FAKE NEWS! Understanding Propaganda Thought Memes

By Guy Crittenden

Australian online columnist (blogger) Caitlin Johnstone.

Australian online writer Caitlin Johnstone has published an important article entitled "Propaganda Narratives Are Custom-Made For Each Ideological Echo Chamber." As the title suggests, today's ain't your grandmother's agitprop! Propaganda — be it of government or corporate origin — has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. Where posters during the Great War extolled people to be wary of "the Hun" and cautioned against gossip with ham-fisted messages like "loose lips sink ships" today's propaganda is subtle. In some cases it not only looks like "news" but is, in fact, "the news." In others, it's carefully crafted messages that spread virally via social media — messages designed to appeal to the confirmation bias of specific groups. The line is now blurred between news and political messages, and the latter are crafted to appeal to narrow segments of the population, using different arguments to convince members of specific  groups of the benefit of certain objectives. Objectives can include such things as consent for war, or for a coup d'etat in a foreign country, or the assertion that vaccines are safe, or that Wikileaks' editor Julian Assange deserves to be in prison. The objectives can be many, but they always further the interests of wealthy families, corporate elites and the deep state within various governments. They're coordinated through networks of mainstream media, alternative media, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Award-winning Australian journalist Julian Assange after his unlawful removal from the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Johnstone's is one of the purest voices out there, and when we read her writings, we see how subservient most journalism has become to oligarchic narrative management. Johnstone is a truth teller in a time when journalism is subject to corporate capture, including state media such as the BBC, Canada's CBC and Australia's ABC. Even PBS in the United States promotes imperial  narratives and corporate priorities when called upon to do so, due to the government and foundation money it receives. Because she's truly independent and audience funded Johnstone can afford to be funny and irreverent in a way the corporate and state media shills would never dare, except within the confines of the narrowing Overton window to which often Johnstone refers.

I don't recall exactly when Caitlin Johnstone's woke writing first appeared in my personal Overton window, but it was refreshing. There's no shortage of online writers, but few offer her relentless and  incisive clarity. This comes not from sheer intelligence — there are lots of bright minds in journalism who fail to shine like Johnstone — but from moral clarity. Johnstone calls out the corrupt and unethical actions of the United States government and other governments and corporations in a manner one rarely encounters in mainstream news organizations. When we encounter her uncompromising observations we realize how much other writers are holding back, or deliberately obfuscating. Only then do we see how even supposedly alternative outlets like Politico and Democracy Now! (which do excellent work at times) routinely water down or alter their messages, in order to play ball with the establishment. How can we otherwise explain such things as The Guardian's refusal to retract Luke Harding's article series that alleged meetings between Trump apparatchik Paul Manafort and Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London that never took place? Even after Glenn Greenwald showed did not happen and in fact could not have happened?

Carefully crafted messages that spread virally via social media — messages designed to appeal to the confirmation bias of specific groups.

What Johnstone claims is a frightening as it's true: the surveillance agencies have become very sophisticated in how they produce and promote propaganda to various discreet audiences. In the United States this has occurred at the same time it's been made legal for spy agencies to knowingly lie (i.e., engage in propaganda) to the domestic population. (The legislation that formerly prohibited this was quietly lifted during the Obama presidency. In fact, it was introduced on New Year's Eve in order to fly under the radar of the daily press.) If the goal is to manufacture consent for a regime-change war, because, say, some multinational companies want to gain control over another country's oil and gas wealth (far-fetched though that may sound), and if that consent requires people to hold a negative view of the country's leadership (because, for instance, they're "a brutal dictator oppressing his own people") then not only will the government craft a message about that — it will come up with as many messages as are needed to convince as many people or groups as are needed to acquiesce. Ergo there will be one message for the Volvo-driving avacado-toast-eating pumpkin-spice-latte-drinking New England school teacher, and another message for the Ford F-150-driving Budweiser-drinking Smith-and-Wesson-toting Texas oil-field worker. But in the end, both will think Julian Assange is a rapey cat-mistreating abusive hacker with poor personal hygiene. Or both will think the elected leader of oil-rich Venezuela is a dictator who deserves the boot. Both both will think the president of Syria used poison gas against the citizens of his own country.

The antidote to propaganda is truth. The outlets for truth are few and far between, and as Google and Facebook and YouTube and Instagram and Twitter change their algorithms, it's becoming more and more difficult to find the voices of truth. So bookmark Caitlin Johnstone's website and consider supporting her on Patreon with a small monthly donation. We should all support truth with at least a portion of those funds we used to spend on a daily newspaper or weekly magazine  or monthly cable news subscription, especially when those newspapers and magazines and cable news outlets lie to us on the regular.

CONTRIBUTOR/RESEARCHER:

Guy Crittenden: 
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at guy@crittendencommunication.com

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