Where Is The Government Going To Direct Its Propaganda Machine Now?
by Bill Sardi by Bill Sardi
Using established news media as its front, the federal government has long used seemingly independent news sources as conduits for propaganda. Different media, ranging from The Reader’s Digest, major network television, radio and newspapers, the most relied upon sources of public information, have been tapped by the federal government to help soften the public for war, malign contrived enemies and villains, promote a pet piece of legislation, cover for a poor economy, etc.
For example, the CNN report "Beneath the Veil," which graphically displayed atrocities perpetrated by the Taliban on Afghani women, preceded the events of September 11, 2001 that resulted in a U.S. military assault on Afghanistan. The Taliban were being demonized a month prior to the war so public attitudes toward them would be negative. CNN obviously had foreknowledge months prior to 9-11. On the evening of 9-11, CNN even aired the overthrow of a leader in Afghanistan and showed smoke and fire over the Kabul, Afghanistan night sky, long before any alleged link between the Taliban and the World Trade Center had been aired.
The Fourth Estate: Checks and balances?
It has been said that government generates most news stories and that the news media is often too eager to obtain favor for breaking reports. While American government was organized with checks and balances divided among three branches of government, the so-called Fourth Estate, the press, has been charged with keeping tabs over all branches of the government and reporting events to the citizenry. It is the press that has been "willingly coerced" into often over-cooperating with government and its hidden agendas.
The cozy relationship between government and industry has led agencies like The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to issue its annual alert to get vaccinated during the flu season, and the news media to mindlessly parrot CDC press releases, despite the fact there is little or no scientific evidence that the flu produces a significant amount of mortality or that flu vaccines reduce mortality among high-risk groups like infants and the elderly. Is flu vaccination good for the public, or just for vaccine makers?
"We interrupt this government-sponsored propaganda for………"
The use of major TV networks has been a paramount force in delivering government-backed information. Even with the plethora of new broadcast channels, more than 70% of Americans tune into the major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC and now FOX and CNN — to obtain information about daily events and issues facing the nation. It’s been relatively easy for government to co-opt a semi-consolidated news media. That was in the past.
Suddenly the number of sources of public information is broadening. Consumers now have iPods, digital TVs, video recorders, multimedia PCs, cell phones, says Eric Auchard, Reuters columnist, who notes there are the new options "many households and consumers are considering now in an effort to find a range of cost-effective online substitutes for broadcast, cable or satellite TV."
The worldwide economic downturn is forcing many consumers to find less expensive ways to be entertained or obtain information. Even TV programming, "not just short-form entertainment, is now served up on video sites in markets around the globe at Google Inc’s YouTube, Daily Motion, Joost or at Hulu in the United States," says Auchard, who asks "Could 2009 then be the year we seriously ask u2018What’s on the internet?’ rather than u2018What’s on television’?"
According to a recent survey, a majority of consumers already see their PCs as more of an entertainment device than they do TVs. Even a surprising 42% of the "reading generation," people aged 62 and above, see PCs as more entertaining than TVs. U.S. "millennials" typically spend 18.8 hours a week online, nearly twice as much time as they spend on TV, according to the survey. This means many Americans may soon be unplugging the government’s primary propaganda machine.
Major TV networks may go the way of dinosaurs
The downward spiraling economy may force major TV networks, which government has tapped to distribute (mis)information, into nonexistence soon. NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has been quoted to say: "Without radical actions it won’t be long before the medium and the U.S. auto industry look identical — on the verge of extinction." (Simon Applebaum, "Broadcast Waterloo," online blog, Dec. 15, 2008)
A visible sign of the upcoming change in broadcast TV is the acquisition of TV.com, a website that will now become a video destination for CBS Corp., which will showcase thousands of new and old television episodes. Many recent episodes of its shows are also shown at CBS.com. It is no wonder the TV Guide, which was sold at grocery store counters, has gone out of business. Hulu.com is now one of the top-viewed sites on the internet, and has sprouted up practically overnight.
In the past, government just handed film footage of World War II to NBC (1952) and it created the Victory At Sea TV series to the beat of Richard Rogers’ spine-tingling music, orchestra music that surged with onscreen views of swelling ocean waves and pounding blasts from a battleship turret. Victory at Sea certainly glorified war, and the series is still being sold by NBCUniversal as a DVD set. But now conduits to the public’s mind may not be so easy to tap.
Already the US Army is seeking non-conventional ways to reach young men for recruiting purposes. Reuters reports that the US Army is wooing young American males with videogames, Google maps and simulated attacks on positions from an Apache helicopter, in a $12 million U.S. Army "Experience Center" located northeast of Philadelphia. The center has 60 computers loaded with military videogames that glamorize war. The video arcade is filled with rock music and staffed by 33 full-time soldiers. Super Bowl recruiting ads for the military will likely continue, but obviously the military is being challenged to find ways to reach recruits other than television.
Digital TV conversion: a major turning point
A major change is about to occur with the conversion of TV from analog to digital signals. About 40 percent of American households are currently stuck watching a limited number of stations (Fox, NBC, ABC, and CBS) because they don’t have cable TV boxes. This major TV network audience will drop off significantly once the digital switch is made. This is because 40 percent will either get a converter box and upgrade to cable which provides at least 30 stations at the start as opposed to rabbit ears’ five or six, or they will simply not elect to get a converter box to access television and solely rely upon internet sources of information and entertainment.
So one can imagine the government’s concern when it became apparent there is a last-minute glitch in the planned switchover to all-digital television, scheduled for February 2009. The switchover to all-digital transmission will turn screens blank in about 8 million U.S. households that rely on outdoor antennas or rabbit ears to get a picture on every set bought before 1998 and most bought before 2004. The glitch is that the government program to supply $40 coupons to buy digital converter boxes ran out of money, placing more than 1.1 million Americans on a waiting list.
The news stories you never hear or see
Sometimes it’s not what you hear or see on major electronic news media, but what goes unreported. For example, only Al Jazeera, the Qatari TV network, which broadcasts to approximately 140 million English and Arabic-speaking viewers, is airing live images of bombings and tanks rolling through Gaza in the current conflagration there. Hundreds of other news reporters from around the world are stuck at the border between Israel and Gaza. But even with the news blackout, many back channels exist today and Americans who are eager for an inside view of the events in Gaza can download Livestation, a free program that will let viewers watch Al Jazeera English among other international networks.
Is it a coincidence that none of the three major U.S. television networks now have a news correspondent stationed in Iraq, a withdrawal by the Fourth Estate that coincides with a new President, even though 130,000 U.S. service members remain on duty there? The news media has the ability to turn the war "on" or "off" in the public’s mind. Does the news media get its marching orders from Washington DC?
News reporters embedded with troops in Iraq, who followed government orders not to show dead bodies or military caskets, would be an example of how government censorship is imparted by the news media. During the Iraq war, question arose over some journalists who may have been placed in "Harm’s Way" because they were deviating from the planned censorship, and went home in a casket themselves.
Other news media
Television networks are not the only media outlet being threatened economically. Newspapers are being called the "buggy whips" of 2009. (Modesto Bee, Jan. 9, 2009) The number of major newspapers that are about to fold up operation will only be known at the end of this challenging year of economic chaos. The Seattle Post Intelligencer and the New York Times are at the head of the list. There is now discussion over the formation of "hyperlocal" websites, where websites will cover local news in place of community newspapers. If you are a government propagandist, you are probably scratching off newspapers from your future list of news media outlets.
Imbed government agents in news agencies
Another strategy has been to embed government propagandists into the very offices of the news media. In March of 2000 Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) asks "Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?" This was first reported by the Dutch newspaper Trouw and France’s Intelligence Newsletter that "several officers from the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters last year, starting in the final days of the Kosovo War."
Planting of news stories by officers from the 4th Army PSYOPS group apparently began in the 1980s. According to FAIR, an unofficial strategy paper, written by an Army officer and published by the U.S. Naval War College in 1996, urged military commanders to find ways to “leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate” for the purposes of “communicating the [mission’s] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection.”
But now the Fourth Estate has broadened into the F — o — u — r — t — h E — s — t — a — t — e, much less of a networked conglomerate and more a patchwork of localized, independent sources of information that flows on many avenues. How does government think it will keep control over public information now? True, fiber-optic cables that enter the home or business now consolidate TV, internet and telephone transmission, but cable companies are not sources of news or entertainment, at least not yet.
Is news media complicit?
Jeff Cohen, founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca, writing about the Pentagon planting former generals on TV news shows to promote war, says "The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld or the Pentagon. It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism."
Cohen goes on to say: "No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate — affirmative action for hawks." (May 26, 2008) … As for the major TV networks, they were not hoodwinked by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly complicit, and have been for decades."
Cohen said he wasn’t shocked by the recent New York Times report (April 20, 2008) exposing how the Pentagon junketed and coached the retired military brass into being "message-force multipliers" and "surrogates" for Donald Rumsfeld’s lethal propaganda.
Military intelligence departments spent months to enlist popular support for the Iraq invasion. The Administration even went so far as to secretly pay Iraqi journalists and news organization to write positive stories about the war, says Kevin R. Kosar of History News Network.
But just how will the federal government be able to continue propaganda like this once the news media becomes so diluted with a plethora of options for consumers?
Inside border propaganda
Domestic misinformation is of greater significance to a constitutional republic like the United States where public opinion must be formed for governments to remain in power. In this regard, the Federal government doesn’t just aim propaganda at overseas audiences. For example, conservative commentator Armstrong Williams had received funds from the Department of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act.
Another example was when the Internal Revenue Service issued a press release reminding taxpayers to pay their taxes and informing them that "America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President’s policies are doing, or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation." In other words, don’t go along with the government’s plan and you get taxed. ("Is Government Propaganda Legal?" Kevin R. Kosar, History News Network)
Kosar says a century-old law (5 U.S.C. 3107) prohibits federal funds from being "used for the compensation of any publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose." And annual appropriations acts often include provisions stating "No part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes not here to for authorized by Congress." But specific prohibitions against propaganda, and the word "propaganda" itself, are difficult to find in any federal law.