How propaganda works

    Back in the heyday of the Soviet Union, the disinformation organ known as Pravda was not particularly vigilant about covering its own communist masters. Pravda was infamous for its ability to obfuscate or ignore the most dastardly Kremlin doings.Pravda, of course, is long gone, but apparently its spirit lives on. I felt it palpably this weekend while watching the latest episode of Fox & Friends. For a fervent recitation of Rupert Murdoch’s party line, for an obfuscation of the hacking and bribery scandal as duly articulated by a pair of Murdoch apparatchiks, there was no better place to go.You may be under the impression that this scandal is a burgeoning big deal – what with the arrests (thus far) of 10 people, including the woman who helmed Murdoch’s British media empire; the Friday resignation, in America, of Murdoch’s Dow Jones chairman; the Sunday resignation of Great Britain’s top cop, and the resignation today of the top cop’s deputy; the launching of probes, in America, by the FBI and the Justice Department; the reports last week that Murdoch’s News Corporation lost $7 billion in market value in just four days – but Fox & Friends had a markedly different take. Such is the function of in-house propaganda. Here’s how it works in practice:To discuss the Murdoch hacking story, host Steve Doocy introduced his guest, Bob Dilenschneider, who “used to run one of the biggest PR firms in the country.” That was an imprecise description; among his duties, Dilenschneider has specialized in helping corporations spin their way out of PR debacles. Hence his opening remarks on Fox & Friends:”News of The World (the now-dead tabloid) is a hacking scandal, it can’t be denied. The issue, really, is why are so many people piling on at this point? Shouldn’t we get beyond it, and deal with the issue of hacking? I mean, Citicorp has been hacked into, Bank of America has been hacked into, American Express has been hacked into, insurance companies have been hacked into…We’ve got a way to deal with this hacking problem.”See the technique? First, you try to minimize the scandal (in this case, by saying that it was confined to News of The World, whereas, in reality, it has extended to other Murdoch “news” outlets, the political establishment, and deep into Scotland Yard). Second, you try to change the subject, by framing what the broader issue “really” is (hence, the pervasive “hacking problem”). The flaw, however, is that Dilenschneider’s examples were irrelevant. Citicorp, Bank of America, and American Express were all victimized by hackers – whereas Murdoch has employed hackers.Yes, there’s a fundamental difference between victims and perpetrators, but host Doocy didn’t seem to pick up on that. In response to Dilenschneider, he proceeded to carry his boss’ water:”Sure, you know, and the company has come forward and they’ve said, ‘Look, this happened a long time ago, at a tabloid. In London, somebody did something really bad, and the company reacted.’ They closed that newspaper, all those people got fired even though 99 percent of them absolutely had nothing to do with it.”Dilenschneider: “And if I’m not mistaken, Murdoch, who owns it, has apologized, but for some reason the public, the media, keeps going over it. And over it.”Doocy: “The piling on.”Dilenschneider: “It’s a little too much.”Yeah, the pesky media keeps “going over it.” Perhaps that’s because the full extent of the coverup is still unraveling (thanks to Scotland Yard’s chummy willingness to suppress the evidence), and because the scandal itself didn’t happen “a long time ago,” and because it goes far beyond “a tabloid,” and because it concerns an entire corporate culture (News America, one of Murdoch’s U.S. subsidiaries, was accused of hacking another company in an ’09 federal court case), and because Murdoch would never have apologized to victimized British citizens (words are cheap anyway) if he hadn’t been virtually compelled by circumstances to do so.Dilenschneider kept going: “By the way, Citigroup, great bank, Bank of America, great bank – are they getting the same kind of attention for hacking that took place less than a year ago, that News Corp. is getting today?”Again, these were hacking victims, not perpetrators. But, as we all know, one core tenet of propaganda is ceaseless repetition.”Sure,” replied Doocy. “And one of the other things about media piling on – you look at some (web)sites and you’d think that martians landed in New Jersey. Again. We’ve got major problems in this country, we’re teetering on the edge of default, and what do they talk about? They talk about this.””I don’t quite understand it,” Dilenschneider lamented. “It really should get put behind us.”Murdoch couldn’t have spun it better. Fortunately for him, he still has the requisite bucks to bankroll a Pravda-style defense of himself. In the words of Mark Lewis, lawyer for the murdered British child whose voice mail was hacked, this sick saga is fundamentally about “the culture of an organization.” Disinformation on Fox & Friends is just one tiny, yet telling, manifestation.——-Every four years, Republicans talk excitedly about how they are really, really poised to score heavily with Jewish voters. We’re hearing it again now. Yet it never seems to happen, for the reasons I cited in my Sunday newspaper column.Meanwhile, I did a live online chat today.

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