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Propaganda and Evidence


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Finally. Finally our mainstream press and broadcasters show signs of waking up to the cynical, pervasive, propaganda campaign official Washington wages to obscure its imperial pursuits. Finally there is some suggestion—not more—that the mainstream may someday stop participating in the antidemocratic onslaught of lies and subterfuge they have very willingly assisted in inflicting upon us for most of this century.

I refer to two remarkable confrontations between the press and official government spokespeople this past week. At the State Department last Thursday Matt Lee, diplomatic correspondent of The Associated Press ran department spokesman Ned Price straight to the ground on one of the government’s most familiar, most nonsensical tropes: We told you, and telling you is evidence that what we told you is true.

Aboard Air Force One, National Public Radio correspondent Ayesha Rascoe reacted similarly when Jen Psaki, the president’s press secretary, tried on the same ruse in the matter of civilian casualties during the raid Thursday on the Syrian hideout of Abu Ibrahim al–Hashimi al–Qurayshi, the putative head of the Islamic State. What? Do you dare not believe me? the rarely-to-be-believed Psaki asked aggressively.

At last.

Independent media such as Consortium News have waged a battle against the government’s incessant assertions of facts-that-are-not-facts at least since the WMD in Iraq subterfuge and the irruption of the Russiagate fiasco in mid–2016. Last week the leading US wire service and public broadcaster effectively joined in when they questioned official accounts of two key events in the absence of authentic evidence of their veracity.

Let us not read too much into these developments. The AP and NPR have been card-carrying purveyors of liberal authoritarian orthodoxies for a very long time. Demanding evidence to support official assertions of authority on two occasions is hardly an indication of some new determination to reclaim surrendered ground as independent poles of power.

The Significance

But we ought not miss the potential significance of this turn, either. The wall of propaganda that towers over us, resting on an insidious culture of irrationality that has come to suffuse the American polity, is weakening. In my read, the doggedness of independent media has forced the mainstream to begin reckoning with its own complicities.

I have long admired Matt Lee as a standout among American correspondents. He is one of the most dedicated journalists now active in the Washington press corps, unswerving in his adherence to the principles and ethics of the profession even as most of those around him have abandoned both. His conduct during one of Ned Price’s daily press briefings last week was remarkable even by Lee’s high standards.

Price, a former C.I.A. analyst and a professed propagandist in the Obama White House, announced that Russia was preparing a faked video, with “crisis actors,” of a sabotage incident in eastern Ukraine that would justify a Russian invasion. “What we know, Matt, is that they have engaged in this activity,” Price said as Lee began what became a five-minute and six-second drilling in. “We have information that Russia has already prepositioned operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine.”

“Crisis actors?” Lee responded. “Really? This is, like, Alex Jones territory. What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?”

“This is derived from intelligence information that we have declassified,” Price replied.

Lee: “Where is this information?

Price: “It is intelligence information that we have declassified.”

Lee: “Well, where is it? Where is the declassified information?”

Price (feigning incredulity): “I just delivered it.”

And there you have it: We have evidence of a Russian false-flag operation, derived from declassified intelligence, and I have shared this declassified evidence with you by telling you we have it.

Simultaneously on the presidential jet, Psaki was fielding questions as to who was responsible for 13 civilian casualties, including children, during the raid that ended with al–Qurayshi’s death. The official position is that the ISIS leader detonated a bomb, taking his life and 13 others to avoid capture, and that the Special Forces commandoes conducting the raid bore no responsibility for the casualties.

NPR’s Rascoe, greatly to her credit, thereupon suggested that critics might be skeptical of the Pentagon’s (and President Joe Biden’s) account. “The US has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians,” Rascoe pointed out. “And, I mean, that is a fact.”

The combative Psaki, having no evidence to support the official rendering of events, instantly went on the offensive. “Skeptical of the US military’s assessment when they went and took out… the leader of ISIS?” She asked, pretending to disbelief just as Price did. “That they are not providing accurate information, and ISIS is providing accurate information?”

In neither case did the official posturing hold. Price took a battering at Lee’s hands the like of which I have rarely seen in a press briefing, live or videoed. Rascoe was more merciful, but Psaki came off just as much the shyster.

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