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May 29 2012

Legislators Want to Legalize Govt. Propaganda

Buzzfeed reports on an amendment that has been submitted to this year’s defense authorization bill that would repeal two federal laws that prohibit the use of government propaganda inside the United States (it’s legal in other countries and both the Pentagon and the intelligence services have entire agencies that engage in it, especially in countries where we are at war).

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the independent Broadcasting Board of Governors, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.
In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” …

The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already, and it was recently revealed by USA Today the DoD spent $202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.

In an apparent retaliation to the USA Today investigation, the two reporters working on the story appear to have been targeted by Pentagon contractors, who created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in an attempt to discredit them.

Part of me says that this isn’t a big deal because, frankly, anyone who thinks the government doesn’t use propaganda in this country is living in a fantasy world. What are planned leaks designed to sway public opinion, which go on every day in Washington, if not propaganda? And yes, there are reporters and commentators out there who literally recite government-approved talking points on a daily basis. But this would go much further than that, and at least the law allows some recourse when it becomes too blatant. We should be strengthening those protections, not weakening them.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    calebt

    My thought: Since governments are self-interested entities, anything they say, especially with regards to national security matters, has to be questioned with regards to its veracity. So, why is this such a big deal? It’s wasteful and dangerous…

    Or, as they say, “business as usual.”

  2. 2
    Modusoperandi

    It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information…No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.

    But it’s okay to do so to other people in other countries?

    “Part of me says that this isn’t a big deal because, frankly, anyone who thinks the government doesn’t use propaganda in this country is living in a fantasy world.”

    Sure, you think you believe that, but that’s just the propaganda talking.

    “We should be strengthening those protections, not weakening them.”

    But how can the DoD compete in the marketplace of ideas if they aren’t even allowed to lie to the American People? Who will stand up for those who stand up for unpopular wars (and unpopular wars to come) if not those whose budget depends on their continuation? What kind of an unfeeling monster are you?
    How, in God’s name, can we hope to defeat Eastasia with our arms tied behind our back?

  3. 3
    Tualha

    One wonders what Obama’s opinion on it is. Considering his record on civil liberties since entering the White House, I’m pessimistic.

  4. 4
    Tualha

    Doubleplusungood. Modusoperandi’s memory is at fault. We are at war with Eurasia. We have ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia.

  5. 5
    democommie

    If this thing passes and is signed into law I look for AcademiXeBlackwaterWorldwideorwhateverthefuckthey’recallingthemselvestoday to do a hostile takeover of FuckTheNews’Corpse and turn it into a totally biased, Neues Pravda sorta agitprop outlet. Boy are they gonna be SURPRISED! The upside could be their termination of Ruptured Moldycock, with extreme prejudice.

  6. 6
    eric

    I’m somewhat surprised that DOD, DOE, HHS, etc. are going along with this. These agencies have always been allowed to issue public statements to US audiences. Heck, I believe NASA has their own media department creating internet videos.

    What these bills prevented was the State Department creating propaganda about USG activities. I’d think that the various department and agency heads would be very happy with that suitation; I can’t imagine they want to give Dept. of State the right to create messages about them.

  7. 7
    Deen

    Part of me says that this isn’t a big deal because, frankly, anyone who thinks the government doesn’t use propaganda in this country is living in a fantasy world.

    Here’s one reason why this is still somewhat of a big deal: they’re not even pretending to not use domestic propaganda anymore. Apparently they think they are untouchable enough to openly admit they want to use propaganda on US citizens.

  8. 8
    kermit.

    Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” …

    So Thornberry thinks that we cannot communicate in a credible way unless we are allowed to lie?

  9. 9
    kantalope

    Can we call the new government media outlet Pravda?
    please. pretty please.

  10. 10
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    kantalope – my thoughts exactly.

  11. 11
    Ichthyic

    Sure, you think you believe that, but that’s just the propaganda talking.

    lol

    *puts on tinfoil hat, just in case*

  12. 12
    Ichthyic

    Can we call the new government media outlet Pravda?

    why? it’s already got a name: Fox News

    the fox… a sly and cunning animal that escapes its enemies by deceit and diving into holes…

  13. 13
    kantalope

    Actually with the conservatives penchant for privatization try this on for size:

    They outsource the propaganda ministry to Fox News. This eliminates one of the steps. Right now Fox, as the propaganda wing of the GOP (or are the repubs the political wing of news-corpse?) anyway Fox now has to tell the govt what to say – so they can say it – so Fox can report it.

    This new way Fox can just say that this is what the government says. and get paid to do it.

  14. 14
    Ichthyic

    sounds about right there, Kant.

  15. 15
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Right, because the government totally tells us the truth now… (*cough*warondrugs*cough*)

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