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Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Anatomy of a Lie

Is the irony thick or what? Pentagon officials are investigating the use of "misinformation" when a US Marine spokesman "gave CNN misleading information about an attack on the Iraqi city of Falluja."

The accusation surely rings true, but what one has to wonder why this is considered such a big deal considering the systemic, persistent use of misinformation by the government and military for the past three years. President Bush and his top military and diplomatic leaders lied about the threat Saddam Hussein posed to America to get people to support last year's invasion; and after deposing Hussein, our government and military began a propaganda campaign to turn ordinary Iraqis who want to rule their own nation into "insurgents," "terrorists" and "dead-enders" who we must now massacre.

Such propaganda techniques are necessary to justify the killing of people we just "liberated." Otherwise people would be rightly horrified to learn that our liberation of Iraq is nothing of the sort, that the puppet government we installed is an iron-fisted regime that mirrors the authoritarianism of Hussein's dictatorship, and that we are killing many more innocent women and children than "foreign fighters."

Let's return to the current investigation into the use of misinformation. Here is what CNN is reporting:

In an October 14 interview from Iraq, 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert announced that a major U.S. military operation was under way in Falluja -- three weeks before the offensive that eventually recaptured the city began.

A senior Pentagon official told CNN that Gilbert's remarks were "technically true but misleading." It was an attempt to get CNN "to report something not true," the official said.

CNN management has asked the Pentagon for an official response to a report in the Los Angeles Times that identified Gilbert's comments as a possible case of deliberate misinformation of news outlets. The newspaper reported that the interview was part of a broader effort to manipulate the media to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said U.S. personnel are never allowed to deceive reporters, and he said he is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the Gilbert interview.

"We are looking into reports where people may have gotten more creative than they should have," he said.
They certainly are creative. But to focus on this one case of deceit is to obscure the larger picture. The US government has been a pioneer in the use of public relations as a tool of war, sometimes against its own citizens but almost always to fool Americans into supporting something it otherwise would not.

Read Bitter Fruit, the seminal story about the US government's covert overthrow of the democratically elected government in Guatemala in the 1950s. It details how a maven of the Madison Avenue PR industry was employed by the government to make Guatemala's government appear to be overrun by communists bent on turning our hemisphere into a commie kingdom, thereby making it easy for the media to look the other way when the coup happened.

The book is a bitter insight into our government leader's disdain for the average American, which is feels it must deceive in order to rule.

President Reagan, who employed many of the same sham artists that now work for Bush, was also effective at this technique. You might not recall that Reagan declared a war on terrorism during his reign, and in the mid-80s Islamic radical terror was once Time magazine's story of the year. Reagan had Americans believing that Libyan hit men were roaming our streets, lying in wait to kill the president. He said that Nicaragua was a commie nation that could invade America, and that the tiny island of Grenada was such a threat that the US had to invade.

These anecdotes, like the CNN story, are mere drops in the propaganda bucket. Books have been written on this subject. Here is another and another that are good.

But Bush would make even Joseph Goebbels proud. Bush has transformed propaganda from a tactic into a way of life. His presidency and his recent political campaign are textbook examples of the Machiavellian style of rule. After the 9-11 attacks, the Pentagon formed the Office of Strategic Influence, which was "intended to plant false news stories in the international media" and to plant sources in such media to influence the world's understanding and perception of our invasion of Iraq. Here is a good story about that.

The Center for American Progress has been tracking the deception of the Bush administration and has a handy database you can use to browse the list. Nevertheless, the Nov. 2 victory for the Bush presidency is proof that propaganda is an effective tool for ruling those who would otherwise impeach you or at least vote you out of office.

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