Now you see him; Now you don’t!
Propaganda may be alive and well in the 21st century; and not just in China and Russia but right here, “Made In America” in the good ole United States.
By now, we‘re all aware foreign and domestic actors are actively and more or less continuously trying to manipulate our opinions and actions. From fake accounts, names and websites to fake news, posts and comments, we’re seeing new forms of “active measures” emerging across our relatively new digital landscape. Like many, I’ve grown very concerned about their increasing prevalence in our lives. The manipulation, restriction or false representation of information poses a real and immediate threat to the livelihood of our democracy. A misinformed populace cannot lead itself.
White House propaganda
It’s pretty widely accepted that President Trump is, well, not well informed. It’s also known he peddles lies and misinformation on a regular basis, whether something specific (and easily disproveable) or sweeping, general statements. Here’s the kind of White House produced material we’ve seen in the past, released a month ago. It’s the beginnings of Trump’s future TV channel. Sure, it has an almost North Korean, “beloved leader” quality to it but at least it’s original video they created themselves and, thus, we know to be suspect of it. Here’s his Facebook post.
The next level
My hair was already on fire when Putin seemed to confirm on an international stage his support for Trump’s presidential campaign and that he directed his officials to help (see my last post):
U.S. reporter: “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?“
Putin: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did.”
What came next was somehow even more stunning. Russia released coverage of the event that conveniently left out that specific interaction, the whole back and forth. We’ve come to expect that type of behavior from them, though. No big deal. What’s problematic is the White House following suit, releasing an edited version of the transcript leaving out the first the reporter’s questions:
U.S. reporter: “… Did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?“
Putin: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did.”
Removing the first part from the reporter’s question, “President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election?” creates the illusion that the second question, “and did you direct your officials to help him do that?” refers to the diplomatic request Putin was talking about (rather than helping Donald Trump win the presidential election). It becomes a harmless response. In this context, Putin no longer seems to (a) admit his personal support for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign victory, nor (b) admit to having directed his officials to help him with that.
President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?“
Here’s the thing – everyone’s focused on how Putin’s first “Yes, I did.” because it implies his personal support (or that of Russia) for Trump’s 2016 victory. I’m focused on Putin’s second “Yes, I did.” because that one implies he directed his officials to help (whether colluding directly with the campaign or not). Which one seems more damning???
It’s actually not that rare for mistakes to find their ways into official transcripts, even those between extremely high profile heads of state, but the White House was been made aware of the discrepency and opted not to update the record. One might simply cast that off as stubbornness, or even laziness–an unwillingness on their part to correct a mistake. However, that assumes it was a mistake.
Although there’s some disagreement (yeah, right) between different reporters about the origins/reasons it happened, the White House also released an official video of the press conference and edited out the exact same part. Editing doesn’t happen on accident, it’s something that must be purposefuly executed. It seems we also need to be vigilant about doctored video and information coming from our very own White House.
The manipulation, restriction or false representation of information poses a real and immediate threat to the livelihood of our democracy.
Brazen and Ballsy
Something else that strikes me is how brazen this is. Helsinki was an international event of intrigue, broadcast all over the world. We all saw what really happened. They’re covering this up after-the-fact. This isn’t footage they’re releasing that someone finds was doctored because they dug up the original somewhere on a dusty floppy disk in the archives room one night. The original was already out in the open. They’re covering it up after we’ve already seen what happened. They’re telling us not to believe our eyes or ears. That’s ballsy.
I really hadn’t considered we’d see the next wave of propaganda come from our very own White House.
A new post will be coming soon on this very subject. In the meantime, be careful what you say comrade… don’t go disappearing on us.