The real danger of propaganda is when the people who spout it start believing in it themselves. This is particularly prone to happen in a successful propaganda system as exists in the US where the filters work so effectively that we end up with government and the media living in an echo chamber where the same myths and lies are repeated endlessly. It then becomes only a matter of time before people take as fact things that are flat out untrue.
Glenn Greenwald gives a good example of this in the case of Brian Williams, news anchor of NBC News and thus someone whom you would consider to be aware of important facts about international affairs.
Here is what NBC News anchor Brian Williams told his viewers about this event when leading off his broadcast last night, with a particularly mocking and cynical tone used for the bolded words:
This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons!; what they want is talks and transparency and good will. And while that would be enough to define a whole new era, skepticism is high and there’s a good reason for it.”
As Greenwald points out, this is a ‘sudden’ development only if you completely ignore what Iran’s leaders have been consistently saying for the last decade. Greenwald quotes former president Ahmadinejad, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and another Iranian official who have been saying the same thing as president Rouhani.
I don’t think that Brian Williams was intentionally lying. He is merely the victim of the propaganda system of which he is a part. He unthinkingly accepts the conventional wisdom that he himself has played a role in creating and since ‘everyone’ believes what he does, that makes him immune from having his contradictions being pointed out, except by people with a memory and a belief in consistency.
You see this in action in real time right now with the power of the Iranian presidency. When Ahmadinejad was president, the president was treated as a powerful executive whose opinion was the only one that counted. Now that Rouhani has replaced him and begun his charm offensive, the presidency is being devalued and it is the words of the supreme ayatollah Ali Khamenei that counts, with Rouhani just a figurehead.
Of course, it is perfectly appropriate to be skeptical of the Iranian or any nation’s leaders. But that is different from rewriting history.