When and Why do Governements Lie


Overarching Introductory Questions:

  • What is the relationship between the press and information made public by the government?

  • Why is a reliable source of information important in a democracy?

Introduction 1:  A False Dynasty?

In traditional Chinese history, the Xia are cited as the first Chinese dynasty.  They are heralded as a particularly impressive dynasty and according to ancient Chinese historians ruled from 2070 to 1600 BCE.  However, there is little evidence to suggest that the Xia was an actual dynasty and some evidence to suggest that it was in fact all an elaborate lie.  Why would ancient Chinese historians create this made-up dynasty?

It is important to know that these ancient Chinese historians worked for the Shang dynasty, the dynasty that came immediately after the Xia.  We should then expect these government historians to be extra-professional, but as ever, ancient historians do not follow the same rules as modern-day historians.

Introduction 2:  American Propaganda in WWII

You may already know that in World War Two, the Nazi Germans used posters, radio programs, and other media as propaganda: information meant to bring large groups of people to agree with another group’s point of view, especially when that view is biased.  In the case of the Nazis, they possessed intense prejudice against ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities in German society, but especially people of Jewish ancestry.  

Leading up to and during the War, American politicians also spread their own propaganda, which made the WWII enemies of the U.S. - the German Nazis and the Japanese - seem like brutes or even monsters.

Introduction 3:  Putin and Trump

Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia, is widely known in the international community to have risen to power through unsavory means.  More importantly, it is strongly suspected that he is ultimately responsible for the killing of people who speak out against his authority.  The fear that he indeed silences political dissent is very real even if accusations of murder may be unfounded.  Donald Trump, democratically elected current President of the United States, frequently bashes the media establishment through his social media account on Twitter, labeling news he disagrees with as 'fake.'  Both of these leaders discredit or disable once reliable news sources.  Why would they do this?

Introduction 4:  Yellow Journalism

Yellow Journalism refers to a particular kind of news reporting that was meant to make for eye-grabbing, dramatic headlines that made people think there was a great emergency or scandal so that they would be more likely to buy a newspaper.  Additionally, abusers of Yellow Journalism would sometimes use the influence of their newspapers to shape public opinion into what they wanted it to be.  A great example of this is the build-up of public opinion prior to the Spanish-American war.



Your task is to use the following internet links (labeled “Link #) as they correspond to the numbered questions and numbered introductions in order to answer those questions in complete sentences.  Raise your hand to ask any questions as you navigate through the webquest, and good luck!


Link 1

Link 2A


Link 2B


Link 2C


Link 3

Link 4



Q1A) Who were the Xia ? (1-2 sentences)

Q1B) What is the evidence to suggest they were real (1 sentence)?

Q1C) What is the evidence to suggest they were not real (1 sentence)?

Q1D) Why might the ancient Chinese historians have created a fictional dynasty (3-5 sentences)?

Q2) Compare these three posters (2-3 sentences) Think about:  How do these posters persuade viewers to hate the enemy?  How might these posters affect Americans who have German, Japanese, or Italian ancestry?  What unintended effects might these posters have on Americans who don’t have German, Japanese, or Italian ancestry?

Q3A) Why is the writer of the article comparing Trump to Putin ? (3-5 sentences)

Q3B) Why would either head of state want to discredit the media?  (2-4 sentences)

Q3C) What sources might someone turn to if media is discredited, and which of these do you think Trump and Putin would prefer people turn to? (1 sentence)

Q4A) What is the danger of a sensational press? (2-4 sentences)

Q4B) Should the government have a role in fact checking the press? Why or why not? (3-5 sentences) 



Concluding Thoughts:

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.

  • Thomas Jefferson

Compare and contrast the four cases of the Xia dynasty, WW2 propaganda, commentary by current leaders, and Yellow Journalism. Why are you being asked to do this? (3-5 sentences)

Think about the first amendment right of freedom of the press.  What does this mean, and what do the three cases of this webquest have to do with freedom of the press?  (3-5 sentences)

What do these cases have to do with the Thomas Jefferson quote above? (1 sentence)

Teacher Page

Developer Commentary:  This assignment started out as a webquest about the Xia: element of chinese history vital to understanding the dynastic system that pervaded China’s history, and an interesting bit of historiography that not only reveals the willingness of historians to elaborate but also take advantage of their position in society for personal gain.  However, once I started trying to incorporate the element of Social Justice in the webquest the theme took a turn into the relationship between the control of information and freedom of the press.  I believe the “Concluding Thoughts” section of the webquest ties together what are on the surface only loosely related historical topics.  My only concerns are that the webquest is too long and that there is in fact too much opportunity for students to think for themselves and this will mean that by the time they reach the concluding thoughts section that they will be lost as to why I as their instructor have tied together the historical topics with theme X, when they have tied them together with theme Y.  My hope is that wherever a student’s brain may be, thematically, the Jefferson quote will center them on the topic of freedom of the press, a topic that I believe is not only relevant to social justice, but the spirit of the times.