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Jul 11 2013

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.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Chiroptera

    Nate Silver also had something to say about this.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    It began with what “two Western intelligence agents” who “worked for major government spy agencies” told the New York Times.

    You mean they divulged what would be – undoubtedly – top secret information to the NYT? If they actually knew such a thing, divulging that knowledge would expose sources and methods: it would mean that there was a mole in the Chinese intelligence service – a serious serious leak that would put that mole’s life at risk.

    Except it’s all bullshit.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    If the “journalist” at the NYT actually cared about the truth they’d ask the anonymous intelligence agents that question. Except it probably came in on a FAX with a letterhead saying “Snowden talking points…”

  4. 4
    Chiroptera

    And remember: they have now been caught flat out lying to Congress and to the American people about the very existence of these programs.

    Why the hell would they have any credibility whatsoever in regards to what they say about Snowden?

  5. 5
    Chiroptera

    And another thing: remember that US citizens largely supported the war in Iraq after 9/11 because “anonymous sources” were telling the New York Times and other “journalists” all about Husseins weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al-Qaeda — things that real journalists who actually checked facts quickly realized were false!

  6. 6
    Pierce R. Butler

    Author Trevor Aaronson claims that 99% of the FBI’s “terrorism” arrests in the 10 years after 9/11 were bogus: either wildly inflated accounts of minor infractions or complete entrapments.

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    Yep. The FBI are the biggest promoters of terrorism plots in the US.

    It’s a trick they learned back in the COINTELPRO days and have been doing ever since.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    I just realized that the “Snowden may have given data to the Chinese” trope has a big problem: per Obama, “that’s how espionage is done, everyone does it (shrug)” is an acceptable response.

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