's move on to the next paragraph and see what we run into.

What's going on here?
This is merely the next step in the College Board's attempt to undermine the constitutional authority of state and local officials to determine curriculum for their states and districts. The unelected, unaccountable College Board endorses a radical leftist view of the world, beginning with U.S. history, and has no qualms about using naive schoolchildren as pawns to promote it’s vision.
[END P.2]
Paragraph Sentiment :
Negative  -0.730837
Word Count:
Count of (dis) Information
Count of Emotive Incitements:
Grade 16
Target Audience:
Parents and Unmarried or those without kids. Age demographic 30s - 60s
Tactics used
Atrocity, Weak Inference, (dis)Information, Deification
The language has a viscous edge in this paragraph. From the numbers it would be easy to believe that she has gone over the top.

We have thresholds, which if crossed will push us away no matter how much we trust or believe. A Rant will create too much discord in our minds, and instead of becoming incited to action, we shut down. Reading the paragraph however doesn't set us off. In fact we are holding out just fine. the reason for this is described in the Commentary below.
Inciting Vocabulary
radical leftist view; unaccountable College Board; naive schoolchildren; constitutional authority;

Commentary on  Weak Inference

You know about the thing? The thing they did that time? Right, so ...

In her videos and when she gives lectures, and even when she speaks at State hearings, Jane is known for this particular tactic. I use to believe that she used it in text too much -- but then, I use to believe that people checked facts from  Trusted Sources of information when they read things like this...but it seems that the average person is hardly ever actively involved in their own education. Which is why I provide links to the studies I’m talking about -- I’m hoping that people will look them up, but it is very rare that people go to the effort to educate themselves.
Yet, you are here so there is hope.
My comment isn't just being an old man wishing the youth were “more” something -- in fact it isn't close to that. There are techniques which play off this particular issue and Inference is one of them.
Here is the way it works. First Jane touches on a subject with a statement that suggests that she is an authority. That She knows all about it. She’s researched the company for years. -- in this example she demonstrates this with a good level of skill. The way these statements are written, indicate that she has hard evidence -- who would say something like that without hard evidence(?) -- and this indicates that she will come back to this accusation later to back up the claim.
If Inference is going to be used, these claims are best placed into the first two paragraphs. The reason is that she is using a "News Article" format. 
The News Article format has 5 parts to it which are as follows:
  1. Headline: This is a short, attention-getting statement about the event.
  2. Byline: This tells who wrote the story.
  3. Lead paragraph: This has ALL of the who, what, when, where, why and how in it. A writer must find the answers to these questions and write them into the opening sentence(s) of the article.
  4. Explanation: After the lead paragraph has been written, the writer must decide what other facts or details the reader might want to know. The writer must make sure that he/she has enough information to answer any important questions a reader might have after reading the headline and the lead paragraph. This section can also include direct quotes from witnesses or bystanders.
  5. Additional Information: This information is the least important. Thus, if the news article is too long for the space it needs to fill, it can be shortened without rewriting any other part. This part can include information about a similar event.

We are use to this format and we accept hard claims like Jane is using as a natural course of action, expecting the outrageous claims to be addressed later. Of course she never does address it, because there is nothing to address.
Very few people call her on this. In fact, very few people call her on anything. In the last eight months -- other than myself -- I can only recall seven people calling her on disinformation and pointing out the “inference”. 
The technique works because the reader has already accepted the information as fact…  It is a well documented human condition. We accept information if it reinforces beliefs already held, and we reject information that conflicts with something we already believe (Nickerson, 1998). With this method of Inference, we accept the information because of the format, and the unspoken contract that news articles follow with the expected format. But the mind doesn't care Why we accepted the information, only that we have. See: Holland, Norman N. "Spider-Man? Sure! The neuroscience of suspending disbelief." Interdisciplinary science reviews 33.4 (2008): 312-320.
It has also been shown through several studies that once voters adopt a political position for whatever reason, they then invent spurious “facts” to rationalize their existing opinion. “Voters tend to assimilate only those facts that confirm what they already believe” (Lehrer, 2009) … “inventing facts or ignoring facts so that they can rationalize decisions they've already made.” (Achen & Bartels, 2006).
This is merely the next step in the College Board's attempt to undermine the constitutional authority of state and local officials to determine curriculum for their states and districts.
That is one hell of a statement. It is telling us, flat out that David Coleman is intent on committing treason.  
Here, have a bit of fun and put it through bablefly. I’ve found Bablefly to be fairly good at producing a “common person” imagery for text. Bablefly occasionally offers a second on a particular word, -- it is a good “normalized” source. It also picks out the words which a human reader is going to key in on as well, ignoring for the more part the trifle verbiage. I use it mostly to keep the temptation to “know what people are really thinking” at bay.
Before we leave this, note how long the sentence is. and how fast it is read. The eye flies through it --- and then the next, which is just as long.

Commentary: Tactic - Deification

Inciting Language

Jane goes into attack mode, pulling out of her tool box a technique known as Deification. Yes, that should definitely be a Word of the Day.
What it is, however, is something like Calling Down the Power of God, and becoming an avatar or the voice of… It doesn't have to be God, and it isn't in this case -- which is a good choice because God wouldn't go with the subject matter. What she Calls Upon is the  spirit-god of the United States Constitution. Well, she says state constitution, but who visualizes their state constitution when someone evokes that word?
The quote though -- for accuracy-- is, “to undermine the constitutional authority of state and local officials to determine curriculum for their states and district.”
With lines like this being tossed around by extremists, like they're free, I can understand if you feel desensitized to further diatribes. But, I would like to point out just a couple of points here:
First, your mind is not desensitized,  it is taking all of this seriously. The imagery generated for my viewing pleasure was -- the AP US History course was somehow threatening to take our children, and then secede from the nation.
My analysis tools came up with the same thing, even putting in my list of  Concepts, the phrase -- “Articles of Confederation.” derived from the text of that paragraph.
United States
Far left
U.S. States
United States Constitution
Abraham Lincoln
Radical Republicans
Articles of Confederation

And again, while this should be way over the top for the situation, she pulls it off. 
There are two reasons for this  -- we are expecting -- because of the format -- an authority to back up the claim. She’s giving you one nestled inside the claim itself. It sounds odd,  but this works more often than if fails -- which is why Deification continues to be used. Also, it is low risk. If you don’t accept it, you won't reject it completely. You'll continue to read the article, expecting the authoritative information further on -- as we just talked about. This attempted alignment with the Spirit of the Nation, will simply be passed off as purple prose: prose that is too elaborate or ornate. 
That is the secondary anchor point. The first… is yet another tactic.
Commentary: The Puzzle
The first anchor point is that line I tossed in on the top of this paragraph because I didn't want to do a one-line analysis. It isn't just a line. It’s not propaganda either, but it helps with the delivery of this paragraph, and even the next. What it is -- is The Puzzle.
Eventually, every fiction writer learns this aspect of the human mind, but there have been hundreds of academic studies as well(see references below). Most of these studies focused on motivation and energy. Each of the studies, either as the goal or as a by-product, discovered that there are few things in this world more intrinsically motivating than a puzzle when presented to the human mind.
You come into your favorite cafe and stand in line. Right next to you is a college student at a table, working a Sudoku puzzle. You can see the box and numbers over his shoulder. The line isn't moving so you look again, and in a flash you see a solution for column three.
Then the line moves, and you should move up to close the gap, which now impolitely wide.
Just thinking about it produces tension, right? It isn't even your puzzle
Some of the studies I've read began by offering rewards to kids for performing tasks. One of those tasks was putting together puzzles. The researchers found that the children were more interested in playing with the the puzzles than in the rewards, and it ruined the whole study.
It should be noted that it isn't solving the puzzle which puts our minds into obsession mode, but the need to see/experience the resolution. If the student in the cafe suddenly saw the solution we did and penned it in, the spell would have broken, and we would have felt just as satisfied as if we filled it in ourselves. The tension comes from the presentation of a puzzle -- one we are sure we will be either able to solve, or witness the resolution in a short period of time.
So, Jane gives you a puzzle. Not a big one, and you could be disagreeing and saying -- “But, it is a rhetorical question...”
Rhetorical is not something the brain does very well. In fact, rhetorical questions can be very bad for us if we don't resolve them. (ref below)
The next line, the one that pushes the incitement that we are witnessing the treason of the age, pushes another puzzle at us. This one implicates us, and pulls us deeper in. We are deep enough into the article now that she gets to rage with pure negativity and we put up with it, because we need a few answers now. There are questions:
How does she know this?
What does she mean, “latest attempt?”
Lets move on to the next paragraph.
With its new APUSH course, the College Board has decreed that there should be a national history curriculum, and that the leftist professors and teachers on its committees should dictate what that curriculum will be. Gone is the previous APUSH course, which relied on state history standards for its content. In its place is an APUSH Framework that, in the words of James Madison scholar Ralph Ketcham, paints a portrait of America as a dystopian society - one riddled with racism, violence, hypocrisy, greed, imperialism, and injustice.
[END P.3]
This is an odd paragraph and she’s going to use this same method for the rest of the article, only cleaning up a little at the end. After reading it you feel like you need to move on quickly because something is going to happen soon. You feel like this for several reasons. The first is because this paragraph has no focal point.  We began with the College Board as the focal. But then we give equal time in the same sentence to a National History Curriculum, and then to Leftist Professors.  Now, I agree that Leftist professors trying to do anything National should be scrutinized, however, all three of these focal points have equal space in the dictating of what should be, and that doesn’t sound like a dictatorship. It sounds like something leftist Professors might be involved with though.
The next set of sentences sounds peculiar and has a “wack wack” sound to them. They feel, as the build on each other, like exclamation points should be used -- but we don’t do that. Nope, never. Not in a article like this one. No one reading something they believe is “news” or “editorial information” takes exclamation points seriously. It is a deal breaker using one of those.
We zip through this paragraph, at a run because there are zero Adjectives (which drag you down and the weight of them builds up in the mind as they accumulate, which is why professional authors don’t use them unless it is necessary). We also have zero Adverbs -- same effect, but a little lighter. Zero passive voice as well. This is a 86 word sprint to the next paragraph, and on the way she jabs factoids at you that build up on what you already agreed with in the other two paragraphs. The average estimated time for a functional reader is 12 seconds to get through this gambit.
Something else is going on however. If we search our reaction a bit, stop and see what is happening, the thing we find are the Prepositional Phrases.  
Prepositional Phrases aren’t common in the English language. Japanese and some Nordic languages utilize them commonly, but in English they tend to sound “uneducated” and backward. Sometimes these  prepositional phrases are called FAP, which is a specific type, coined and explored by Barbe in her 1985 study of Guernsey. In that study she uses the acronym to refer to a construction identified by Viereck(1988:474) involving the use of a 'First verb' (usually go or come) plus the conjunction AND plus the Plain infinitive. So:
We went and live there.
A girl came and see me.
Normally they are judged as ‘mistakes’ or poor sentence structure. Uncommonly, their use is an effective tool. Let’s look at their usage a little closer in this paragraph.
In its place is an APUSH Framework that, in the words of James Madison scholar Ralph Ketcham, paints a portrait of America as a dystopian society - one riddled with racism, violence, hypocrisy, greed, imperialism, and injustice.
This usage of prepositional phrases has two effects. The first is to fragment the focal points using synthetons-- which is at odds with everything we know about writing -- “Johnny, I want you to edit your paper and make it less focused”(?) While intuitively this doesn't make much sense to us, her madness has purpose, which we will see in just a bit.
The other effect we can achieve at least it makes sense, and that is to utilize hendiadys.
Hendiadys, -- Hopper's(2002:146) definition, refers to coordinated verb structures that express a single idea -- in contrast to a syntheton, which coordinates two distinct ideas.
Conventionally two words are joined by a conjunction for emphasis, which is a Syntheton.
  • Bread and wine.
  • God and man.
Hendiadys, express a single idea by two nouns instead of a noun and its qualifier. The effect of this method is an amplification that adds force.
"He came despite the rain and weather."
Instead of -- "He came despite the rainy weather"
"The distinction and presence of the dignitary moved his audience."
By separating the term “distinctive presence” into “distinction and presence” the writer accentuates the adjective by transforming it into a noun.

Without the separation the modifier combines with its object, and looses potency.
This hard hitting at high speed combined with the force feeding of (dis)Information -- is basically a mugging.
A prepositional phrase is also known as a Reason phrase.  A Reason Phrase indicates the "reason" of the action expressed in the sentence. It answers "why?" "For what reason?"
The reason prepositions are:
  • because of
  • on account of
  • for
  • from
  • through
The barbecue was cancelled because of the rain.
We didn't go on account of the bad weather.
Since this is an Atrocity Letter, she’s getting the most out of the blame and accusation tech.  So, let's look at her next paragraph.
Amid this tempest rises the College Board which, in an unprecedented and quite astonishing turn of events, has weighed in on the side of the protestors and against the elected school board.
[END P.4]

This is a hard hitting - It is all Their Fault!  and the paragraph dares you to argue with it.
Now there still is no feel of focal point, and that is because she doesn’t have one. This is not a news article, or an editorial commentary. Those articles have “points” and “purpose.” Her purpose is to scoop as much emotion out of you as she can, and then set it on fire. So, a focal chart looks like this:
And yes… that is indeed what we expect to see in an Atrocity Letter. Tight groups, a few “players” like History and Board and School. Some minor grouping near the middle but nothing in the middle. No focal point in the whole article. It is a play, on a Broadway stage, where the leading lady never arrives. This is because, you are the leading character in this play, and you never left the center. “Amid the tempest...” indeed.
Who anointed the College Board the arbiter of what students should learn about American history? Under what authority does the College Board presume to dictate to elected officials what shall be taught in their schools? If parents and other taxpayers had any doubts that the College Board wants to replace state and local control with its own agenda, those doubts are now resolved.
[END P.5]
She slows it down a little, reaching an emotionally senseable state in the last paragraph -- without giving any ground. And then, right at the end of this calm, she adds in a bit using passive voice, lulling you, right before she punches you in the throat.
That ending has the sound of an exclamation point, yes? She gets the full effect, without using one. It is well done.
So, if you use a grammar checker, you'll see that she slaps you around in the first paragraph, and clearly declares that the Kids are being assaulted, and the AP is doing it, using the AP US History program as both Indoctrination and Lash... and the School board tried to protect them, and got Slapped down.  
So, really, she’s saying the same thing she started with in paragraph one, and two -- which you agreed with -- and has made you agree with that belief statement eight more times before getting to this point.
She continues with the same techniques from this point, building up on what she has you agreeing with already. You will find that it is a little more difficult “not” to agree at this point. Our brains have a strong desire to agree with what it already believe, and to reject information, which conflicts with something we believe (Nickerson, 1998). It is called the Confirmation Bias, and its guises are legion.

Lets run the rest through until the end with what we have decoded in mind, and let the effects of those techs have a chance to show their stuff.
This course does not meet with the approval of the school board of Jefferson County. Apparently the school board believes a course in American history should at least mention the Founders, including the legendary American after whom their county was named. But this view grates on the teenaged protesters who, egged on by a teachers' union with its own agenda, are loudly asserting their right to historical ignorance.
Amid this tempest rises the College Board which, in an unprecedented and quite astonishing turn of events, has weighed in on the side of the protestors and against the elected school board. The College Board's Advanced Placement Program, it intones, supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colorado to protest a school board member's request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course.” A school board's action to uphold its state history standards against usurpation by unelected, unaccountable outsiders is now considered censorship. Presumably it's not censorship to banish from an American history course the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, military heroes, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Jr., and on and on.
Who anointed the College Board the arbiter of what students should learn about American history? Under what authority does the College Board presume to dictate to elected officials what shall be taught in their schools? If parents and other taxpayers had any doubts that the College Board wants to replace state and local control with its own agenda, those doubts are now resolved.
Flexing the muscle it has developed during its century-plus of monopoly, the College Board warns darkly that schools and districts must do as they're told. If they dare to disagree with any essential concepts of an AP course (for example, if they insist on teaching America the Exceptional rather than America the Ordinary), the College Board will strip its designation from the course.
Fine. It should be crystal clear now that the College Board monopoly must be broken. There is no reason one company, especially one populated by apparent ideologues who oppose the constitutional structure concerning authority over education should have an iron grip over college advanced-placement credit. State boards of education must act to empower competitors to develop their own courses and tests. Such initiatives may acquaint the arrogant mandarins of the College Board with a truly American concept censored from the APUSH Framework: the free market.
Even knowing that this is long after the fact, and having read the background on this before we started, I would not be surprised at all if you felt the need to “just make sure,” because that is one hell of a emotional brarage. If you knew -- if I told you before we started -- that whoever Jane Robbins is, the American Principles Project she is said to work for is a sub-office of ALEC, and the APP is an active part of ALECs Education Task Force. you might have snapped out of it on reading that  last line again. “Free market”. She’s just being a show-off at that point. It is a 90% probability that if you didn’t stop reading before the end, you were hooked.

Final Comments

There are several methods she could have utilized to make this example more effective.

Framing-- that would have made this much better. Framing is like putting a rocket on your car.

Connected Emotion -- She uses emotion but it is all aggressive and toward you (at you), not "with" you. She never invites you into the action. This is a mistake. Keeping the reader at a distance is always a mistake.

Alteration of Effect -- She is very good at switching the sentence length but not the sentence "spirit" We are never really "surprised" or taken off balance in what she says -- though a few times we wonder about the lengths she goes to in order to display the "Atrocity"

Over all this is an accurate example of what kind of propaganda is being used right now out on the Internet, and it utilized enough tactics to make the diagnosis worth the effort. I hope this will help you to spot these, and to begin questioning them instantly.

It is when we do not question and check and look up for verification that we get into situations we don't want to be in.

Glenn Hefley


[1] Emotion/Mode by; other analysis helped by

[2] "deification - definition of deification by The Free Dictionary." 2004. 5 Feb. 2015

[3] An Anchor Point is a means of keeping the reader involved in the material, so that the arbitrary choice to put the text down is defeated.

[4] Deci, Edward L, and Richard M Ryan. Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Springer Science & Business Media, 1985.

[5] Deci, Edward L, and Richard M Ryan. "The empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes." Advances in experimental social psychology 13 (1980): 39-80.

[6] Muntigl, Peter, and William Turnbull. "Conversational structure and facework in arguing." Journal of Pragmatics 29.3 (1998): 225-256.

[7] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow. Springer Netherlands, 2014.

[8] Petty, Richard E, John T Cacioppo, and Martin Heesacker. "Effects of rhetorical questions on persuasion: A cognitive response analysis." Journal of personality and social psychology 40.3 (1981): 432.

[9] Howard, Daniel J. "Rhetorical question effects on message processing and persuasion: The role of information availability and the elicitation of judgment." Journal of experimental social psychology 26.3 (1990): 217-239.

[10] "Free market | Define Free market at" 2008. 4 Feb. 2015

[11] "Chapter 18 - Learning and Memory -" 2011. 4 Feb. 2015

[12] Hodges, Bert H et al. "Speaking from ignorance: Not agreeing with others we believe are correct." Journal of personality and social psychology 106.2 (2014): 218.

[13] Mooney, BC. "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science |
Mother Jones." 2011.

[14] Kolsto, Stein Dankert. "'To trust or not to trust,…'-pupils' ways of judging information encountered in a socio-scientific issue." International Journal of Science Education 23.9 (2001): 877-901.

[15] Luhmann, Niklas. "Familiarity, confidence, trust: Problems and alternatives." Trust: Making and breaking cooperative relations 6 (2000): 94-107.

[16] Morgan, Robert M, and Shelby D Hunt. "The commitment-trust theory of relationship marketing." the journal of marketing (1994): 20-38.

[17] Evans, Jonathan St BT. "Dual-processing accounts of reasoning, judgment, and social cognition." Annu. Rev. Psychol. 59 (2008): 255-278.

[18] Smith, Eliot R, and Jamie DeCoster. "Dual-process models in social and cognitive psychology: Conceptual integration and links to underlying memory systems." Personality and social psychology review 4.2 (2000): 108-131.

[19] Roediger, Henry L, and Kathleen B McDermott. "Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists." Journal of experimental psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 21.4 (1995): 803.

[20] Brainerd, CJ et al. "Semantic processing in “associative” false memory." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 15.6 (2008): 1035-1053.

[21] Watson, Jason M, Kathleen B Mcdermott, and David A Balota. "Attempting to avoid false memories in the Deese/Roediger—McDermott paradigm: Assessing the combined influence of practice and warnings in young and old adults." Memory & Cognition 32.1 (2004): 135-141.

It is going to get Fakey this Year

This is a quote I found, I want to do some verification:  " On 7/31/2019 Trump has private meeting with Putin. On 8/3/2019, just three ...