Whitewash (censorship)

To Whitewash is to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes, or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data.

Whitewash also means an overly optimistic but sometimes incorrect description of a concept. An example in politics is to describe a tax or penalty as a fee.


Its first reference dates back to 1591. In 1800, the word was used in a political context, when a Philadelphia Aurora editorial said that "if you do not whitewash President Adams speedily, the Democrats, like swarms of flies, will bespatter him all over, and make you both as speckled as a dirty wall, and as black as the devil."

Modern usage

Many dictatorships and authoritarian states, as well as democratic countries, have used the method of whitewash in order to glorify the results.

During the Soviet-era, Stalin adjusted photographs of himself with Lenin, in order to position himself closer as to give an impression of the close relationship between the two.

North Korean radio broadcasts claim to have an abundance in food supplies, yet the government receives food aid from foreign states.

Japan is accused of whitewashing its history of warfare and imperialism by omitting or minimizing subjects such as the Nanking Massacre in textbooks.

Virginia whitewashed what was actually a set of taxes on drivers with certain traffic violations, naming them Civil Remedial Fees.

Fictional usage

Novels by George Orwell have dealt with the subject of whitewash as well. In Animal Farm, the pig Napoleon tries to whitewash history by deleting a few characters from the minds of the other animals. This was perceived as a direct reference to the USSR under Stalin.


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