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Propaganda works

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Liberal democracy depends in large part on certain beliefs being accurate reflections of the way actually works.

A key such belief is in the “marketplace of ideas” — that, in the absence of censorship or monopoly, an informed public will be able to discern truth from falsehood, and disinterested reporting from propaganda.

This belief is one of those things that people tend to believe not because it’s true, but because it’s comforting to believe it’s true.

The political power of the American right wing is propped up by a massive propaganda network, that spews lies and distortions non-stop. Fox News is the most prominent element in this network, but the network itself is far vaster, encompassing such diverse elements right-wing talk radio, Sinclair Broadcasting, evangelical mass media, and a thousand other sources for right-wing political messaging, many of them so ubiquitous that they are for all practical purposes invisible. (As several commenters note, another key factor is the complacency of the mainstream media, who continue to treat right wing propaganda as something other than what it is, both because it’s just easier to bothsides everything out of habit and inertia, and because the economic interests of elite media institutions and individuals are largely identical to those of the plutocrats who help fund the propaganda machine).

Consider, as examples of the latter category, the fulsome paeans to the military-industrial complex that are a regular part of large sporting events, or the constant celebration of “first responders,” which has become a constant reminder of 9/11, which itself has been transformed into a vehicle for right wing messaging.

Right wing propaganda is so ubiquitous that it only becomes obvious in its rawest form, like this “story” from Fox News this morning:

California Rep. Devin Nunes predicted on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that Joe Biden’s campaign is likely coming to an end — all because of newly resurfaced reports about his possible misconduct in Ukraine that “first originated back when Hillary Clinton was trying to make sure Biden didn’t get in the race.”


The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee made the claim as The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll showed Sen. Elizabeth Warren surging ahead of Biden as the first choice of 22 percent of the voters surveyed, while Biden was the first choice of 20 percent of the voters. Biden held a 9-point lead over Warren in the poll as recently as June.

Nunes, speaking to anchor Maria Bartiromo, said a whistleblower’s allegation that President Trump had acted inappropriately during a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will ultimately backfire, and shine a light on Biden’s own possible misconduct. CNN later acknowledged that the whistleblower had no first-hand knowledge of the call, and a top Ukrainian official on Saturday defended Trump’s actions.

Donald Trump has admitted that he threatened to use U.S. taxpayer money to try to bribe Ukraine’s government into launching a phony investigation into supposed corruption on the part of one of his political opponents. Fox News et. al. are turning this into a scandal about Biden, because they are propaganda outlets, not news organizations.

Now a very common sort of liberal is someone who is going to immediately start quibbling about those statements. After all, Trump hasn’t literally admitted to offering a quid pro quo, although he probably did in the phone call whose transcript is being withheld from the American public (that’s why the Trump administration leaked the story about the phone call in the first place — so they could lie about the supposed absence of an explicit quid pro quo). Maybe Hunter Biden was up to no good of some sort. Maybe Joe Biden was trying to help him by pressing Ukraine to fire the prosecutor. There’s zero evidence of this, but we must be fair-minded above all, even though being “fair-minded” means cooperating with right wing propaganda smears. Fox News isn’t only a propaganda outlet — I mean they do actually do some real reporting, sometimes, when doing so doesn’t hurt core right wing objectives. And so forth and so on.

Propaganda works. That’s why the right wing has set up an immense propaganda network to lie about and distort the news 24/7. The “marketplace of ideas” is a ridiculously crude and naive metaphor to describe how information and disinformation get conveyed in the modern political world. Liberals should spend less time quoting Mill, and more time studying Goebbels (ETA: And, more useful still, Maistre, and Schmitt, and Evola).

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