War, Propaganda and the Media [Part 4]

This is the last part but if you are after specifics and wants some exmaples check out the link.

* * * * *

By Anup Shah
Date: 31st March 2005
Source: Global Issues

continuing….

Disseminating prepackaged, even fake news
In March 2005, the New York Times revealed that there has been a large amount of fake and prepackaged news created by US government departments, such as the Pentagon, the State Department and others, and disseminated through the mainstream media. The New York Times noted a number of important issues including:  

  • The US Bush administration has “aggressively” used public relations to prepackage news. Issues with this have included that:
    • A number of these government-made news segments are made to look like local news (either by the government department or by the receiving broadcaster);
    • Sometimes these reports have fake reporters such as when a “‘reporter’ covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration”;
    • Other times, there is no mention that a video segment is produced by the government;
    • Where there is some attribution, news stations simply rebroadcast them but sometimes without attributing the source.
  • These segments have reached millions;
  • This benefits both the government and the broadcaster;
  • This could amount to propaganda within the United States as well as internationally.

Effectively, American tax payers have paid to be subjected to propaganda disseminated through these massaged messaged.  

This issue is covered in more depth on this site’s media manipulation section.

Smear tactics are increasing in sophistication

Smear tactics are often used to discredit, stain or destroy the reputation of someone. It is unfortunately common-place and is an age-old technique. It can either involve outright lies, or a distortion of the truth.

With the increasing popularity of the Internet, and search engines such as Google, smearing is taking on additional forms and techniques. Juan Cole, a professor of history has described what he has coined a “GoogleSmear” as a political tactic to discredit him. His personal experience is quoted here:

It seems to me that David Horowitz and some far rightwing friends of his have hit upon a new way of discrediting a political opponent, which is the GoogleSmear. It is an easy maneuver for someone like Horowitz, who has extremely wealthy backers, to set up a web magazine that has a high profile and is indexed in google news. Then he just commissions persons to write up lies about people like me (leavened with innuendo and out-of-context quotes). Anyone googling me will likely come upon the smear profiles, and they can be passed around to journalists and politicians as though they were actual information.

Juan Cole, The GoogleSmear as Political Tactic, Informed Comment Blog, March 27, 2005

Narrowing the Range of Debate

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

Noam Chomsky, The Common Good, Odonian Press, 1998

In terms of narrowing the range of debate or discourse, this is about discussing issues within a limited range of ideas and opinions. While this gives the appearance of debate and discussion, often deeper and wider issues are not discussed, thus losing important context. This often occurs unknowingly, but is systemic in nature. Noam Chomsky captures this very well:

Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out [in democratic societies], those in power better control what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. propaganda system did its job partially but not entirely. Among educated people it worked very well. Studies show that among the more educated parts of the population, the government’s propaganda about the war is now accepted unquestioningly. One reason that propaganda often works better on the educated than on the uneducated is that educated people read more, so they receive more propaganda. Another is that they have jobs in management, media, and academia and therefore work in some capacity as agents of the propaganda system — and they believe what the system expects them to believe. By and large, they’re part of the privileged elite, and share the interests and perceptions of those in power.

Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-style, Interview conducted by David Barsamian of KGNU-Radio in Boulder, Colorado (Mid 1986)

At times, this can be part of a government’s agenda, to deflect or direct a range of discourse. The so-called “permitted parameters of debate” or “prop-agenda” then gives the appearance of consensus and democratic process. Brian Eno captures this aspect in talking about recent American foreign policy actions:

In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much more covert and therefore much more effective [than a propaganda system imposed in a totalitarian regime]. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don’t notice it — or laugh at the notion it even exists. We watch the democratic process taking place—heated debates in which we feel we could have a voice — and think that, because we have “free” media, it would be hard for the Government to get away with anything very devious without someone calling them on it.

…the new American approach to social control is so much more sophisticated and pervasive that it really deserves a new name. It isn’t just propaganda any more, it’s “prop-agenda.” It’s not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it’s the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone’s talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images, devious and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false “intelligence” and selected “leaks”. (What else can the spat between the BBC and Alastair Campbell be but a prime example of this?)

With the ground thus prepared, governments are happy if you then “use the democratic process” to agree or disagree — for, after all, their intention is to mobilise enough headlines and conversation to make the whole thing seem real and urgent. The more emotional the debate, the better. Emotion creates reality, reality demands action.

Brian Eno, Lessons in how to lie about Iraq, The Observer/Guardian, August 17, 2003

A summary from Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky is also worth citing:

It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and government malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality of the command of resources, and its effect both on access to a private media system and on its behavior and performance. (Emphasis Added)

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent; The Political Economy of the Mass Media, (Pantheon Books, New York, 1988), pp. xiv, 1—2.

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