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Propaganda in liberal democracies like America and Britain is much more thorough than in dictatorships and totalitarian states. No imprisonment is required, no loss of fingernails called for. There is another far more effective way: unlike totalitarian states, the conformity of information and opinion is insidious. Its sameness implicit, engrained and even celebrated ... Technology seems to have almost anything seem possible except Truth ... Truth is always subversive, otherwise why should governments and their bureaucracies fear it so much and go to such lengths to suppress it. John Pilger, lecture The Hidden Power of the Media, July 1996
There’s no lacking of propaganda. There’s no lacking of resources for propaganda. John Pilger, In Conversation
During the Cold War a group of Russian journalists toured the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by their hosts for their impressions. ‘I have to tell you,’ said their spokesman, ‘that we were astonished to find after reading all the newspapers and watching TV, that all the opinions on all the vital issues were by and large, the same. To get that result in our country, we imprison people, we tear out their fingernails. Here, you don’t have that. What’s the secret? How do you do it?’ John Pilger, address Columbia University 14th April 2006
In 1974 more than $26 billion was spent on advertising in America – that was an all-time record ... But isn’t there meant to be a recession, a crisis of confidence in the great supermarket of the West, with great cities devastated by unemployment? Yes of course, but the heart of America is the hard sell. John Pilger, Streets of Joy
In most countries the media have the power to con people. The power might rest in one TV image, one headline, one piece of slick copywriting. In America, the land of the media, that power is now so refined and so pervasive that a politician like Jimmy Carter – the image-maker’s dream – can be a serious candidate for president without anybody really knowing what he stands for, who he is, why he is so popular. But that’s the game. The £26 billion Madison Avenue game. It would take just one billion of those dollars to put all the poor farmers in the world on their feet. ibid.
5It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The ‘Obama brand’ has been named ‘Advertising Age’s marketeer of the year for 2008’, easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of MoveOn.org describes Obama’s election campaign as ‘an institutionalised mass-level automated technological community organising that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force’. Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarised from the Latino union organiser César Chávez – ‘Sí, se puede!’ or ‘Yes, we can’ – the mass-level automated technological community marketed its brand to victory in a country desperate to be rid of George W Bush.
No-one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75m was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous ‘Change you can believe in’, it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. ‘We will be the most powerful’, he often declared.
Perhaps the Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticised him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as ‘adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion ...’ (Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: ‘Many spiritually advanced people I know ... identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who ... can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet’ ...
Much of the American establishment loathed Bush and Cheney for exposing, and threatening, the onward march of America’s ‘grand design’, as Henry Kissinger, war criminal and now Obama adviser, calls it. In advertising terms, Bush was a ‘brand collapse’ whereas Obama, with his toothpaste advertisement smile and righteous clichés, is a godsend. At a stroke, he has seen off serious domestic dissent to war, and he brings tears to the eyes, from Washington to Whitehall. He is the BBC’s man, and CNN’s man, and Murdoch’s man, and Wall Street’s man, and the CIA’s man. The Madmen did well. John Pilger, article New Statesman, ‘Obama’s 100 Days – The Mad Men Did Well’
Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do The New York Times and The Washington Post deceive their readers?
Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what’s called the mainstream media is not information, but power?
These are urgent questions. The world is facing the prospect of major war, perhaps nuclear war – with the United States clearly determined to isolate and provoke Russia and eventually China. This truth is being turned upside down and inside out by journalists, including those who promoted the lies that led to the bloodbath in Iraq in 2003.
The times we live in are so dangerous and so distorted in public perception that propaganda is no longer, as Edward Bernays called it, an ‘invisible government’. It is the government. It rules directly without fear of contradiction and its principal aim is the conquest of us: our sense of the world, our ability to separate truth from lies.
The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media – a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions. John Pilger, article December 2014 ‘War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda’
As an inveterate film fan, I turn to the listings every week and try not to lose hope. I search the guff that often passes for previews, and I queue for a ticket with that flicker of excitement reminiscent of matinees in art deco splendour. Once inside, lights down, beer in hand, hope recedes as the minutes pass. How many times have I done a runner? There is a cinema I go to that refunds your money if you’re out the door within 20 minutes of the opening titles. The people there have knowing looks. My personal best is less than five minutes of the awful Moulin Rouge.
The other day, I saw Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen. The critics applause was thunderous. ‘A work of brilliance’ ... ‘Pure movie-going pleasure’ ... ‘Smart, sophisticated and hugely enjoyable’ ... ‘Brilliantly funny’. One journalist called it a ‘miracle’. So I queued for a ticket, even conjuring the wonderful scene from Annie Hall (1975) when Woody Allen, standing in a movie queue, meets his hero, Marshall McLuhan: he of ‘the medium is the message’.
Today, he might as well call up Hans Christian Anderson’s parable about a naked emperor, which applies to his latest ‘work of brilliance’. By any fair and reasonable measure, it is crap. Every character is cardboard. The schematic ‘plot’ is crude. Two adopted sisters are thrown together, implausibly. There is a wannabee politician whose name should be Congressman Stereotype. The script is lazy, dated and patronising. Clearly, Allen wrote it during a night sweat. ‘If Cate Blanchett doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination’, wrote The Times critic, ‘then I will eat a Chanel hat’. Actually, Blanchett deserves a Lifeboat medal. By sheer dint of her acting, she tries and ails to rescue this wreck.
PR has subverted much of our lives, making unconscious acolytes of those who once might have operated outside the pack. The drumbeat of crap movies with big promotional budgets, mostly from the US, is incessant. The US market share of cinema box-office takings in Britain is more than 70 per cent; the small UK share is mainly for US co-productions. Films from Europe and the rest of the world account for a tiny fraction. Ironically, in the US, quality film-making has absconded to television.
The hype of public relations – Edward Bernays’ euphemism for propaganda – is now regarded as truth. The medium has become the message. John Pilger, article October 2013, ‘Why Bad Movies Keep Coming Out and What to Do About It’
Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, is said to have invented modern propaganda. During the first world war, he was one of a group of influential liberals who mounted a secret government campaign to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath in Europe. In his book, Propaganda, published in 1928, Bernays wrote that ‘the intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society’ and that the manipulators ‘constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country’. Instead of propaganda, he coined the euphemism ‘public relations’.