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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinktank Report on BBC bias? Never Heard of it!

It’s been a busy news day, what with Donald Trump at Davos and the continuing fallout from the pervy Presidents Club. With all that in mind, it’s understandable that maybe the mainstream media haven’t found time to study the latest Civitas report documenting the BBC’s blatant anti-Brexit bias.

In today’s competitive media sphere, you’d think that maybe Sky News or The Guardian would jump at a ready-made story where someone else has already done the legwork; but no, I guess they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe tomorrow.

In fairness, we can’t expect every outlet to have exactly the same priorities, but when the likes of the Daily Express and the Telegraph don’t want to weigh in on a highly critical paper penned by seasoned media professionals, then we really need to start asking some questions. At least the Daily Mail and The Times have turned up, and stories are finally starting to trickle out.

Maybe all these highly paid and highly educated journalists are just too preoccupied to read the full eighty page report and condense it down to a single digestible chunk for an increasingly harassed and world-weary public. That’s surely why it’s been mostly left for partisan blogs like Brexit Central to pick up the story and run with it as best they can.

There are only two possible explanations when the blogosphere is frantically busy with something and the mainstream media is noticeably muted. The first possibility is that the internet is chasing a phantom, non-existent, tinfoil hat kind of story; and the second is that said story is all too real, but the corporate press don’t really want to talk about it more than they absolutely have to.

How to tell one from the other? Well, look at the report and decide for yourself how important it is.

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Nothing will satisfy the Eurocrats now

With Theresa May’s heavily trailed Europe speech rapidly approaching, the commentariat have gone into a kind of speculative overdrive as they feverishly try to second guess the shape and form of any revised Brexit offer the Prime Minister might make. Tales of a two year transition period and a £35 billion Brexit bill have been bandied about for the last week, and will no doubt become even more speculative as the big day draws closer.

People shouldn’t get their hopes up. As I explained in my earlier article, it seems unlikely that any deal offered by Britain will be sufficient to satisfy the EU negotiators, regardless of what each member state might privately think.

If, and it’s a big if, the figure of £35 billion is even reasonably accurate, it cannot simply be forked over without expecting something in return. Such an offer will surely be conditional on the UK exiting both the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. This would allow the UK to negotiate trade on its own while retaining tariff free access to the Single Market for a short period. It will also deliver on Britain’s commitment to the current EU budget period which ends in 2020. This all seems quite reasonable, generous even, but Michel Barnier et al have thus far proved completely unwilling to accept any offer which is not an exact continuation of the current status quo.

Britain is often accused of wanting to have its Brexit cake and eat it, yet it’s the European Union which has steadfastly sought to retain every advantage it currently enjoys and give nothing in return.

For reasons that have never been fully explained, the EU seems to believe it can easily extract tens of billions of pounds from a leaving member state in return for a vague promise of future trade talks, with no certain outcome. Nobody in their right mind would accept that kind of dodgy get rich scheme pitch, and the Prime Minister must know the political and financial folly of such a lopsided arrangement.

Instead of engaging in constructive discussions, Brussels has embarked on a counterproductive campaign of deliberate discourtesy every time the UK has offered a solution to any Brexit problem. This cannot be an accident, just look at their responses so far…

Theresa May is “living in another galaxy” when it comes to the colossal, nebulous and ever-changing “divorce bill.”

Proposed customs and border arrangements are “a fantasy.”

An offer regarding citizens’ rights is a “damp squib.”

The Irish border proposals are “magical thinking.”

Conclusion: the EU has no interest in reaching any kind of pragmatic, mutually beneficial accommodation with the first nation ever to cut ties with this increasingly authoritarian bloc. They can’t risk setting a dangerous political precedent as they know for sure that other nations will follow. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the no-deal Brexit scenario was probably decided within hours of the referendum result.

This will be the background behind the Prime Minister’s speech on Friday. She may be gracious and accommodating, or combative and confrontational. In fact it doesn’t really matter which approach she adopts because the response has already been decided. It’ll probably take under an hour for the inevitable hoots of laughter and derision to pour forth from the Brussels bureaucrats and their metropolitan media enablers.

We’re wasting our time.

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Is “Rudderless” Trump Preparing to Outflank the Establishment?

At first glance, that seems like an outrageous question with a self-evident answer, but the last two years should caution us all against taking anything for granted. Received wisdom just ain’t what it used to be.

As I’ve watched the US media establishment abandon any pretence of objectivity to declare war on their elected head of state, it’s been tempting to buy into the narrative that President Trump is indeed an overgrown man-baby who is morally and intellectually incapable of holding high office.

Tune into CNN,
MSNBC or ABC; visit the New York Times, the Washington Post or any other mainstream media outlet and we basically hear the same story. This week has been Trump’s worst. It’s a disaster. His White House is ineffective and chaotic. Staff are fighting each other and the leaks just won’t stop. He’s bound to fall at any moment. Stay tuned…here it comes…

Sure, on the face of it that seems like a pretty reasonable assessment, but the normal rules no longer apply and this president is following a different playbook.

Does anyone else think it strange that Trump continually goes out of his way to pick fights with an unashamedly partisan media class?

Why?

Why would anyone deliberately antagonise such a powerful and influential group? Either this president is too stupid to understand the damage he’s doing to himself, or perhaps he’s deliberately goading the commentariat to ensure they stay good and mad at him for the foreseeable future.

Something’s been bothering me about Trump for a long time now. It’s been at the back of my mind and on the tip of my tongue ever since he took office. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t quite figure out who it was. Then at last the answer came to me, and his actions during the last month or so have solidified that idea.

I’ll ask those readers who are old enough to cast their minds back to Gulf War one, and what was arguably the world’s first live-streamed media conflict. Enter one General Norman Schwarzkopf, or stormin’ Norman as he was colloquially known. Bull-necked and large of stature, Schwarzkopf was almost a walking stereotype. A loud, brash, rootin’ tootin’ hip shootin’ American that we oh so cultured Europeans look down our noses at. A cab driver with stars on his collar. How ridiculous, and how embarrassing for the civilised world

History has since disproven that undeservedly condescending assessment. In fact that loud, brash and caricature-ish facade disguised a razor-sharp intellect and a superb tactical mind. Schwarzkopf used the media saturation of that conflict to hoodwink the entire world and pulled off a brilliant flanking manoeuvre. By swinging up through the empty desert of western Iraq, Schwarzkopf ensured the destruction of Iraqi forces fleeing Kuwait and the successful encirclement of the elite Republican Guard. Only politics saved them.

The political events of the last fortnight have led me to wonder if we aren’t seeing a similar manoeuvre unfolding on the media and cultural battlefield.

Let’s look at the facts. Bannon is back at Breitbart where he belongs, and now Gorka is suddenly gone. Despite previous statements to the contrary, more troops are heading to Afghanistan and Donald Trump has spoken at length about healing and togetherness. This has coincided with a significant uptick in antagonism towards entrenched political and media interests, just to keep them boiling with rage at the very idea of President Trump even existing.

Instead of analysing every tweet and condemning every word not spoken as they believe it should be, what remains of the credible media might want to take a look at that dust cloud forming on the horizon. There may be nothing to it, but they’d best send some scouts out to check. It just might be evidence of Trump’s considerable cultural forces advancing to occupy the centre ground they’ve so recklessly abandoned in their obsessive pursuit of him. If that is the case, and if the mainstream media don’t change course fast, then they can expect to find themselves stranded on America’s lunatic fringe just in time for the midterm elections.

If that really is Trump’s strategy and the establishment refuses to adapt to a changing reality, there will be a cultural and political bloodbath the likes of which any nation seldom sees. The war will be over. For good.

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