Print Propaganda 101

So it’s finally happened. With the DOJ, FBI and committee Democrats holding out until the eleventh hour, the controversial FISA memo has at last been revealed in all its Machiavellian splendour. You can click this link to read the original document should you wish.

Predictably, the spin masters in the paid-for corporate media are working overtime to downplay, minimise, ridicule and dismiss this official document as a nothingburger, after giving huge amounts of free airtime to those dedicated to preventing its publication in the first place. It’s been especially instructive to see how the mainstream media is operating right now, with any pretence of objectivity or even reasoned opinion suddenly swamped by a surge of increasingly blatant and desperate propaganda pieces.

There is no better illustration than an opinion piece by Walter Shapiro for the Guardian. It’s a classic by-the-numbers propaganda device designed to frame anyone who pays even the slightest attention to this recently de-classified document as some kind of swivel eyed conspiracy theorist.

Let’s unpack just some of the propaganda contained within.

Before we even get to the article, we’re confronted by the title: The Nunes memo shows Republicans buy their own conspiracy theories. This leaves the reader in no doubt that the Nunes memo should be associated with some kind of serious yet unspecified political paranoia.

Note also how the FISA memo has suddenly become the Nunes memo. By shifting the language away from a secretive and murky judicial procedure and pinning it to the Committee’s Republican chairman, the author reinforces the headline’s strong message of partisan shenanigans. At this point it’s important to remember that calling it the Nunes memo is not actually a falsehood, as it was in fact written and signed by Devin Nunes. This is exactly how persuasive propaganda and spin are supposed to work. By subtly shifting attention away from some ideas and favouring others, the author attempts to convince the reader that his interpretation of the world is the most plausible and trustworthy one.

After reading the headline, the next thing we see is a lengthy strapline that reads: Ever since Watergate, the standard for any scandal is whether there is a smoking gun left next to a corpse. In the case of the Nunes memo, we lack a body and the gun is a child’s toy pistol. This is actually a short paragraph culled from the article itself, but by placing it front and centre, the author makes sure you see his amusing if largely irrelevant analogy twice. Thus, before even starting in on the article proper, the reader has been primed to equate ideas of irrationality, childishness and partisanship with more serious claims of state-sponsored malfeasance arising from the memo’s, you know, actual contents. It’s not clear whether the strapline was Shapiro’s own choice or an editorial decision by the Guardian, but neither would surprise me.

As an interesting aside, you can tell we live in fascinating times when a paper like the Guardian rushes to defend the honour of highly secretive, opaque and immensely powerful US government agencies. But I digress.

Shapiro’s article begins with two paragraphs discussing the widely known hoax known as the Piltdown Man. Clearly the Piltdown Man has nothing to do with a recently de-classified US government memo, but psychologically linking these unrelated ideas is yet another method of suggesting that said memo, and those associated with it, might not be altogether on the level.

To sum up, we have a highly emotive title, a lengthy strapline which is repeated later, and an opening not suggesting, but outright declaring a commonality between the Nunes memo and the Piltdown Man hoax.

The rest of the article is an illuminating and subtly crafted blend of known facts, interwoven with a narrative of conjecture and outright speculation. It’s well worth reading if you really want to see some modern propaganda with your own eyes.

Another way to discern deliberate, targeted propaganda from ordinary opinion is to look for what isn’t there. For example, Shapiro’s piece completely fails to mention that the DOJ and FBI were threatened with contempt proceedings for witholding information legally demanded by Committee subpoena. Devin Nunes’ letter summoning both the Attorney General and the FBI Director to appear before the House Intelligence Committee to explain their intransigence is not referenced once in the article. You’d think Shapiro would want to mention it, because that letter specifically requested the very same information which is basis for the FISA memo.

If that ain’t hardcore damage control, then I don’t know what is.

As for me, my personal biases lead me to wonder just how the publication of a government memo can magically change from “extraordinarily reckless”
before its release, to a “nothingburger” immediately after publication.

Ask yourself the same question.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Donald Trump’s Media Masterclass

Psst, I’ll tell you a secret.

It’s something I’ve suspected for quite a while now, and the more I’ve observed, the more I’ve come to realise the startling, astonishing and almost unbelievable truth.

Donald Trump is a master communicator.

That’s right, you heard me. The man who was dismissed as a vainglorious clown by virtually the entire political and media establishment has consistently outmanoeuvred nearly all of them; which goes a long way to explaining their visceral and, by this point, completely irrational hatred for him.

Don’t believe me? Fine, I don’t blame you, but come along with me and witness a masterclass of 21st century social media manipulation. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there all the same.

Anyone who knows anything about American politics is aware that the imminent release of the controversial FISA memo is consuming the entire continent’s media and political energies. Democrats, Republicans, the media class and the MAGA populists are all jockeying for position during what might turn out to be one of the biggest political scandals of our age.

A detailed knowledge of the issue isn’t needed for what I’m about to show you, but Newsweek have summed it up pretty succinctly.

So here we all are, trapped inside a pressure cooker of high-stakes political drama; and what does big, stoopid, unthinking Donald decide to do on this game-changing day? Why, he fires off an irresponsible tweet of course, straight from the hip, and in the process he lets an important and easily spotted error pass through unchecked.

Anyone with even the slightest understanding of the issue knows full well that the name of the research firm involved is Fusion GPS,
and not GPS Fusion as Trump’s written it. What a dummy! Only a sloppy, irresponsible fool would do such a thing…right?

Wrong! Trump knows exactly what he’s doing.

Donald Trump is well aware that a huge slice of the political establishment, media elite and grassroots Democrats have spent the last year feverishly fashioning themselves into one-dimensional caricatures, defined only by their unending and unconditional hatred for the democratically elected President of the United States.

Trump knows this only too well, and rather than trying to convince his intractable foes that he’s not a monster, he’s chosen to harness their hatred and bend that endless energy supply to serve his will. To that end,Trump’s seemingly endless army of hardcore haters now face a very simple choice. They can either let this “accidental” typo pass unchallenged, or they can mock Trump’s inability to even send a single tweet without somehow screwing it all up. They can laugh, deride and spread his stupid, stupid mistake to the farthest reaches of the globe, faster and far more efficiently than any TV station or national newspaper could ever do.

Of course, in their haste to present themselves as so much smarter than the leader of the free world, they’re doing a fine job of reminding that world exactly what the words Fusion GPS mean, and how they relate to the whole FISA memo issue.

Congratulations guys, all you clever people are now doing your sworn enemy’s bidding. On your own time, and for free!

Who’s the smart one?

Image courtesy of Gabriella Fabbri at

Somebody’s fibbing…but who?

“Like a Child.” “They say he’s a moron.” “An idiot.” “This man does not read, does not listen.” “He cannot do this job.”

Those are just a few soundbites from a recent Today interview with man of the moment Michael Wolff, discussing his sensational new book, Fire & Fury: Inside the Whitehouse.

Unsurprisingly, the dirt is flying and virtually the entire commentariat is wondering whether this book will actually bring down the presidency as Wolff has publicly claimed.

The media aristocracy have never forgiven Trump for making them look so foolish during the 2016 general election, and so they’re busier than ever repeating the mantra that the President may be mentally unstable, and therefore unfit to hold office. This is clearly just the latest attempt to dislodge a democratically elected head of state from office, now that the whole Russia collusion narrative has blown up in their faces.

Alas, for them anyway, this latest co-ordinated attempt to unseat Trump will end in much the same way.

Let’s assume for a moment that every last word of Wolff’s salacious new gossipfest is completely true. Then, how is it that a “moron” has managed to outsmart both the Republican and Democrat parties, while simultaneously blindsiding almost the entire mainstream media machine, entrenched business interests and the almost omnipotent US donor class?

Call this wild speculation if you like, but I’m willing to bet that morons and idiots who can’t do their jobs will never out-manoeuvre the entire establishment of the world’s richest and most powerful nation. If Trump’s an idiot, what does that make them? If you got thrashed at chess by Forrest Gump, would you really spend the next year whining about your opponent’s alleged stupidity? Well, maybe, if you were desperately trying to hide your own epoch-making incompetence.

Is Trump eccentric? Probably. Is Trump semi-literate? I sincerely doubt it. Is Wolff’s new book some smoking-gun evidence of Trump’s mental instability? Well, it’s a pile of steaming something all right, but anyone waiting for this orgy of anonymous source sensationalism to trigger the 25th Amendment will be sadly disappointed, no matter how many tame “experts” are wheeled out to pontificate on primetime TV.

Think what you will of Trump, it’s not my job to convince you he’s a great guy, but one thing I can say with confidence is that someone’s about to be exposed as unbelievably short-sighted and slow-witted…I’m just not sure it’s going to be the guy sitting in the Oval Office.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Brexit Blue is now a Thing

Symbols matter.

We all know they do, despite the fact we often pretend they don’t. This enduring truth was never more sharply defined than during the recent spat over the UK’s intention to revert to blue passports after leaving the European Union.

Hailed as a step forward by some and derided as a regressive irrelevance by others, it’s been instructive to observe not only the varying reactions to this announcement, but also the surprising depth of passion and feeling it’s evoked on both sides of the Brexit divide. It’s interesting to note that the change of colour will in no way affect the passport’s function (except perhaps within the EU itself), but that’s done nothing to cool tempers on either side of this increasingly bad-tempered debate.

That’s the trouble with symbols. They wrap so many deep-rooted ideas together that they become stronger and more enduring than the multitudes whose lives they touch. Just think of an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, which has become much more than just a fizzy drink and is now an essential part of America’s cultural DNA. It’s become a proxy symbol for the very idea of America and American culture worldwide.

Like countless conquerors before them, the EU Commissioners understand this only too well. They know that to destroy an idea, identity or culture, you must first destroy its most readily recognised symbols. Why else would they have invested so much time, money and treasure to chip away at passport design? The passport is the most universal, yet also personalised symbol of both national and individual identity. If (as has so often been claimed) trade and security cooperation were really the benign end goals of the European Project, there would simply be no need to waste time and treasure harmonising national identity documents. Yet still they went at it with a passion and drive bordering on the obsessive, and they’ve never let up. It’s surely no coincidence that the words European Union appear first, and above all other national symbols, signs, crests and stamps. This is no accident, and those two words are there for the sole purpose of signifying the EU’s supreme legal authority over member states. There is no other logical explanation for those words’ primary and prominent positioning on every citizen’s most valued identity document.

It’s worth noting that the burgundy passport was mooted by some as a stepping stone to the eventual removal of national symbols from all EU passports. Such a move proved to be universally unpopular, but still the EU Commissioners thought it important enough to risk the ire of both citizenry and national governments alike by sending up a test balloon.

Whether you believe that nation states are a barrier to human progress or the essential driving force behind it, there is no longer any credible argument that the EU has not been a decades-long attempt to create a pan-European identity at political, legal, cultural and individual levels.

This is the problem that unreformed remainers and referendum deniers will face long into the future. They betray their true intentions, attitudes and beliefs with every casual insult and untruth they knowingly fling at those whom they clearly believe to be their inferiors. After all, if passport design is just a distraction from the real issues of jobs, prosperity and trade…why are they so upset by the change? I know the answer, so do you…and so do they.

As for me, I’m just happy the words “European Union” will vanish from my passport in due course. That’s because I’m not far from fifty years of age, and 2016 was the first and only time I’ve ever been offered a real choice on these important issues of sovereignty and identity. There’s something to be said for returning to the “original” blue design, as that was the colour of UK passports before this nation was ordered to change it…just let that thought sink in for a minute. In time, the design will doubtless change again, but have a care, because a passport is a symbol, not just a little piece of paper.

We’ve all known it all along, and that’s why people care.

Image courtesy of Photostock at

Is Populism Really a Problem?

We’re supposed to think it is.

Just look at the havoc populism has wrought on our once stable, orderly and deeply contented Western societies. The seismic shock of Brexit, the Trumpocalypse, the rise of Front National and Germany’s current coalition woes are just a few examples of populism’s pernicious and harmful effects.

At every turn we see populism on the rise, more often than not defined as an entirely negative cultural and political force. We can be certain in our analysis because our moral, intellectual and social betters inside the commentariat bubble have declared it to be so. You know the people I’m talking about; those highly educated, highly paid and infallible analysts who told us Britain would sink into the ocean the day after a Brexit vote. The ones who were certain Donald Trump had a less than 2% chance of becoming president. The ones who wrote off Jeremy Corbyn as a joke.

Whilst it’s abundantly clear that the populist appeal of Corbyn’s Labour Party is very different from that of Germany’s AFD, the measureable rise of both groups is clear, present and tangible evidence that the populists are firmly in the ascendancy and the establishment doesn’t really know what to do. This lack of political, cultural and economic imagination shouldn’t really be a huge surprise when we consider how the Oxford English Dictionary defines populism as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

In other words, ordinary voters from across the political spectrum are united by an underlying belief that their societies have been usurped by a self-serving, narrow clique of political, media and business interests who actually despise the very people upon whom they rely for either money or votes…and often both at the same time. Whether the prescribed cure is civic nationalism or Soviet style socialism, the diagnosis of a self-serving and sneering elite is pretty much uniform across the Western world at this point.

Millions of elite media words have been expended in the examination of populism’s rise, offering both explanation and solution to this dangerous and unpredictable social force. Naturally most of them are completely wrong because they’re looking out from within the very same media bubble which has fuelled populism’s rebirth and inexorable rise. From their vantage point, they cannot see the simplest and neatest explanation for this mystifying and troubling trend.

The populists are right.

For more than three decades now, the ruling political, financial and media class has controlled Western societies very successfully through their complete domination of the Overton window. For those who don’t know, the Overton window is the range of views that any society considers to be within acceptable political discourse. Any idea outside the Overton window is considered extreme or fringe, and therefore not worthy of serious discussion.

Here in the UK, the most obvious example of Overton control has been a pathological reluctance to seriously question the benefits of continued EU membership. For decades, that subject was summarily declared off-limits by all mainstream political parties, and ruthlessly suppressed by their media enablers.

The result? Growing frustration, anger, and eventually Brexit.

Naturally this political, social, and cultural strategy of Overton control is dependent upon the policies inside the acceptable space being largely successful. However the Iraq war, terrorism, the banking crisis, growing inequality and borderless nations have exposed a con trick by a cynical cartel rather than ushering in the comfortable, centrist utopia we were implicitly promised. As the number and magnitude of problems has grown, the establishment’s response has been to shrink the Overton window still further, allowing fewer and fewer possible remedies to be discussed within polite society. This has naturally and inevitably led to an unsustainable tension between an increasingly embattled elite and an increasingly alienated population.

Something had to snap, and those once unthinkable ideas like enforcing immigration law and famous people paying the same tax as everyone else have poured into the public consciousness and gained significant mass appeal. After all, that’s all we ever really wanted in the first place. If only they’d asked us.

So, is populism really a problem? No…it’s the only civilised solution.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at