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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Unraveling propaganda, hippie style

by digby

I'm so enjoying watching "even-the-liberal" pundits being wildly applauded and feted for their courage by the liberal cognoscenti for righteously railing against right wing extremism these days. It makes me feel nostalgic for the days when bloggers were writing exactly those sorts of screeds and being admonished for our shrillness and hysteria by these same mainstream pundits.

Here's an example  I was reminded of today when I read Greg Mitchell's re-cap of the famous Jessica Lynch propaganda coup 10 years ago.  In this post from 2005, I was talking about how the right manufactured the illusion of the liberal fifth column. Those were the days ...

Witnessing History 
by digby 
Kevin Drum nicely deconstructs this tiresome Ward Churchill witch hunt. I realize that we soulless, decaying leftists are supposed to step up and repudiate him (or maybe tie him up and throw him in water to see if he floats) but I'm just too tired. Since I'd never heard of the guy before the right raised him to the status of left-wing icon I don't really feel like I have much of a stake in his allegedly treasonous three year old book. Anyway, I'm still busy disavowing Jane Fonda and and Joseph Stalin, my personal role models. 

Kevin ran a lexis search on the story and concludes that it really took off when the NY Times picked up the story after the right wing noise machine had slavered over it like a bunch of Atkins dieters with a big bowl of bacon grease. It has been blazing since January 27th when Drudge first trumpeted the story and the next day when Rush and O'Reilly both held forth on the topic. By the time the NY Times wrote its piece, it was already known and believed by tens of millions of people --- which means they had to write about it; "it was out there!" 

Kevin thinks it's fascinating how an obscure story like this finds it's way into the mainstream, but it's much more than fascinating. It's pernicious. This is also how lies and smears are spread and validated and there is almost no way to tell the difference anymore between a valid story and a right wing feeding frenzy. It's supremely ironic that the minute the "liberal" NY Times decides to engage, even if it refutes the allegations and sets the record straight, it helps spreads the story everywhere because of its massive influence. Its mere entry into the discourse helps turn a contrived right wing smear job into a national scandal and puts one more nail in the coffin of truth and objective reality. Once people hear what they want to hear, it doesn't matter if it's been debunked as a total fraud. They'll continue to believe it: 

People Believe a 'Fact'That Fits Their Views Even if It's Clearly False

Funny thing, memory. With the second anniversary next month of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, it's only natural that supporters as well as opponents of the war will be reliving the many searing moments of those first weeks of battle.

The rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch. U.S. troops firing at a van approaching a Baghdad checkpoint and killing seven women and children. A suicide bomber nearing a Najaf checkpoint and blowing up U.S. soldiers. The execution of coalition POWs by Iraqis. The civilian uprising in Basra against Saddam's Baathist party.

If you remember it well, then we have grist for another verse for Lerner and Loewe ("We met at nine," "We met at eight," "I was on time," "No, you were late." "Ah yes, I remember it well!"). The first three events occurred. The second two were products of the fog of war: After being reported by the media, both were quickly retracted by coalition authorities as erroneous.

Yet retracting a report isn't the same as erasing it from people's memories. According to an international study to be published next month, Americans tend to believe that the last two events occurred -- even when they recall the retraction or correction.[emphasis added] In contrast, Germans and Australians who recall the retraction discount the misinformation. It isn't that Germans and Australians are smarter. Instead, it's further evidence that what we remember depends on what we believe.

"People build mental models," explains Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychology professor at the University of Western Australia, Crawley, who led the study that will be published in Psychological Science. "By the time they receive a retraction, the original misinformation has already become an integral part of that mental model, or world view, and disregarding it would leave the world view a shambles." Therefore, he and his colleagues conclude in their paper, "People continue to rely on misinformation even if they demonstrably remember and understand a subsequent retraction."


"People who were not suspicious of the motives behind the war continued to rely on misinformation," Prof. Lewandowsky said, "believing in things they know to have been retracted." They held fast to what they had originally heard "because it fits with their mental model," which people seek to retain "whatever it takes."
This is where the right wing noise machine is really powerful. They create the "mental model" and then hammer it home day after day after day. People exposed to this mental model are told that the MSM is biased and that liberals are traitors and cowards. You have respected bloggers like Instapundit saying things like: 

There was a time when the Left opposed fascism and supported democracy, when it wasn't a seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy. That day is long past, and the moral and intellectual decay of the Left is far gone.
while radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh says: 

I mean, if there is a party that's soulless, it's the Democratic Party. If there are people by definition who are soulless, it is liberals -- by definition. You know, souls come from God. You know?
And then there is something like this coming from a mainstream opinion writer and television pundit Fred Barnes: 
At his news conference last week, Bush reacted calmly to their [Democrats] vitriolic attacks, suggesting only a few Democrats are involved. Stronger countermeasures will be needed, including an unequivocal White House response to obstructionism, curbs on filibusters, and a clear delineation of what's permissible and what's out of bounds in dissent on Iraq.
These statements are not made on rare occasions. This is the ongoing "mental model" that is being promulgated day after day after day by highly successful opinion makers in media both new and old. Bloggers like Instapundit are considered mainstream and thoughtful, not bomb throwing partisans. He is linked approvingly by many establishment web sites and works for MSBNC. After all, he's not saying anything unusual. 

Neither is Limbaugh. MSM media critic Howard Kurtz said, "Sure, he aggressively pokes fun at Democrats and lionizes Republicans, but mainly about policy. He's so mainstream that those right-wingers Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had him on their Election Night coverage." 

So when these mainstream voices say that Ward Churchill represents the left with his obscure unknown thesis that the 9/11 victims were complicit in their own deaths, the view that the left is soulless is not difficult to accept. See how that works? 

And, of course, the true irony is that all this breast beating and calls for dismissal and censorship comes on the heels of years of braying about political correctness in academia squelching free speech and dissenting points of view. It seems like only yesterday that I was reading conservative intellectuals like Walter Williams saying universities are "the equivalent of the Nazi brownshirt thought-control movement" and Paul Hollander calling it "the most widespread form of institutionalized intolerance in American higher education." (I won't even mention that champion of intellectual diversity David Horowitz.) Well now, it would appear that "political correctness vs academic freedom" comes in all flavors. 

And it's always a-ok for mainstream, influential intellectuals like Frank "cakewalk" Gaffney to say things like "The U.N. is a hateful and anti-Semitic mobocracy" or Michael Ledeen to publicly float a theory that 9/11 was the result of a "Franco-German strategy ...based on using Arab and Islamic extremism and terrorism as the weapon of choice, and the United Nations as the straitjacket for blocking a decisive response from the United States." These inflammatory statements at a time of great global unease are not repudiated by anyone. Indeed, such dangerous rabble rousing is completely accepted and in some cases endorsed by the Republican establishment. No one questinos whether such statements might endanger American security or its stated foreign policy. Indeed, one is left to ponder whether it might actually be American foreign policy, considering the fact that those who write these screeds are welcome in the White House. 

And that brings us to the crucial difference between Ward Churchill's politically incorrect ravings and Gaffney, Ledeen and Williams' politically incorrect ravings --- the latter are powerful, well known intellectuals in the conservative movement who are on the inside of government policymaking at the highest reaches. Churchill, on the other hand, is a nobody. 

Liberals have nothing to apologise for. Indeed, intellectual honesty requires that we do not. These conservative critics' facts are wrong and their analysis is self-serving. They have concocted a "mental model" that is designed to marginalize and intimidate those who speak out against them. I'm not talking about obscure college professors with eccentric views. I'm talking about average Americans with mainstream views that don't hew exactly to the Republican party line who are now viewed with suspicion as UnAmerican by association with this leftist chimera that sides with terrorists. 

There has been some very interesting thinking on this the last week in the blogosphere. If you haven't read it already, I especially recommend Max Sawicky's pithy analysis: 
...the Right doesn't cast slurs on people because they are communist, anti-American, or cross some line of non-radical, patriotic acceptability. It casts slurs indiscriminately as a routine task of political warfare. That's why they lump people like Ward Churchill with for god's sakes Teddy Kennedy or Howard Zinn. They're not using a faulty litmus test. They are trying to destroy political criticism.
This is absolutely correct. Someone asked me if I believe that conservatives are acting in good faith when they say things like this: 

The Belmont Club:
 "One could hardly expect that the end of the Cold War, the decline of Europe, the ascendancy of India and China, the collapse of the UN and the advent of terrorism would leave political relations between Left and Right unchanged. But it was the declining vigor of Marxist thought coupled with new conservative ideas that poured the most fuel on the flames. Discourse between Left and Right could only remain civil for so long as Conservatives remained meek or had no counter-pulpit. . . The weakening of the traditional media and the stresses caused by war have created a kind of 'play' in the system which now allow unchained weights to crash about. What has changed is that, with the decline of the MSM, there is nothing which prevents incivility from becoming a two-way street. And I'm not sure either the Left or the total system can contain the stress."
I have no way of knowing if this person sincerely believes that the decline of civil discourse in our politics can be pegged to world events and their supposed galvanizing effect on the right to finally defend itself against a failing Marxist left. I do know that it does not square with the facts or history. The Republicans have been throwing rhetorical nuclear bombs our way and getting away with it for decades. This harsh, no holds barred rhetorical style was ushered into the modern era by Newt Gingrich and other movement conservatives in the 1980's. It was a conscious, tactical decision designed to intimidate. 

From a 1989 article about Gingrich in Vanity Fair

Gingrich, the new face, quickly recognized an opportunity. The House, which limits the length of debate over legislation, has a rule allowing so-called special orders --permission to give lengthy speeches at the end of each legislative day. These have long been a means by which congressman could read into the Congressional Record various matters of importance to their constituents, usually matters of trivia. But Gingrich, concerned less with the Record than with the potential television audience, began to use special orders regularly as his platform for advancing ideas and, especially, for attacking the Democratic majority.

At first, his approach gave the impression that he was a brave young crusader, taking on the opposition in heated floor encounters, but, in truth, most of his diatribes were delivered before a virtually empty House. When, in 1984, he escalated his attack on Democrats to the point of questioning their patriotism-- accusing them of being "blind to Communism" --Speaker O'Neill lost his cool. In a legendary head-to-head encounter on the floor of the House, the Speaker blasted Gingrich : "You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House, and challenged these people, and challenged their patriotism, and it is the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my thirty-two years in Congress."

That was 21 years ago. These incendiary insults to Democrats' patriotism did not begin on 9/11. Gingrich went on to institutionalize the demonization of liberals as a political tactic with his "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.

If some people are unaware of that or have salved their consciences by creating a myth that today's harsh political climate was the result of external events, is no excuse. This scorched earth style of politics was quite deliberately put into play for political gain. If these true believers have convinced themselves that the right wing has been meek and mild until it had to bravely step foward and defend the country against terrorists, a little google trip through the 90's would surely cure that misapprehension. 

And I frankly do not see why they should be given any consideration for their sincere belief in a toxic political strategy that wants to see people like me silenced and this country changed in ways that will make it unrecognizable. Shame on them for their unwillingness to step in and take responsibility for what they've wrought. 

Shame on anyone who says that this is not the history of the last 25 years. I was a witness. 

Let's just say that for a very long time anyone pointing out such phenomena were relegated to fringe dweller status and tarred as radicals by the liberal Villagers and Goldilocks pundits who all sought to distance themselves from such ungracious observations of the loyal opposition. The Republicans haven't really changed, but it appears that the times have. And those of us who toiled in obscurity trying to get this into the ether have now moved on to a deeper critique of the system itself. I think that's progress.