Being Spun

ahmadinejadLast evening I watched Charlie Rose’s PBS interview of Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

What struck me was how much his style of communication mimicked that of GW Bush. The same attempt to conceal bald lies with swagger and squinty smile and smirk. The same transparent insincerity obvious when you look in their eyes. The same propensity to stick fiercely to rehearsed ‘talking points’ and refuse to answer any question for which they have no rehearsed answer.

Both of them are blatant propagandists — their choice of words, the use of slogans, the constant repetition of expressions with distorted meanings and disinformation, the deliberate appeal to base emotion, to the point listeners are no longer interested in or prepared to listen to reason.

What astonished me was the utter inability of Charlie Rose, who has access to exceptional research resources and is himself extremely bright and well-prepared, to handle the brash and clever Ahmadinejad. A friend of mine at the CBC, Ira Basen, has studied this phenomenon extensively. He has explained how politicians, with the help of their wealthy supporters, PR/media whores and other spin doctors, have effectively abolished open press conferences and other unrehearsed opportunities for media dialogue, and replaced them with scripted ‘production numbers’, often with visually appealing backdrops or stunts, designed purely to misinform and obfuscate, and ti reiterate the carefully-crafted ‘talking points’ and Orwellian slogans. In other words, to turn them into pure propaganda events, like the infamous Bush photo-ops.

Bush and Canadian PM Harper, right-wing birds of a feather highly distrustful of a media that might reveal the truth behind their orchestrated disinformation campaigns, are practiced experts at this type of production. We just learned that Harper’s ultra-conservative military cohorts script-wrote the speech that Afghan President Karzai mouthed last year during his visit to Canada.

The mainstream media are just putty in these propagandists’ hands. What would it take for them, if they were so inclined, to restore some of the integrity and balance to the reporting process it once had? My suggestions:

  1. Insist that the ‘stage’ be shared with someone with opposing views. The problem with this is that you can end up with two propagandists just talking past each other and trying to shout each other down. The media don’t like this because it makes their job of ‘dumbing down’ the news more difficult, and belies the presumption that their coverage is somehow accurate and factual.
  2. Be rude. If the propagandist doesn’t answer the question, interrupt the rehearsed speech and keep asking the question until the propagandist either answers it or demonstrates they are incapable of doing so honestly. Don’t let them change the subject. Argue with them. Call them a liar and confront them with the facts. Don’t let their managers manage your interview and program.
  3. Refuse to cover ‘managed’ events. Make it clear you won’t be anyone’s mouthpiece. Be faithful to the principles of the fourth estate.
  4. Do investigative journalism. When you find and report news that no one else has, you cease to be dependent on the staged press conferences that your competition lets pass for ‘news’.

This would take courage. As Bill Maher has said, “the job of the media is to make what’s important interesting”. You can’t do this with mindless regurgitations of pre-packaged propaganda productions manufactured by vested interests. You can’t do it with CNN-style blather about the minutiae of what various people think these productions mean, or should mean. Just because the mainstream media show up in droves to cover it, doesn’t make it news.

I’m not optimistic that any of the mainstream media will do any of these four steps. If public broadcasters can’t seem to handle the propagandists, we can hardly expect the mainstream media outlets in the corporatists’ pay and thrall to do so. It’s too controversial and too expensive for their tastes or risk appetites.

So we’ll have to continue to depend on the indymedia for real news. Unfortunately, that means that we’ll almost never see interviews with the rich and the powerful, or those with something to hide. But if these interviews are mostly just disguised propaganda anyways, perhapsthat’s just as well.

PS: The CBC, in addition to running Ira’s series on Spin, has done some excellent investigative reporting (check out this startling hidden-cam expose of doctors’ failure to follow basic hygiene in hospitals, despite knowing this causes thousands of deaths) — but their focus seems to be on everything except political parties’ and leaders’ misdeeds and lies. Too risky for publicly-funded media to be seen as taking sides, I guess.

Category: The Media
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7 Responses to Being Spun

  1. prad says:

    ‘lie loud and long enough and hope that people will believe it’.pretty standard stuff for any oppressive/totalitarian/capitalistic/corporate regime.

  2. Did you see his interview on 60 minutes a couple of days back?That was an interesting segment. The journalist resisted the spin machine and was stubborn in getting clear answers. It seemed quite out of place and biased actually.Tough journalism is good when the same standard was applied to all their interviews.

  3. Ray says:

    Luckily we have a famous BBC interviewer called Jeremy Paxman who has made an art out of bullying politicians into answering questions. In fact duringbthe nineties he gained the nickname of ‘Mr Rude’ amongst British parliamentarians.In 1989 he interviewed the then Homke Secraeary Micheal Howard the same quiestion “In 1989 one of the most famous Newsnight interviews took place on 13 May 1997, with Michael Howard, who had until 13 days earlier been Home Secretary. Howard was questioned regarding a meeting he had convened with the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis, regarding the potential dismissal of the head of Parkhurst Prison. During one continuous sequence Paxman put the same question

  4. Raging Bee says:

    The most important of your suggestions is #4, real investigative journalism. If our ADD media has stuck to that, steps #1-3 would not be necessary — and those steps are useless anyway, especially when the subject is a head of state who can choose his own events, and whom the media can’t simply choose to ignore.Besides, when you invite someone to speak, you thereby implicitly promise him/her a polite audience and a certain measure of hospitality. Your suggestions #1-3 directly violate that promise, and if a potential speaker had any inkling of such treatment, he/she would simply skip the event — with good reason.PS: You forgot to note that Ahmadinejad’s audience weren’t buying any of his rubbish, and were doing their best to nail him to the floor. So I’d say this event didn’t turn out all bad.

  5. Ev Nucci says:

    Fascinating commentary. What’s interesting is how my husband and I differed on this issue. My son goes to Columbia University. My husband was outraged that Columbia would allow him to enter into discourse. I, on the other hand wanted to attend the speech. Why? I wanted to see him. I wanted to see how he handled himself, watch his practiced and rehearsed language. But most importantly, I wanted to look into his eyes. Eyes are the gateway to one’s soul. I found through my list on Priscilla’s Personal Development and was intrigued by your blog title. I’ve linked into you, I hope you’ll reciprocate. God Bless and have a great weekend. Best wishes.

  6. Doug Alder says:

    today we discover that Karzai is going to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban – so why have we been there all this time, aside from giving the neocons a foothold on Iran’s doorstep and ensuring the UNICOL pipeline to Pakistan gets built? It’s time to pull Canada out of there – we’ve lost 71 troops to the neocon’s madness.more over at my place

  7. Raging Bee says:

    Doug: it’s UNOCAL, not UNICOL. And can you guess what that pipeline is supposed to carry? (Hint: it’s not about oil.)

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