Propaganda, American-style

Propaganda, American-style

From Brian Eno (Yes, that Brian Eno) writing for The Guardian

The problem is not propaganda but the relentless control of the kind of things we think about

When I first visited Russia, in 1986, I made friends with a musician whose father had been Brezhnev’s personal doctor. One day we were talking about life during ‘the period of stagnation’ – the Brezhnev era. ‘It must have been strange being so completely immersed in propaganda,’ I said.

‘Ah, but there is the difference. We knew it was propaganda,’ replied Sacha. 

That is the difference. Russian propaganda was so obvious that most Russians were able to ignore it. They took it for granted that the government operated in its own interests and any message coming from it was probably slanted – and they discounted it. 

In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much more covert and therefore much more effective. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don’t notice it.

It takes something as dramatic as the invasion of Iraq to make us look a bit more closely and ask: ‘How did we get here?’ How exactly did it come about that, in a world of Aids, global warming, 30-plus active wars, several famines, cloning, genetic engineering, and two billion people in poverty, practically the only thing we all talked about for a year was Iraq and Saddam Hussein?

In the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, it now seems clear that the shock of the attacks was exploited in America. According to Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in their new book  Weapons of Mass Deception, it was used to engineer a state of emergency that would justify an invasion of Iraq. Rampton and Stauber expose how news was fabricated and made to seem real.

But they also demonstrate how a coalition of the willing – far-Right officials, neo-con think-tanks, insanely pugilistic media commentators and of course well-paid PR companies – worked together to pull off a sensational piece of intellectual dishonesty. Theirs is a study of modern propaganda. 

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.

Read the entire article. It’s brilliant. The “debate” before the current Iraq invasion was filled with distortions, lies, evasions, and smears, all deliberately calculated to make people believe there was an imminent threat from Saddam. Yes, it really was a conspiracy. And now it’s clear that they were lying through their teeth and they knew it.

Our media framed the invasion as inevitable, regretfully neccessary, and a boost for Democracy. Little serious dissent was allowed. Fox News, if they can be called “News” any more, is of course, the most craven and sleaziest of the bunch. But CNN and MSNBC weren’t far behind. To watch any of their pre-Invasion news or talk shows, one would have to conclude that the only question was When the war would start, not If, and certainly not Why, as in questioning the motives of the war. That’s what Eno means by they wish to control what we think about.
Saddam was not a threat, there were no WMDs, their rationale for the invasion had no basis in reality and was simply propaganda designed to make us fear an outside threat so they could have their war, and then their hoped-for empire.

However in what could be a fatal blunder, they overestimated their own strength and underestimated Iraqi resistance and the ability of the US antiwar movement to force their lies onto the front pages.

For US style propaganda to be effective, people must not know it is propaganda, and it also must appear to be truthful. Bush’s plummeting and precipitous drop in the polls recently demonstrates that less and less people believe him or the propaganda emanating his administration.