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To whitewash is to gloss over or cover up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data. It is especially used in the context of corporations, governments or other organisations.


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

Later, during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakiamarker following the Prague Spring of 1968, the Press Group of Soviet Journalists released a collection of 'facts, documents, press reports and eye-witness accounts', which was promptly nicknamed 'The White Book' both for its white cover and its attempts to whitewash the invasion by creating the impression that the Warsaw Pact countries had the right and duty to invade.

North Koreanmarker 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.

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

The United Statesmarker is believed to have censored critiques against the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for twenty five years immediately following the bombings.

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.

Related terms

  • Greenwashing describes the practice of companies spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, or "green".
  • Bluewashing is used to describe either publicity-driven humanitarian relief efforts, or efforts to be perceived as having a small water footprint.
  • Pinkwashing (from pink ribbon) is a derogatory term for marketing campaigns that exploit consumers' emotional responses to breast cancer to sell breast-cancer-themed products.
  • Redwashing (from red ribbon) describes the use of HIV/AIDS-themed business campaigns to improve sales and profitability.


  1. "Whitewash",Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003 DVD Ultimate reference suite.
  2. Selden M. "War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century."
  3. - Definition of Greenwashing
  4. LP: 'The biggest environmental crime in history'
  5. Landeman, Anne. 11 June 2008. Pinkwashing: Can Shopping Cure Breast Cancer? Center for Media and Democracy.

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