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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Occasional Repost: The Face of Propaganda

When one of our fellow writers hits the nail on the head, we like to share their knowledge in a column we like to call "Occasional Repost." Enjoy this one from our writer/friend Bruce Lindner.

Bruce Lindner

Back in the late '70s during the Iran Hostage Crisis, I got into shortwave radio (prior to that, was my wine, women & song period. Oh, and skiing). Shortwave radio opened a window on the world to me that I never knew existed. The Cold War was still raging, and many say it was at its apex around that time. Besides the Iranian Revolution mess, the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan, President Carter announced our boycott of the 1980 Olympics and tensions were high from Belgrade to Petropavlovsk. And when Reagan came to power in 1981, his MX Missile program and the threat of the Neutron Bomb further exacerbated the mistrust. The true behemoth of the International airwaves at that time was Radio Moscow. Any time you'd turn on an HF radio, there would be Moscow, on at least three dozen frequencies in forty or fifty languages, saturating the planet with their message. And that message was surreal.

At that time here in the states, other than reading a newspaper, "news" meant Walter Cronkite or John Chancellor. They were true newsmen in every sense of the word. By contrast, Radio Moscow was like Bizarro World. NBC News would report a story of some skirmish somewhere, for example, the situation between the Turks and Greeks on Cypress, complete with video of the incident. Radio Moscow would put their own unique spin on the story, Cronkite's footage be damned. Whatever the West said, RM would fabricate a counter-story, alleging that the U.S. version of events was false. And again, the Soviet reports were broadcast worldwide, to strategically targeted regions in the native language of their intended audience. The US countered their propaganda with propaganda channels of their own; Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, though neither was so brazen in their disinformation as was Radio Moscow.

The Soviet disinformation methods closely mimicked Nazi absolute control of their media during World War II. The Nazis controlled the print media, as did the Soviets with Pravda. Herr Göebbels established his own film industry to promote his vision of a Third Reich utopia, and even produced a "Volksradio;" a reasonably priced tabletop radio for the German masses — that just happened to be restricted to Nazi propaganda only. To my knowledge, the Soviets never went that far, but they did establish "jammers" that conveniently blocked Western broadcasts. So in the end, you heard only what the Kremlin wanted you to hear. An onslaught of state-approved propaganda.

Ultimately, what digital cameras did to photography and CDs did to vinyl records, the Internet did to shortwave radio. Today, anytime you want to hear the news from Radio Bhutan or music from Radio Tahiti, you can just hit their website and stream it. Gone are the days when you had to wait for their broadcast (usually at some gawdawful hour), then hope that conditions were just right for it to come in. There are still numerous shortwave broadcasters, though they're mostly for local, or regional consumption, or in tropical regions where AM radio isn't as effective due to electrical storms. But more than any other broadcast empire, Radio Moscow was unique. It was an enormous state-run giant of 24/7 misinformation, the purpose of which wasn't to inform and enlighten, but to intentionally keep their listeners in the dark. There's never been anything quite like it.

Until 1996 that is, when Rupert Murdoch was granted a license to launch Fox News. When I hear Sean Hannity doing his thing, I'm immediately reminded of the then Radio Moscow announcer, Vladimir Posner. He was at that time, the unofficial English language voice of the Soviet Union, and his commentaries, while entertaining, were often hysterical in their inaccuracy. Whatever was being reported in Europe or North America, bad bad Vlad would put his own spin on it, which was often 180° opposed to what was actually happening. And from the perspective of the men in the Kremlin who controlled him, why not twist things? They'd already convinced their listeners that anything they heard from the bourgeoisie broadcasts of the West were lies, so they had little to lose in the way of credibility.

So it is today with the Murdoch Empire. Fox News viewers and listeners are told daily that the so-called mainstream media is biased, that only THEIR reporting is trustworthy (the term "mainstream media" being Fox contrived jargon itself, devised to separate them from the competition, or in their view, the lesser broadcasters). And it works. Fox listeners & viewers who dare to venture out and listen to any of the three broadcast networks, or perish the thought, MSNBC or CNN, and hear something other than what they WANT to hear, come away reinforced with the notion that Fox tells the truth while all the others lie. It's a self perpetuating system of deception.

What seems so ironic to me, is that the media empire that routinely wraps itself in Old Glory and touts itself as the "Fair & Balanced" voice of truth, has no more than a micron's width of difference between what they're doing today, and what their arch-enemies, the communists did 30 years ago. Or perhaps more aptly, what the Nazis did 70 years ago. Godwin's law aside, that's an inconvenient truth that neither Rupert Murdoch nor Roger Ailes can deny. When it comes to propaganda, Joseph Göebbels had nothing on what Murdoch's doing today.

Bruce Lindner

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