Propoganda 101

If I was teaching a course in propoganda, one of my first lessons would be in the art of telling a lie without telling a lie. That is, planting a false meme without actually stating anything that contradicts facts. It’s a fine art that the Bush team has mastered and employed since the beginning of his Presidency. Perhaps the quintessential example of this related to the obfuscation between Iraq, 9/11, Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda. For example, a favorite quote of mine:

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans — this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes. – Bush, January 28, 2003

Let’s pull out a few choice phrases from that statement, in the order they appear. September the 11th… Saddam Hussein… chemical agents… terrorist networks… 19 hijackers…. Saddam Hussein… horror.

When Americans voted in 2004, a frighteningly large percentage thought Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. But if you parse the statements, you’d have a tough time finding Bush (or any Administration official) making that claim. Even in the piss poor state the media is in, they’d have nailed him on any outright lie. But the Administration sure as heck got that meme out there, and they did it via the above – intentionally creating the impression of a false statement, without ever stating as much.

Another favorite technique of mine is the strawman argument, which is explained quite well in a recent AP article. A few choice Bush quotes:

“Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day.”

“Some say that if you’re Muslim you can’t be free.”

“There are some really decent people, who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care … for all people.”

“Some say”, of course, is meant to imply “Democrats” – the thing is, no prominent Democrats have ever made such assertions. But by replacing “Democrats” with “some” it gives him a layer of plausible deniability. Because surely, someone somewhere made such a statement, so the President isn’t lying, per se. He’s just being dishonest.

Of course, one could probably write pages and pages with examples of this stuff, but I’ll stop here. I think this is enough to highlight what a snake oil salesman Bush is, and the difficulty of arguing from the “Bush lied” standpoint, especially against the right wing cacophony of talking heads. The man doesn’t lie, but he plants false memes, which is the same thing.

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