Financial insider and commentator Yves Smith wrote an essay last week entitled “MSM Reporting as Propaganda” arguing that the government has been using propaganda to make people think that things are getting better, no one is angry, and – therefore – no one should get upset:
The message, quite overtly, is: if you are pissed, you are in a minority. The country has moved on. Things are getting better, get with the program…
Per the social psychology research, this “you are in a minority, you are wrong” message DOES dissuade a lot of people. It is remarkably poisonous. And it discourages people from taking concrete action.
Is Smith right? And even if she is, isn’t “propaganda” too strong a word?
Sure, William K. Black – professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator during the S & L crisis – says that that the government’s entire strategy now – as during the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are (“the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts”).
Admittedly, 7 out of the 8 giant, money center banks went bankrupt in the 1980’s during the “Latin American Crisis”, and the government’s response was to cover up their insolvency.
It’s true that Business Week wrote on May 23, 2006:
President George W. Bush has bestowed on his intelligence czar, John Negroponte, broad authority, in the name of national security, to excuse publicly traded companies from their usual accounting and securities-disclosure obligations.
I can’t deny that the Tarp Inspector General said that Paulson and Bernanke falsely stated that the big banks receiving Tarp money were healthy, when they were not.
And I’ll give you that a recent Pew Research Center study on the coverage of the crisis found that the media has largely parroted what the White House and Wall Street were saying.
But that’s not propaganda . . . its just positive thinking, right?
The Other Guy
And the whole word propaganda is a Nazi, communist kind of thing which has no place in the same sentence as America. Right?
Granted, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA has already bought and paid for many successful journalists.
And sure, the New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages.
True, a 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques (but the BBC isn’t American, so it doesn’t count).
I won’t deny that the Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda (but that’s a British paper, doesn’t count).
And (ho hum) one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda.
And (are we still talking about this?) an expert on propaganda testified under oath during trial that the CIA employs THOUSANDS of reporters and OWNS its own media organizations (the expert has an impressive background).
And (I can’t believe we’re still talking about this) while the U.S. government has repeatedly claimed that it was launching propaganda programs solely at foreign enemies, it has actually used them against American citizens. For example:
- In 2002, the Pentagon announced that it was considering spreading false propaganda in the foreign press. However, the military has spread propaganda within the U.S. in an operation so aggressive that one participant, a military analyst, called it “psyops on steroids“
- Raw Story confirmed yesterday the use of propaganda on Americans
- The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.
- As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:
The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.
“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience,” it reads.
“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.***
“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.
And (when’s the next episode of American Idol on?) CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”
And (who do you think will win the playoffs?) the Air Force is also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:
“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”
And (did you see that crazy photo?) it is well known that certain governments use software to automatically vote stories questioning their interests down and to send letters favorable to their view to politicians and media (see – as just one example – this, this, this, this and this). The U.S. government is very large and well-funded, and could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort, if it wished.
The Bottom Line
Yeah yeah, people say this or that, whatever, I’m too busy to think about it.
Even if true, propaganda is too strong a word for attempts to convince people that important issues are boring, that no one else is angry about them, and that everything is normal.
Perhaps “herding the wayward sheep” would be better . . .