Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to create "truth" (that's actually a lie)

We continue to hear calls from reasonable people of all political persuasions - Democrats, Independents, those who are uninvolved in politics but who are disgusted and despairing of the direction that our country has taken, even "traditional Republicans" who embrace fiscal sanity and competent governance - that the Democratic Party MUST start getting the message out about what is really going on. That they must counter the spin, the lies with the truth and the facts.

When they do that - most people believe - the American people will reject the disasterous neo-con experiment and throw the bums out at the polls. Then the long and difficult healing can begin.

Democrats simply must start speaking up and speaking out.

However, these demands presume that there is some way to communicate truth and facts. For the vast majority of Americans, information about what is going on in the world around them comes from traditional media - primarily television, and to a lesser extent, newspapers and newsmagazines.

If you are not given access to talk shows, newscasts, are not interviewed for articles - how do you speak out? If you are constantly shouted down, how do you speak up? If little snippets of access you are given to the megaphone that most Americans are tuned to are "balanced" by a constant barrage of lies and spin, how can you be believed?

Anonymous Liberal has been homing in like a laser on this fundamental problem, posting at Glenn Greenwald's excellent Unclaimed Territory

A Game Without Referees:

How did things come to be like this? Well, over the last two decades, the Republican political machine has engaged in a relentless and systematic assault on all of the institutions in our society that have traditionally served as checks on excessive partisanship. They have attacked the press, the judiciary, academia, even the very concepts of science and empiricism. Their goal has been to discredit and disable the referees, to politicize, marginalize, and co-opt any and all non-political institutions, and thereby eliminate any meaningful policing of political debate.

And they have been remarkably successful. In a relatively short period of time, conservatives have managed to convince a large segment of the population that the media, the judiciary, and even science itself cannot be trusted . . . . Beyond damaging the credibility of these institutions in the eyes of many Americans, this withering assault has actually transformed the institutions themselves.


Anonymous Liberal explains how it works:

The term "reasonable" has no objective meaning, at least in the realm of politics. Whether an idea is deemed "reasonable" has little to do with the merits of the idea and everything to do with the prevailing political climate as interpreted by our national media. GOP strategists like Karl Rove long ago realized that the national media will treat any talking point that is repeated by enough people as ipso facto "reasonable," and conversely, will treat any idea that is not repeated by a sufficient number of people as "unreasonable" or "extreme," no matter what its objective merits.


As he said last July in The Death of Political Discourse:

[Rove] realized that journalists are often lazy fact-checkers and have a tendency to repeat conventional wisdom, i.e., things they assume are true because they've heard them so many times before. This is particularly true in cases where a "fact" fits nicely within a pre-established media narrative. For example, the idea that Dan Quale was "dumb" became an established narrative soon after his arrival on the national stage. Thereafter, any story that involved Dan Quale doing or saying anything remotely "dumb," even if totally inaccurate, was quickly picked up and repeated by the mainstream media to the point where the original truth or falsity of the story was irrelevant.


Peter Daou at The Daou Report has been writing about this for some time. His point is that too many of us continue to believe that all we need to do is "tell the truth" when in fact, there is simply no way to tell it if we don't have access to the means to communicate. And that means more that simply some air time. We're up against a powerful machine that has honed its ability to shape the public discourse using the tools that have been being refined for decades by marketing experts. Marketing works by tapping into deep-seated psychological truths - the way our minds and emotions work - and ever since Freud, they have been getting better and better at manipulating us. First to sell us products - now to sell us an ideology.

From Peter Daou:

There's a critical distinction to be made here: individual reporters may lean left, isolated news stories may be slanted against the administration. What I'm describing is the wholesale peddling by the "neutral" press of deep-seated narratives, memes, and soundbites: simple, targeted talking points that paint a picture of reality for the American public that favors the right and tarnishes the left. . . .

A single storyline is more effective than a thousand stories. And a single storyline delivered by a “neutral” reporter is a hundred times more dangerous than a storyline delivered by an avowed partisan. Rightwingers can attack the media for criticizing Bush, can slam the New York Times for being liberal, but when the Times and the Post and CNN and MSNBC echo the ‘Bush stands firm’ mantra, it adds one more brick to a powerful pro-Bush edifice.

These narratives are woven so deeply into the fabric of news coverage that they have become second nature and have permeated the public psyche and are regurgitated in polls. (The polls are then used to strengthen the narratives.) They are delivered as affirmative statements, interrogatives, hypotheticals; they are discussed as fact and accepted as conventional wisdom; they are twisted, turned, shaped, reshaped, and fed to the American public in millions of little soundbites, captions, articles, editorials, news stories, and opinion pieces. They are inserted into the national dialogue as contagious memes that imprint the idea of Bush=strong/Dems=weak. And they are false.

What’s so dumbfounding . . . is that Democratic politicians, strategists, and surrogates have internalized these narratives and play into them, publicly wringing their hands over how to fix their "muddled" message, how to deal with Bush’s "strength" on national security, how to talk about "values." It’s become a self-fulfilling cycle, with Democrats reinforcing anti-Dem myths because they can’t imagine any other explanation for the apparent lack of resonance of their message. Out of desperation, they resort to hackneyed, focus-grouped slogans in a vain attempt to break through the filter.

It’s simple: if your core values and beliefs and positions, no matter how reasonable, how mainstream, how correct, how ethical, are filtered to the public through the lens of a media that has inoculated the public against your message, and if the media is the public’s primary source of information, then NOTHING you say is going to break through and change that dynamic. Which explains, in large measure, the Dems’ sorry electoral failures.


[posted on 3/15/06]

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