Herding the Sheep → Washingtons Blog
Herding the Sheep - Washingtons Blog

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Herding the Sheep

Financial insider and commentator Yves Smith wrote an essay last week entitled "MSM Reporting as Propaganda" arguing that the government has been using propaganda to make people think that things are getting better, no one is angry, and - therefore - no one should get upset:

The message, quite overtly, is: if you are pissed, you are in a minority. The country has moved on. Things are getting better, get with the program...

Per the social psychology research, this “you are in a minority, you are wrong” message DOES dissuade a lot of people. It is remarkably poisonous. And it discourages people from taking concrete action.

Is Smith right? And even if she is, isn't "propaganda" too strong a word?

Think Positive

Sure, William K. Black - professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator during the S & L crisis - says that that the government's entire strategy now - as during the S&L crisis - is to cover up how bad things are ("the entire strategy is to keep people from getting the facts").

Admittedly, 7 out of the 8 giant, money center banks went bankrupt in the 1980's during the "Latin American Crisis", and the government's response was to cover up their insolvency.

It's true that Business Week wrote on May 23, 2006:
President George W. Bush has bestowed on his intelligence czar, John Negroponte, broad authority, in the name of national security, to excuse publicly traded companies from their usual accounting and securities-disclosure obligations.
I can't deny that the Tarp Inspector General said that Paulson and Bernanke falsely stated that the big banks receiving Tarp money were healthy, when they were not.

Okay, the government and Wall Street have traditionally tried to dispense happy talk when there is an economic crash, and Arianna Huffington recently pointed out:

There is something in the current DC/NY culture that equates a lack of unthinking boosterism with a lack of patriotism. As if not being drunk on the latest Dow gains is somehow un-American.

And I'll give you that a recent Pew Research Center study on the coverage of the crisis found that the media has largely parroted what the White House and Wall Street were saying.

But that's not propaganda . . . its just positive thinking, right?

The Other Guy

And the whole word propaganda is a Nazi, communist kind of thing which has no place in the same sentence as America. Right?

Granted, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA has already bought and paid for many successful journalists.

And sure, the New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages.

True, a 4-part BBC documentary called the "Century of the Self" shows that an American - Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays - created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques (but the BBC isn't American, so it doesn't count).

I won't deny that the Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda (but that's a British paper, doesn't count).

And (ho hum) one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda.

And (are we still talking about this?) an expert on propaganda testified under oath during trial that the CIA employs THOUSANDS of reporters and OWNS its own media organizations (the expert has an impressive background).

And (I can't believe we're still talking about this) while the U.S. government has repeatedly claimed that it was launching propaganda programs solely at foreign enemies, it has actually used them against American citizens. For example:

  • Raw Story confirmed yesterday the use of propaganda on Americans
  • As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called "Information Operations Roadmap":
The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military's psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

"Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience," it reads.

"Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public," it goes on.***

"Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will 'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system".
And (when's the next episode of American Idol on?) CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be "[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information."

And (who do you think will win the playoffs?) the Air Force is also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

"We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user," Capt. Faggard says. "I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It's our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience."
And (did you see that crazy photo?) it is well known that certain governments use software to automatically vote stories questioning their interests down and to send letters favorable to their view to politicians and media (see - as just one example - this, this, this, this and this). The U.S. government is very large and well-funded, and could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort, if it wished.

The Bottom Line

Yeah yeah, people say this or that, whatever, I'm too busy to think about it.

Even if true, propaganda is too strong a word for attempts to convince people that important issues are boring, that no one else is angry about them, and that everything is normal.

Perhaps "herding the wayward sheep" would be better . . .


  1. Actually, to fit the current situation in Amerika, you have to change it to; "herding the dumbed down, almost amoeba like herds of television watching, fat food swilling hog about to be led down the chute to the abatoire, to their slaughter.." would be entirely more appropriate and far more accurate. The average, garden variety 'sheep' have far more intellect and common sense, way beyond the average citizen in Amerika.

  2. Bottom line, when you have no more income you have lot's of time to think about it, then when more people are thinking about it than "American Idol" what will the government do? Americans are becoming politically astute as with the rest of the world.
    I can spot a PSYOP a mile away and their financial backers the Federal Reserve Bank.

  3. Having been a student of propaganda, I find it interesting this seems to have only been "discovered" recently. As noted above, Bernays has long been given credit for the first propaganda used to justify the overthrow and assassination of Salvador Alende. And, thinking back on all the other assassinations - real and political, herding seems to be the result, but observant folks appear to have selective memory or blinders in place so they don't see what makes them uncomfortable.

    As for those who see, are we not then labeled as a Huxlian barbarian for pointing this out! The propaganda has created a comfort zone, where any mention of the topics that should not be mentioned create a glazing of eyes and alienation of the farted on the party.

    Recently alienated for such discussion, I note the herd clearly demonstrates its inability to digest nauseating truth. They are "fauxed" into concern about the absurd and dosed with more and more absurdities - textbook propaganda lies on lies for no reason but to create an inability to comprehend. I guess my point is we have textbook methods of propaganda working on the mass of Americans who seem to lap it up like it is good for the soul. We have cults who think the non-cult affected are in danger of being manipulated by cult mentality, and all should remember the last few words of 1984. Short cutting going to the shelf to look at it, I'll attempt to get it from memory - not precise, but: "As Winston Smith was being escorted down the long white corridor of The Ministry of Love, he suddenly realized in his heart he had won a victory over himself, and that he really did love Big Brother."

    It is two Americas - those who understand and those who shop at Walmart!

  4. Yeah yeah, this or that, whatever, I'm too busy to think about it. But perhaps "meddling in other folks business" would be even more better.

  5. "Count Jerzy Potocki, the Polish Ambassador in Washington, in a report to the Polish Foreign Office in January 1939, is quoted approvingly by the highly respected British military historian Major-General JFC Fuller. Concerning public opinion in America he says "Above all, propaganda here is entirely in Jewish hands…when bearing public ignorance in mind, their propaganda is so effective that people have no real knowledge of the true state of affairs in Europe… It is interesting to observe that in this carefully thought-out campaign… no reference at all is made to Soviet Russia. If that country is mentioned, it is referred to in a friendly manner and people are given the impression that Soviet Russia is part of the democratic group of countries… Jewry was able not only to establish a dangerous centre in the New World for the dissemination of hatred and enmity, but it also succeeded in dividing the world into two warlike camps…President Roosevelt has been given the power.. to create huge reserves in armaments for a future war which the Jews are deliberately heading for." (Fuller, JFC: The Decisive Battles of the Western World vol 3 pp 372-374.)

  6. Did you take into concideration the wolves in sheeps clothing?

  7. come on in said the wolf in sheeps clothing...

  8. Why on God's earth would you assume propaganda to be a strong word? You essentially reinforce Smith's essay by asking such ignorant questions and "emphasizing" the word, as if it is some lackey term ripped from urban dictionary..


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