How the government manipulates the media: Case study CMLXVI

By necessity I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of how the government manipulates the media and public opinion. One of the things that I have repeatedly emphasized is their technique of, whenever they are caught doing something wrong or criminal or even merely embarrassing, they immediately put out an alternative and more sensational story that is meant to shift the focus the discussion away from what they got caught doing.

In doing so, they will blatantly lie because they know that the public’s impression is cemented by what they first hear when the story explodes into people’s consciousness. The major media, driven as it is by the twin desires to please the government and to focus on the trivial and personal rather than the substantive, can be relied upon to run with the false story and give it wide currency. When the truth eventually comes out, it will be in dribs and drabs that can be ignored because the media would have moved on to the next sensational story and have little interest in giving the truth the same level of publicity that the original falsehoods received, because it makes the media look bad too for having been so gullible. The government has done this so often that their actions are immediately obvious to anyone who knows the pattern.

In the case of the whistleblowing by Edward Snowden, we have another clear example of this kind of misdirection. The government immediately spread the word (anonymously of course so that no one would be held responsible when the truth came out) that Snowden had shared his information with the Russians and Chinese, even though there was no evidence that he had done so. The media dutifully picked it up and the question became whether Snowden was a traitor.

Glenn Greenwald walks us through what happened. It began with what “two Western intelligence agents” who “worked for major government spy agencies” told the New York Times. The government usually starts with anonymously providing some major media outlet like the NYT with the bogus story because then the story gains credibility and other outlets begin repeating it as a ‘fact’ though it could be pure propaganda. This is how the question “Is Snowden a traitor?” gained currency.

What is interesting is that despite this propaganda barrage to make Snowden’s actions appear traitorous, public opinion has clearly not been swayed as much as the government would like. Polls indicate that:

Fifty-five percent said Snowden was a whistle-blower in leaking details about top-secret U.S. programs that collect telephone and Internet data, in the survey from Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. Thirty-four percent said he’s a traitor.

The poll also showed that by 45 percent to 40 percent, respondents said the government goes too far in restricting civil liberties as part of the war on terrorism. That was a reversal from January 2010, when in a similar survey 63 percent said anti-terrorism activities didn’t go far enough to protect the U.S. from attacks, compared with 25 percent who disagreed.

“The massive swing in public opinion about civil liberties and governmental anti-terrorism efforts, and the public view that Edward Snowden is more whistle-blower than traitor, are the public reaction and apparent shock at the extent to which the government has gone in trying to prevent future terrorist incidents,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute.

I hope that this is a sign that the public is become more aware of, and resistant to, government and media manipulation.