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Ian Sinclair: What is a “propaganda blitz” and how does it work?
Media Lens: A “propaganda blitz” is a fast-moving campaign to persuade the public of the need for “action” or “intervention” of some kind furthering elite interests.
Corporate media line up to insist that a watershed moment has arrived – something must be done! Eyewitness testimony proves that Iraqi storm-troopers have killed hundreds of babies by hurling them from incubators in Kuwait. Reports from Libya show that Gadaffi is certainly planning a terrible massacre in Benghazi. Survivor accounts make it impossible to deny that pro-Assad forces have cut the throats of hundreds of women and children in Houla, and so on.
These claims are instantly affirmed with 100 per cent certainty right across the supposed media “spectrum,” long before the facts are clear, long before the credibility and motives of the sources have been established. The resulting declaration: “We must act!”, “We cannot look away!”
Often, as above, the claims turn out to be utterly bogus. The same corporate journalists who never have anything to say about massive US-UK crimes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen pop up in unison to rage about these alleged horrors.
This is important – the more enraged they seem to be, the more the public will assume there must be some truth behind their claims. Understandably, many people find it hard to believe that so many journalists could be professional fakers, or just deceived.
The idea is to generate an atmosphere of such intense moral indignation that dissidents even questioning the sincerity and accuracy of this shrieking can be damned as “Assad apologists,” “Saddam’s willing executioners,” “Corbyn’s useful idiots,” and so on.
If the propaganda blitz has done its job, these smears will resonate with the public who will turn their noses up at dissidents viewed as morally unhygienic.
The “humanitarian action” usually involves destroying an Official Enemy of the West regardless of the cost to the civilians “we” claim to care about.
Once the enemy has been overthrown, the welfare of those civilians is never again a concern for the propaganda blitzers. Who cares about the fairness of elections in Iraq now, or the freedom of its press, or the justice system?
But these were big issues when journalists were supporting efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2002-2003.
IS: How does the current media coverage of Venezuela fit with this model?
ML: It is an excellent example of a propaganda blitz. When opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself “interim president” on January 23, US-UK journalists depicted it as a classic watershed moment – Venezuelans had had enough of the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro, who had to go, had to be replaced, probably by Guaido.
Maduro is a sworn enemy of the West, which has been working long and hard to regain control of Venezuela’s oil.
Moral outrage focuses on the claim that Maduro is a “tyrant,” “despot” and “dictator” (he is democratically elected), who is full-square to blame for the economic and humanitarian crisis (US sanctions have played a significant role), who rigged the May 2018 elections (they were declared free and fair by many credible observers), who crushed press freedom (numerous Venezuelan media are openly and fiercely anti-government).
This propaganda blitz has been particularly surreal. “Mainstream” media don’t seem to notice that it is Donald Trump – the same groping, bete orange widely denounced by these same media as an out and out fascist – who is guiding efforts to overthrow Maduro. Adam Johnson made the point for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
“The same US media outlets that have expressly fund-raised and run ad campaigns on their image as anti-Trump truth-tellers have mysteriously taken at face value everything the Trump White House and its neoconservative allies have said in their campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela.”
IS: You argue “corporate media reporting and commentary” furthers “the interests of the state-corporate elites.” What role does the Guardian – a “thoughtful, progressive, fiercely independent and challenging” newspaper, according to Guardian editor Kath Viner – play in this?
ML: The Guardian was Blair’s greatest cheerleader, just as it is now among Corbyn’s greatest critics. In 2018, journalist John Pilger described how he was persona non grata at the Guardian: “My written journalism is no longer welcome in the Guardian which, three years ago, got rid of people like me in pretty much a purge of those who really were saying what the Guardian no longer says any more.”
A couple of decades ago, George Monbiot told us that there were two distinct factions competing within the Guardian: a reasonable, liberal faction working for progressive change, and a group of hard-nosed neocons who made the lives of the progressive faction “hell.”
That sounded credible. Our guess would be that, under editor Kath Viner, the neocons have gained much greater ground and now hold the paper under a kind of occupation (something similar seems to have happened at the BBC).
Many Guardian reporters and regular commentators are now no-holds-barred propagandists relentlessly promoting Perpetual War, attacking Corbyn, and in fact attacking anyone challenging the status quo.
Most embarrassing was the recent front-page Guardian claim that Julian Assange had repeatedly met with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in the Ecuadorian embassy. The story turned out to be fake.
Most telling is that editor Kath Viner has completely refused to respond to any queries, even from former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. This is a seriously disturbing sign of real dishonesty, of a brutal refusal to be in any way answerable to the public.
IS: It seems journalists are less willing to engage with you than they used to. Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is?
ML: Corporate interests have never been content to just have their wholly owned parties – Tories and Republicans – and their newspapers – The Times and the Telegraph. They have always also wanted to own the supposed “opposition” offering tiny glimmers of dissent: thus, the rise of New Labour and the Clintonian Democrats, thus the neocon-occupied BBC and Guardian. There currently is no functional “mainstream” opposition to corporate dominance.
With the arrival of social media, this power-serving corporate journalism has been forced to retreat behind thick walls of silence. It must have been the same in the past when tyrannical kings and queens were challenged by democratic forces.
Corporate journalists know that their propaganda promoting Perpetual War and corporate control of politics cannot withstand rational challenge; they have learned that they lose less credibility by ignoring us, for example, than by engaging.
Their problem is that we have solid arguments backed up by credible facts and sources. Often, there’s just nothing they can say. And because we’re not angry and abusive, they can’t dismiss us for being rude and emotional.
They also have the problem that they’re not free to comment on their brand – their employer, its product, its advertisers, their colleagues – in front of customers, so they can’t even discuss why they can’t discuss these issues. Better just to ignore us.
We also send fewer emails than we used to – we always get more responses from emails – partly because it’s easier to challenge people via Twitter, but also because we have a sense that too much criticism drives journalists into a corner where they become more resistant to change, rather than less.
IS: After 18 years of analysing the British media [Media Lens was set up in 2001], what advice would you give to young journalists just starting out?
ML: Avoid working for corporate media at all costs. It’s not possible to work as a fully human, compassionate, rational journalist within this system. Carrot and stick pressures are bound to force you to compromise your integrity, your honesty.
Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself writing garbage for money, which is a sure way of living a boring, soulless, destructive life.
In an age of looming climate collapse – which currently looks like killing us all within the next few decades – we can no longer afford for young, vibrant, juicy human beings to sacrifice their energy and delight for dead cash in a lifeless, corporate media machine.
As Norman Mailer observed: “There is an odour to any press headquarters that is unmistakeable... The unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine.”
Write what you believe is true, important and helpful for reducing the suffering of yourself and other people and animals. If you get paid, fine. If you don’t, support yourself some other way, part-time.
Relax and enjoy, live simply. What you absolutely must not do is write something because you think it is most likely to make you most money.
Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality is published by Pluto Press, priced £14.99.
For more on Media Lens, visit medialens.org.
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