How the government manipulates the media concerning the NSA revelations

I wrote earlier about how when a news story attributes information to an anonymous ‘senior intelligence official’, then you can be pretty sure that you are going to get government propaganda. Jack Shafer has an excellent article where he walks you through the ‘NSA charm offensive’ by the government to try and shape public opinion on the NSA whistleblowing story. He noted how so many news stories suddenly appeared that based their information on that given by ‘two US national security sources’.

He says that it was clear that this dynamic duo had gone on what looked like a media tour and had initiated the contacts with reporters and that what was remarkable was the lack of information given by them beyond the self-evident.

Although each outlet on the tour added additional reporting beyond what the duo disclosed, and each has done fine work since Snowden dropped his bomb, the stories reek of official spin, of news by press release, of a government handout, and of a coordinated propaganda push. And the unnamed duo’s disclosure was a tad redundant: More than two weeks ago, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went on NBC News to say the Snowden leaks would “obviously give our enemies a ‘playbook’ of how to avoid detection.”

The point of such an exercise is to blanket the media with their version of events to prevent the Snowden leaks being the main story.

Also, as David Drumm points out, the government can depend upon the courtier press dutifully following the script and relaying the various red herrings

As Noam Chomsky reminds us: distract the people by allowing very lively debate on a limited spectrum of issues. So the courtier press will focus on the illegality of Snowden’s actions and not discuss the legality of the NSA’s actions.

The courtier press is also focusing on how the Snowden affair will effect US-Russian and US-China relations. Playing the leads in this drama are Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Secretary of State John Kerry. Schumer’s line was: “Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States – whether it is Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden,” Kerry’s line was “It would be obviously disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board an airplane.”

This is why it is important for regular people to become familiar with the techniques of media manipulation. It is our only defense against being snowed.


  1. trucreep says

    I wanted to comment because you are absolutely right, and because I think this is one of the most important elements to the entire story. This is one of the most dangerous tactics simply because it’s so subtle. The idea of there being a difference between a news outlet’s “senior intelligence/foreign affairs/national security correspondent” talking about something and an “anonymous government official” providing talking points is by design built into how they guide the story lines.

  2. Corvus illustris says

    Schumer’s line was: “Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States – whether it is Syria, Iran and now of course with Snowden …

    It is now being reported (at least in the EU) that Snowden has withdrawn his application for asylum in Russia because a condition (imposed by the Russians, or “Putin” if you wish) was that Snowden stop antagonizing the Americans by spilling more beans.

    Ah, the subtle KGB.

  3. baal says

    In the first few days after the story hit, I kept hearing about Snowden’s girlfriend and how hot she was or wasn’t. I was (still am) furrowing my brow at it. If the news media was just gifted a huge story, why are they off in the fringes of the story so fast? Don’t they have substantive stories to run?

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