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Jun-25-2010 14:40printcomments

Spin: The Media's Crocodile Death Roll

As with a crocodile attack, the best hope for survival is to get out of the spin before you drown and get onto firm ground.


(EUGENE, Ore.) - Crocodiles kill their prey by dragging them into the water and drowning them as they eat. When crocodiles twist their powerful bodies in order to rip off chunks of flesh and limbs, this is called the Death Roll.

Experts say that the best hope of surviving a crocodile attack is to remain on land, where the beast tires more easily, and cannot take advantage of its ability to hold its breath longer than its prey.

Organized propaganda campaigns, generously referred to as "spin," operate in the same way.

The purpose of spin, and all propaganda, is to make the victim believe a lie. An organized propaganda campaign snatches its victims from dry land, and drags them down into a sea of spin, attempting to drown them in lies and disinformation. Once the media begins its death roll, logic, reason, and truth are torn away from the victim like so many chunks of flesh as they slowly suffocate in the watery grave of spin.

Propaganda is a continual feature of life in America. We call it advertising or public relations these days because the word propaganda developed "negative connotations" after World War II. As always, when your conduct results in horrendous outcomes, the answer is to change the name and the rationale for your conduct, not change your conduct. At least that is how propagandists think.

It is important to recognize that the existence of propaganda implies necessary relationships between the propagandist and the victim. The propagandist starts out with the objective of lying to the victim.

Consequently, there is an assumption of superiority and inferiority between the propagandist and the victim. If the propagandist succeeds in convincing their victim of their lies, then this is a "proof" of their superiority.

Stripped of their reason and rationality, the propagandist's victim or prey is reduced not only to animal level, but even lower. Animals are complete and self-sufficient without rationality and reason. A human being, when stripped of rationality and reason, is wounded, incomplete, and dependent. An animal can survive without rationality. Human beings cannot.

The relationship between a propagandist and their victims is thus the same as the relationship between predator and prey, or more precisely, the relationship between a crafty carnivore and a herd of bewildered animals.

In a herd, the loudest and most obnoxious of voices are the ones that draw the most attention, drowning out all others.

Consequently, "controlling the conversation" through mass repetition of messages is a crucial element of propaganda.

The modern media, with thousands of television channels, websites, newspapers, magazines, and radio stations is the megaphone through which propagandists control the conversation of society. While this vast array of media outlets creates an illusion of diversity, in actuality, all of these thousands of media outlets are owned by only a few corporations.

The idea of corporate identity obscures the actual reality of corporate ownership. In a capitalist society, the shareholder is the ultimate owner, so a single shareholder or group of shareholders may control any number of corporations. The illusion of competition and diversity created by a proliferation of corporate entities can be used to conceal collusion, consolidation, and monopoly of ownership and control.

When the media megaphone is put to use, a propaganda message is broadcast across every outlet, saturating the public discourse.

The false diversity of modern media dramatically enhances its effectiveness as a propaganda tool. By creating thousands of media outlets, all with specifically targeted audiences, it is possible to take a single propaganda message and reshape it to yield optimal results for each audience.

The niche targeting of media outlets based on culture, gender, age, and ideological divisions not only enhances the effectiveness of propaganda messages, but also sews the seeds of confusion and conflict in society.

Propaganda messages, by definition designed to undermine rationality and reason, almost always use emotional and irrational instinctive responses to undermine a victims rationality. The targeting of propaganda messages at different groups using conflicting emotional and irrational ploys makes it even more difficult for people to engage in rational discussions because any two people approaching a subject will be coming at it from two conflicting irrational viewpoints.

With these observations on the basic fundamentals of modern propaganda in mind, I would like to give an example of the media death roll in effect.

On May 26, 2010 Rolling Stone published an article entitled Wall Street's War with the subtitle "Congress looked serious about finance reform – until America's biggest banks unleashed an army of 2,000 paid lobbyists."

The article detailed how banks and investment companies, working through Harry Reid and Chris Dodd and with the support of the White House, unleashed a wave of corruption in order to counter regulatory reform.

According to the article, efforts to audit the Federal Reserve, regulate derivatives, establish meaningful oversight for consumer lending, and create new reserve requirements for banks engaged in risky speculation were all gutted as a result of collusion between senior Democratic and Republican Senators working hand-in-hand with Wall Street and the White House.

This article was well sourced and full of useful information concerning regulation that applies to people's bank accounts, loans, pensions, investments, and jobs. In other words, this article was actual news which could have real value for people reading it.

Chances are you haven't read it or heard about it. I hadn't.

On June 22, 2010 Rolling Stone published an article that you may be more familiar with. This one was entitled The Runaway General and had the subtitle "Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House."

This article starts out with the assertion, unsupported by even the anonymous quotes in it, that the "real enemy" of the commanding general in Afghanistan is "the wimps in the White House," and by extension, the President. This is utter nonsense, like much of the other b.s. in the article.

All in all, the article is little more than a selective diary of McChrystal's daily routine, buttressed with anonymous quotations from the sewing-circle talk of his underlings. Assuming that all of the anonymous quotes are true, they add up to nothing.

An "adviser" to McChrystal may be the guy who served him breakfast in the morning. "Sources" can be anyone from a janitor on up. The whole article is based on nothing more than the trivial gossip that everyone exchanges in the course of a day as they go about their jobs.

This is the basis on which Rolling Stone accuses a General of treasonous conduct with the end result of a massive upheaval in the command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

On this foundation of sand thousands of media outlets and commentators built their "spin" of the supposed conflict between McChrystal and Obama. Why is it that a story like The Runaway General gets so much play, and has such a profound influence on policy? Certainly it is not a matter of substance.

The crucial difference between Wall Street's War and The Runaway General is that one article was left to die in obscurity while the other was trumpeted to every corner through the media megaphone. The fact that the McChrystal article is absolute rubbish was totally irrelevant. It served a propaganda purpose, so it could be used to push an agenda.

Whatever the ultimate agenda is behind trashing McChrystal, trashing Obama, creating divisions within the military, between the military and civilian command, and destabilizing the command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, you can be sure that this agenda is not a positive one.

The propagandists have already got us in the Death Roll with this story, and they have successfully torn off a few chunks of flesh. As with a crocodile attack, the best hope for survival is to get out of the spin before you drown and get onto firm ground.

=================================== Business/Economy Reporter Ersun Warncke is a native Oregonian. He has a degree in Economics from Portland State University and studied Law at University of Oregon. At a young age, his career spans a wide variety of fields, from fast food, to union labor, to computer programming. He has published works concerning economics, business, government, and media on blogs for several years. He currently works as an independent software designer specializing in web based applications, open source software, and peer-to-peer (P2P) applications.

Ersun describes his writing as being "in the language of the boardroom from the perspective of the shop floor." He adds that "he has no education in journalism other than reading Hunter S. Thompson." But along with life comes the real experience that indeed creates quality writers. Right now, every detail that can help the general public get ahead in life financially, is of paramount importance.

You can write to Ersun at:

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opit July 1, 2010 9:34 pm (Pacific time)

I had to chuckle at an article at Antemedius that started with the same premise as yours - Foreign Policy and the BBC do the same - that bullsh*t had to be debunked. Like the alternatives presented by the overt war party and the sneaky war party, the amount of digging necessary to uncover truth puts one at odds with the brainwashed. Their significant investment in believing fairytales is due for a rude awakening as state governments fail this month.
Firm ground is in short supply when 'facts' are available from the regular liars.
You might like this
2010 Election - Republican Ugliness
Also covers the basics. If you look at my sidebar for the Topical Index - and assuming you care - I have a start at defining real clarity in Perspective Alteration files. One article doesn't do the job justice.
I'm at

Editor: Opit, please keep the language clean, thanks for the visit.

Ralph E. Stone June 26, 2010 6:47 am (Pacific time)

The "Rolling Stone" said what most of know about the Afghanistan war that the U.S. must finally concede that the Afghanistan war is unwinable no matter what general is in charge.  We are and always will be an occupation force resented by the local populace.  The U.S cannot force change. We imposed a corrupt, unpopular Karzai government on the country.  Change will only come from within, but not by a Karzai-led government.   We are only fighting Taliban tentacles in Afghanistan while the head is located in remote parts of Pakistan, an unreliable ally.  Meanwhile we are sacrificing precious lives and wasting billions of dollars.  As the late Senator George Aiken said to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam war, "You must declare victory, and get out [now]."

eddie zawaski June 27, 2010 6:49 am (Pacific time)

You make a good point about the material not being directly attributable to the general, but when he resigned he owned it. In that light, the article in Rolling Stone was a "fishing expedition". Gather up and present some bullsh*t going on in the general's staff room and then put it in print with the expectation that everyone will attribute the b.s. to the general. In this case, it appears McCrystal was deeply into it as he apologized and resigned. Had he been innocent, he would have made Obama fire him.

Ersun Warncke June 26, 2010 12:06 pm (Pacific time)

Eddie, I agree with most of what you are saying except for one point, which is that none of the inflammatory statements in the article are actually attributed to McChrystal. The extremely inflammatory sub title is not supported by any of the quotes, or the rest of the article, in any way. The article is built on quotes from anonymous "staff" and then the spin in the rest of the media, which is repeated by everyone, is that these are things McChrystal said.

eddie zawaski June 26, 2010 7:41 am (Pacific time)

Thank you for providing two examples, one from either side in the propaganda war. In your Rolling Stone example, however, you fleetingly characterized some of the content as "b.s." before deconstructing further. I suppose you wanted your readers to think that the article was full of lies to fit your propaganda definition, but you missed your point here as Rolling Stone was printing bullshit, not lies. This is an important distinction. Bullshit plays an important role in the dissemination of propaganda. A half-truth or distortion of reality expressed by someone who knows better is absolutely a lie, but if that person actually believes the drivel that has made it into print, then it is bullshit. Much of the propaganda we get in the media starts out as a lie, but then turns into bullshit when it is repeated by so many who have actually swallowed the falsehood. Bullshit requires a certain amount of truthiness (sounds true even though it isn't) to distinguish it from a pure lie. While propaganda may have a lie at its source, it is bullshit that takes over and makes propaganda effective. This is why your Rolling Stone example was not the best as it started out as bullshit from the beginning. In a way, the whole incident is pretty comical. The reporter prints a report of the general's bullshit. Everyone, including the general, believes the bullshit so the general resigns because he can't climb out of the pile of his own bullshit as reported by Rolling Stone. The media now reports that Obama has become a decisive leader because he accepted the general's resignation. More bullshit built on another pile of bullshit. There certainly is a lie at the bottom of this immense pile of bullshit (nearly everything reported about the war in Afghanistan in the last nine years), but it is difficult to see now. In my opinion, the lie was that the US had some good reason to invade that country in the first place. Any discussion of how America manages its military presence in Afghanistan is just bullshit built on a lie. Thank you for the nice piece on propaganda. I think the crocodile metaphor was quite appropriate. Much more needs to be said on this topic so we can shovel away the stinking pile we mistake for information and get at the truth or lies that lie beneath it all.

gp June 26, 2010 6:24 am (Pacific time)

Well, I regularly massacre a couple of languages a day, I thought you would like Guille's cute little remark about passion and craziness. I respect everyone who goes ahead and speaks or writes knowing that mistakes are made by all of us and yet continue to spin yarns, tell tales and communicate both facts and opinions (especially in Bonnie and Tim's "little back wash rag" as the villians from Rockhopper called Salem-News last week). I thought this article addressed an important point. The spin that made me laugh yesterday was the story about how it wasn't the toxic oil spill that was killing the fry and turtles but some damn shrimp fishermen. This little back wash rag is a place where real people can write, their thoughts are frequently original and the only spin(other than their point of view) is the centrifugal force of the drowning rats as they go down the toilet.

Anonymous June 26, 2010 5:36 am (Pacific time)

Maybe off topic, but I know of the wall street artcle you speak of Ersun. I just viewed Webster Tarpley on RT speaking on the same subject. The finance reform bill is nothing but giving wall street and the federal reserve more powers. It does nothing to stop the speculation, etc that got us into this mess. It does nothing to bring jobs. Yet again, another example of the banks/wall street owning this country. In regards to spin, I give Glenn Beck the first place prize. Interesting guy because he speaks about 80% truth, to earn your trust, but secretly and covertly uses the other 20% as poison. And uses tears while doing it. He will never speak ill of israel, or the illegal wars tho. The main agenda continues on.

Ersun Warncke June 25, 2010 10:33 pm (Pacific time)

I have the English language in a death roll. Mixing metaphors and ambiguous constructions in the same sentence. Talk about spin!

gp June 25, 2010 5:36 pm (Pacific time)

"As with a crocodile attack, the best hope for survival is to get out of the spin before you drown and get onto firm ground." I guess if you drown you are buried and that is firm ground. :) As my language professor remarked about a quote like this the other day,"his passion betrayed him and his grammar became crazy".

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