The Disinformation Age

The Disinformation

By Michelle Mairesse

     This is as much the Disinformation Age as the Information Age. The words pouring out of books, newspapers, televisions, movie screens, loudspeakers, and videos come to us corrupted at the source--mere unbolstered opinion passing as information.

     "Political reporting often works like this: A top legislator makes some pronouncement. The fact that the president or a senator or congressman speaks out needs to be reported, journalists will say, to establish 'the record.' That's the top half of a typical wire-service story, which is what most Americans read in newspapers, or see as headlines on CNN or Internet Web sites flashing the latest developments.

     "But this also is how the 'reporting-as-stenography' cycle begins, because the quoted politician has just dictated the topic of the article. Most reporters, seeking 'balance' and working on deadline, will then look for an opposing quote, find a quick retort, and then write it all up.

     "That's the way most political reporting is done. Analysis or actually checking the facts behind spins, or historical contextualization, is often left for subsequent pieces, or the editorial pages -- if it appears at all. But as any political consultant will say, winning the battle of first impressions is usually what matters most in politics."

Steven Rosenfeld, "The GOP Sweep And The Fourth Estate:
Will Dissenting Voices Be Heard?"

     The monopolistic corporate media have usurped communications outlets so completely that the American public routinely accepts bias as neutrality and disinformation as news. Jon Prestage, in his Online Journal article, "Mainstream Journalism: Shredding the First Amendment" confirms the damage.
"A few weeks ago, former Vice President Al Gore called a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to eliminate all remaining restrictions on the ownership of news outlets 'a dire threat to the survival of democracy in the United State of America.' Ownership restrictions have been weakened in recent years, enabling a few powerful companies to buy up many competing news outlets. Gore warned that the media conglomerates resulting from this loosening of restrictions have already changed the way the news media and government relate and jeopardized the news media's ability to remain an independent watchdog. According to Gore, who is a former newspaper reporter, news has become a commodity, a cheap and readily available good, and, if the remaining restrictions are eliminated, the situation will become even worse."
Prestage also deplores the increase of unsourced, unverified information.

"The indiscriminate use of unnamed sources is far more dangerous now than it was in the past because most news outlets no longer independently verify information provided to competing news outlets by unnamed sources before running a story. The reason for this is the rush of news outlets, especially broadcasters, to get the story out as quickly as possible. There is no time for independent verification, and this allows spinners to run amuck."

     If an unnamed "high official" makes an announcement, we do well to demand that he identify himself. Is this a trial balloon? A dissident's contribution to a controversy? A catch-phrase designed to sway public opinion? If you speak true words, you should be willing to stand behind them. Only whistle-blowers have the right to anonymity.

     Polls provide information of sorts, but the way the pollsters frame questions can seriously distort that information. The online Retro Poll conducted a pilot survey that turned corporate pollsters' results upside down

     "Although the margin of error on individual poll questions ranged from plus or minus 6 to 8%, the relationship between advocacy of war on Iraq and misinformation on basic facts is statistically unlikely to have occurred by chance. This association reveals that what is actually being reported by most major polls is the ability of the Government and the Media to change the public perception by headlining exaggerated or erroneous government-provided information (propaganda). [Italics mine.] Retro Poll calls on the Corporate Media to carry out their democratic responsibility to bring forth and highlight the truth when government pronouncements are found to lack a firm factual basis."
     The "erroneous government-provided information" that so distorts the polls also prevents the public from opposing hidden government agendas.

     The movement to immortalize President Reagan on Mt. Rushmore as a tribute to his dismantling of the Soviet empire is a sad example of disinformation. However much Mr. Reagan deserves his star on Hollywood Boulevard, recently released documents, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show a different picture of his achievements. Not only was the Soviet empire foundering long before President Reagan took office, but his administration, like preceding ones, continued to spook the public with wildly inflated estimates of Soviet power. To speak plainly, they lied to us.

     They will continue to lie to us unless we call them to account.

     A November 8, 2002 Los Angeles Times editorial alerts us to a new danger, a fresh attempt to facilitate disinformation.

     "Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels wants to transfer control of information management from the printing office to individual Cabinet agencies. That would spell the end of the current system, in place since the Jeffersonian era, which requires executive branch agencies to send their documents and reports to neutral librarians, who then make them available to the public both online and in 1,300 public reading rooms nationwide.

"Daniels would replace that system with a more secretive one in which individual agencies would manage -- and possibly sanitize -- their own electronic databases.

"Currently, a federal agency such as the Pentagon can't delete an embarrassing passage from a historical document without first going through the hassle of asking each reading room to obscure the passage with a black marker.

"If Daniels gets his way, all an agency will have to do is call up the document in Microsoft Word and quietly hit Control X to delete the passage for eternity."

     Bureaucrats and politicians with something to hide are quick to deny citizens access to records. If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, "national security" is the first refuge of scoundrels. Behind this magical phrase is a license to lie, impugn, and intimidate. (President Nixon, for example, at first refused to discuss the Watergate burglary on grounds of national security.) Did we not recently see a congressional commission, which was convened to investigate the Federal Bureau of Investigation, meekly submit to lie-detector tests administered by the FBI itself? If they, as our representatives, cannot be trusted with information, can we depend on them? No.

     Here is a modest proposal: The public needs an ombudsman's commission, something like a grand jury, to enforce the Freedom of Information Act and prevent public servants from concealing fraud, incompetence. and outright treason.

     Documentation is the key to reliable information. Paper trails can lead inexorably to crime scenes and criminals. Why else would Oliver North and the Anderson accountants head for the shredders when the Iran-Contra and Enron scandals broke?

      For that matter, why else would Dick Cheney withhold documents from the court for two years? Why else would President George W. Bush withhold documents generated when he was governor of Texas? Do we really expect to hear the truth from them, the truth about the gravity of our situation?

Bush's public lies during his tenure as Commander-in-Chief have frequently been retracted the moment they left his lips, and the Patriot Act makes it possible for him to lie with impunity. Sam Parry exposes President-select "Bush's Life of Deception" in a devastating article (November 4, 2002).

"His personal history of heavy drinking, likely drug use, carousing, disappearances from military duty, repeated business failures and political hypocrisies--combined with his ability to avoid ever paying a significant price for his deceptions--may have given him this sense of his own infallibility.

"That view of invulnerability to consequences at a time the nation is facing an array of complex dangers could prove a hazardous mix. The pressure on Bush to revert to a lifelong pattern of telling lies and half-truths--and getting away with it--will almost certainly lead to more bending of reality to his political needs.

"That danger is twofold: Bush may compensate for his lack of foreign policy experience by trying to make regional realities fit with his limited knowledge, and he may misrepresent key information to the American people to simplify his challenge of keeping the U.S. public onboard.

"Yet at the core of any democracy is the right of the voters to know the facts. That is especially true for a democracy facing a world of crises."
     Cowering in fear and duped by disinformation, we sacrificed our youths to the war gods in Vietnam (1961-1973), swallowed Pentagon lies about the blasted, smoking ruins, the death, disease, and destruction of our mostly undeclared and lightly reported wars in Cambodia (1969), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), El Salvador (1980), Nicaragua (1981) Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998), Yugoslavia (1999), and Afghanistan (2001). What was our mission? Making the world safe for democracy. Keeping the peace. As Orwell's Big Brother would say, "War is peace."

     The war hawks are promoting a quick and easy war against Iraq, an even shorter war with fewer casualties. But information on the real losses of Bush Senior's war on Iraq is slowly coming to light, information that was suppressed for "national security" reasons.

The American Free Press introduces Mike Blair's powerful article (November 4, 2002).
"The lie that the United States won Desert Storm with few casualties has been blown apart by a nurse whose crusade to help veterans suffering from the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome has brought attention to the hundreds of thousands who have died or suffer from the unexplained illness."

     Blair's expose includes this morsel of Pentagon sleaze:

"During Operation Desert Storm, it is estimated that the military obtained 800,000 chemical and biological protective suits from the Isratex Company of Rainelle, W.V., which Pentagon quality control should have known were defective, and contained holes and tears.

"A single hole or tear in a protective suit can allow in sufficient biological or chemical material to kill the person wearing it.

"Pentagon officials claim they did not find out about the defective suits until 1996--five years after the war ended and soldiers had returned home from the Middle East battlefield.

"On Oct. 1, 2002, Dr. Anna Johnson-Winegar assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, testified before a hearing on biological warfare attack preparations of the House Government Reform Sub committee that 250,000 of 800,000 defective chemical-biological warfare protective suits have not been located and taken from inventory, meaning they will likely be issued to soldiers going to the Persian Gulf. "

     Once more, fear and disinformation are stampeding us into giving up every vestige of freedom and dignity we had foolishly believed were our inalienable rights.

     Once more, the Pentagon is training journalists to fulfill their roles as cheerleaders in Iraq. The journalists are going for it, too, which means we'll be kept in the dark until the body bags start coming home, and then it will be too late.

The online Website What's Left carried a thoughtful article about government propaganda on November 20, 2002, in which Stephen Gowans describes Arthur Ponsonby's dream of warning the people about government lies designed to whip up war fever. The more it changes, the more it's the same.

"Sometime before 1928 Arthur Ponsonby, Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs, hit on the idea that if people were warned about the lies their governments had told to win consent for a global conflagration that had blotted out the lives of 30 million a decade earlier, they might be less likely to be led into another war. . . .

"In April, 1999, the US State Department would declare that 500,000 ethnic Albanians had been murdered by Serb forces acting on the orders of Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Yugoslavia. A month later, US Defense Secretary William Cohen would say, 'We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing... They may have been murdered.' And German Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping would point to 'satellite images showing mass graves,' and 'refugees literally [walking] along mountains of corpses.'

"After 78 days of high intensity bombing, twenty teams of investigators from 15 countries rushed to Kosovo, the alleged killing ground, 500 investigators in all. It was only then -- too late -- that the world (or parts of it that were paying attention or cared anymore) discovered it had been deceived. 'The ignorant and innocent masses in each country,' wrote Ponsonby, 'are unaware at the time that they are being misled, and when it is all over only here and there are the falsehoods discovered and exposed.'

"Dr. Peter Markesteyn, a Winnipeg forensic pathologist, among the first war crimes investigators to arrive in Kosovo, recalls, 'We were told there were 100,000 bodies everywhere. We performed 1,800 autopsies -- that's it.'

"A team of Spanish investigators was warned they should prepare themselves to perform over 2,000 autopsies. They found 187 bodies, more than half victims of NATO bombs that fell on a prison at Istok. The Trepca mines were reported to be the site of a huge mass grave, housing the remains of at least 700 ethnic Albanian Kosovars. Not a single corpse was found.

"French investigators expected to find 150 bodies at Izbica. They found none.

"Emilio Perez Puhola, who led a Spanish team of forensic pathologists, found no mass graves. He called the stories the 'machinery of war propaganda.'. . .

"Spin doctors? Even in confronting the unpleasant truth that we've been lied to, we take pains to avoid the words.

"President Bush, speaking to the nation this month about the need to challenge Saddam Hussein, warned that Iraq has a growing fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used 'for missions targeting the United States,' said the Washington Post, last month.

"Continuing, the Post added, 'Last month, asked if there were new and conclusive evidence of Hussein's nuclear weapons capabilities, Bush cited a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency saying the Iraqis were 'six months away from developing a weapon.'

"Noting that the 'assertions were powerful arguments for the actions Bush sought,' (that is, war on Iraq) the Post declared Bush's statements to be 'dubious, if not wrong.'

"'Further information,' the newspaper explained, 'revealed that the aircraft lack the range to reach the United States,' and 'there was no such report by the IAEA.' In other words, reports, like corpses, can be conjured up out of thin air.

"But are these statements 'dubious, if not wrong' or are they, as Ponsonby would have put it, 'rubbish and humbug' that are 'sufficient to make decent people blush,' pressed into service by a government seeking 'to justify themselves by depicting the enemy as an undiluted criminal; and secondly, to inflame popular passion?' These aren't dubious statements; they're deliberate lies, told by a calculating, though transparent, fabulist, designed to secure support for a war that could kill up to 500,000 Iraqis (according to a group of British medical professionals), while bringing the Middle East's oil -- and the oil-dependent industrialized world -- under Washington's thumb. Lies that would make 'decent people blush' and condemn hundreds of thousands to death should be called what they are."


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