Demonization is a propaganda tactic meant to inspire the collective hatred of a particular group through vilification. Propaganda is not often thought of as having a place in the today’s media, when in reality propaganda is ingrained in a decent portion of today’s headlines. Propaganda is defined as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.” [1] Propaganda is everywhere; “its persuasive techniques are regularly applied by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior.” [2] Meaning, one should always reflect when consuming media: is the author trying to influence your behavior in some way? I know what you are thinking, “no no, *random journalist* isn’t trying to deliver anything but the facts.” At least, that is what we hope for in news content, but we need to be aware that what we think is fair and balanced coverage may not always be so. Our news is littered with subtle stereotypes used to discredit, dehumanize, and demonize black Americans, particularly those struck down by police, whom the law enforcement have sworn to protect. The demonization of Black America stems from aversive racism that is ingrained into our culture, rooted in fear, and perpetuated through the media.


Black Americans have been consistently demonized since slavery was abolished. During slavery, the depiction of black males in American literature was one of submissiveness and docility. After the Civil War, black men “represented greater economic and political competition” for the white community. This fear led to black men no longer being portrayed as submissive but as “brutes” or “savages.” [3] This historical context is essential to understanding and decoding the demonization of Black America. Since then, American media has evolved from outright proud and open racism to law and order rhetoric used to overly police African Americans and justify their mistreatment. Unfortunately, their demonization is still being perpetuated.

Michael Brown

In 2014, Michael Brown, a black unarmed teen was fatally shot 6 times by police, sparking protests in Ferguson. The officer responsible, Darren Wilson, testified his fear of the 18 year old, “the only way I can describe it, it looked like a demon.” Darren Wilson’s description literally demonized Brown in efforts to justify killing him. [4] Wilson might have consciously demonized Brown, or Wilson might just be another product of the media’s propagated aversive racism and fear.

Journalist’s originally covering Michael Browns story similarly demonized him (though a bit less directly) and took to publishing impertinent information on Brown in attempt to discredit the victim. For Brown, and many others like him, propagators often include unnecessary faultfinding details including prior innocuous run-ins with the law. Other times labeling them a ‘thug,’ which has come to replace “brute.” [3]

Propagandist smears Michael Brown’s reputation, calls him a “thug.”

Jargon and Influence

Often victims of police shootings are subject to as much prosecution posthumously as the ones who are on trial for murdering them. Additionally, journalists use jargon that subjugates and shoulders the viewer’s opinion before they are able to form one on their own. Propagandists are notorious for agitating emotions by capitalizing on the ambiguity of language.

San Diego news channel 7 headline obscures the officer’s responsibility behind ambiguous wording. (fig. 1)

By using the phrase “officer involved shooting” the headline (shown in fig. 1) suggests that the officer is not responsible; he is simply involved. This diplomatic phrase is rarely attached to stories where a police officer has been the one shot. In cases where police are shot, journalists are much more quick to assign blame. Moreover, reporters will use phrases such as “officials say” or “sources say” to present information clearly attributed to the police. By introducing a statement with this phrase the information presented appears neutral, unbiased, and true, when that is not always the case. [4]


Discussion Questions

  1. Have you encountered anything in the media recently that demonized a police victim? What about the Black Lives Matter movement?
  2. How would you compare the treatment of demonized victims today to those in the civil rights movement?
  3. What other groups do you see demonized in today’s headlines?
  4. What are ways you can combat demonization in the media?


For More Information

Throw Away the Script: How Media Bias Is Killing Black America details how Americans are being “force-fed a media diet of stereotypes and misperceptions, overcriminalizing and marginalizing African Americans through language, images and omissions.”

5 Times the Media Has Smeared Black Victims of Police Killings Since Michael Brown

Demonizing ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an article that explains the how the public misconstrues the motives and intentions of the Black Lives Matter movement and how it can be attributed it to media.


Works Cited

[1] “Propaganda.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.


[2] Delwiche, Aaron. “Propaganda Critic: Introduction Why Think about Propaganda?” Propaganda Critic: Introduction Why Think about Propaganda? Web. 26 Sept. 2016.


[3] McDougal, Serie. (2016) “Thug” is the New “Brute”: The Posthumous Demonization of Black Males Killed by Law Enforcement.” Web. 26 Sept. 2016.


[4] Davidson, Amy. (2014) “Darren Wilson’s Demon.” The New Yorker. Web. 25

Sept. 2016.


[5] Johnson, Adam. “Copspeak: 7 Ways Journalists Use Police Jargon to Obscure the Truth” Web. 26 Sept. 2016





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s