The trashing of Saddam’s statue looked like Berlin Wall II. But the focus was fairly tight, and there were tellingly few estimates of the size of the crowd. Interestingly, the “Iraqi people welcome liberators and throw flowers at tanks” came to pass, exactly as predicted – or pre-scripted. Call me a cynic, but I’m not alone.
“In the run-up to the US-Iraq war, it became increasingly evident that propaganda has a diminished half-life,” says Paul de Rooji, London-based economist for PalestineChronicle.com.
He continues: “As soon as a propaganda ploy has been exposed, the current media spinners will move on to the next tall story. They seem to count on either the poor memory of the population, their general disinterest, or their credulity.
“There is only one antidote against propaganda, and that is a relevant sense of history and a strong collective memory. When we remember the lessons from the past, and when we remember what happened even a few days ago, then the job of the propagandists and their warmongering bosses becomes much more difficult”.
Disregarding the fact that this very quote contains one of the prime current untruths (this is an invasion, not a war, lest we forget), the heartening news has to be that supplies of credulity, disinterest and amnesia are running out.
In my last column, I talked about the sophistication of the American press operation, and the impact of delivered-to-the-editor’s-desk, pre-assembled, shrink-wrapped disinformation. However, the propaganda war hasn’t run fully to script: there is a healthy growth in public and press cynicism. Not all media is thoroughly compliant, and compliance becomes increasingly problematic when the fourth estate sees bullets embedded in members of its own embedded community.
Certain sections of the media have developed an interest in discussing who’s telling what story to whom, and why – and that interest is slowly spreading from the usual liberal suspects to a wider media market. The public, increasingly up to speed on the spinners, the spinning and the spun, is less persuadable than it once was.
We always knew not to believe a politician. Now we are coming to learn far more about the mechanisms that vindicate our lack of faith.
Technology has empowered the man and the woman in the street. In the past, the powers that be could sell the media a line, and the truth might only emerge months or years later, thanks to painstaking research through vast cuttings files, libraries, reports, memos and documents.
The digital age has opened up instant access to a vast array of factual resources. Journalists can check out information far faster: granted, they can also access myth, fiction, fantasy, discussion and opinion masquerading as fact – but the diversity of interpretations serves to encourage people to replace credulity with critical filters.
But let’s not get complacent. As Robert Fisk pointed out in the Independent, the basic language of this conflict has been thoroughly corrupted, and then taken as read. It’s a war (no it’s not, it’s an invasion). It’s a liberation (no it’s not, it’s an occupation). Cities are secured (no they’re not, they’re captured). And of course, the killer app: what is “relevant” in world affairs these days is simple rubberstamping of American demands (as in “the United Nations faced a test of its relevance, and it failed”). Presumably, that irrelevance extends to any humanitarian operation it might suggest mounting in order to ameliorate the damage to people’s lives and property resulting from the big boys’ business.
Have no doubt, the propagandists are at work on new ways to deceive, bamboozle, slant and prejudice world opinion in the service of the political agendas of their masters. What is clear is that their levels of intercommunication are becoming faster, better organised, and better structured. This can all be dismissed in the soothing, emollient tones of men in suits as nothing but the confused musings of an off-beam but essentially harmless conspiracy theorist without full access to the facts.
Nice to know, though, that the invasion is fuelling business as usual elsewhere in PR.
With opportunistic good taste, one of the mistresses of the art has scored a triple whammy. The first story was the impending launch of a coruscatingly radical anti-war, anti-Bush music video featuring scenes of dismembered Iraqi men, women and children (Monday February 10). Next up, the pulled anti-war video (“due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces”). Strangely, this intriguing tale appeared on April 1.
Finally, we have the classic Che Guevara image, remodelled around the features of the promoter of all this self-serving nonsense, one Mrs Guy Ritchie, 44. From angry peacenick to considerate citizen to revolutionary chic in just two months.