Limits, damned lies, and perception management

May 17, 2023
Close-up Of A Person's Hand Using Digital Tablet With Screen Showing Online News

At a reconstruction site in Mariupol during President Putin’s visit in March, a woman cried from the back of the crowd, ‘It’s all lies’. Her comment was later taken down from social media, though it wasn’t clear who did that, nor whose lies she meant.

Truth being the first casualty of war, the lies soon began about who was responsible for attacks on theatres, hospitals, schools, and civilians in Ukraine. Independent media were controlled early in the piece, and senior Ukrainian spokespeople lost their jobs, for whatever reason. Russia, soon after invading in February 2022, passed a law providing 15 years imprisonment for publishing false information. This year, on 17 April, Vladimir Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in prison for denouncing Putin and the war.

Meanwhile in the US, a disinformation governance board has been given the Orwellian task of ensuring that people are not being lied to. Whatever else it may achieve, its limits were tested when a panel of US media bosses was repeatedly asked why they enabled the FBI’s arrest in April of Jack Teixeira, an air national guardsman, the latest leaker of defence classified intelligence, instead of publishing it. TV audiences watched as the questioner was eventually dragged from the room while the media recipients of the leaked information sat there, mute.

Another test of the limits occurred at the correspondents’ dinner in April, when President Biden, fresh from his Summit for Democracy, talked up the efforts of his Administration to get American journalists released from prison: 363 of them in more than 30 countries. He didn’t mention Julian Assange or his prospective imprisonment for 175 years in the US for telling the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Declassified UK investigation in 2022 revealed that ‘Julian Assange posed a PR problem for UK government’s media campaign’. No doubt it did for Biden’s too. Biden focussed instead on American journalist Evan Gersovich, who was arrested in April in Russia for espionage.

Censorship of the spoken or written word isn’t new; nor is censorship by omission. But deciding what’s true or false poses a new challenge. Last week in Japan, for example, experts began working urgently on ways for their government to respond to ChatGPT and other generative AI tools that can create information or misinformation without supervision or control. Students can use them to produce instant essays, and anyone so inclined can develop credible-looking propaganda. Deep Fake video can show recognisable people apparently saying things they haven’t.

New ways of lying began back in the 1990s, when the American neo-conservatives bragged about what they would do, while the media struggled to catch up. The subsequent US record of backing ‘colour’ revolutions, destabilising governments, imposing punitive sanctions, and executing dirty tricks has to speak for itself, since the American mainstream media now dare not reveal the lies involved. Their British and Australian counterparts follow suit, keeping many readers ignorant.

Three more examples of perception management, on which the prevailing narrative allows no dispute in Western media, in truncated detail, are: the Skripal case, the Uighurs, and the Nordstream pipeline.

  • In March 2018, Sergei Skripal, a Russian former double agent, and his daughter visiting the UK, were poisoned in a park in Salisbury. Russian agents and a Russian nerve agent were at once blamed by British authorities and media, on dubious evidence, and Russian diplomats were expelled from the US and allied countries. The death of a local woman in July, likely from a drug overdose, was tenuously and opportunistically linked to the case. The OPCW investigation was politicised, and London imposed a media reporting blockade on the affair, while novichok is always blamed. The whereabouts and condition of the Skripals remain unknown.
  • Uighur Muslims in China attacked and killed Han Chinese, particularly in 2019, and several thousand members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of militant Uighurs joined Islamist Jihad in Afghanistan and Syria from 2014. The ETIM was listed by the US as a terrorist group from 2002. But American reports citing the East Turkestan Government in Exile (ETGE) later claimed Beijing had detained a million or more Uighur Muslims in forced labour camps in Xinjiang, northwest China. Mass surveillance technology was reportedly tried out on these non-Han subjects, and forced sterilisation, in an effort to eradicate them or to sinicise their Sunni, Turkic culture. But other reports claimed that Uighur terrorist fighters who wished were allowed to return, and their ‘re-education’ included learning Mandarin and work skills. Claims by ETGE and fundamentalist Christian writers of falling Uighur birth-rates and ‘genocide’ relied on commissioned evidence from partisan sources, yet Secretary of State Antony Blinken endorsed it. The State Department in May 2021 (presumably forgetting Camp X-ray) called Xinjiang ‘an open-air prison’. This version of the Uighur story prevails in Australia and is unquestioned elsewhere in the West.
  • Two Nordstream pipelines were laid to take Russian gas to German through the Baltic sea. The second was about to be commissioned when Biden threatened in February 2022 to halt it if Russia invaded Ukraine. Seymour Hersh later revealed that the US, in collaboration with its Nordic allies, had planted explosives in advance on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, three months in advance of a signal from Biden, when three of the four Nordstream pipelines were breached. Cheaper than US gas, Russia’s gas made up more than 40 percent of its export income, yet the NATO allies absurdly tried to blame Russia for the sabotage of its own pipelines. Hersh’s unnamed US Navy source knew it was perilous, and an act of war. But Norway capitalised on the gas market; and Germany went along with it. None of the MSM will touch Hersh’s story.

Our perceptions are being managed, and our consent manufactured.


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