* By Lounge Lizard
In a recent post, On Palin's Sambo Comment, Manny draws our attention yet again to the main-stream media's (MSM's) willingness to publish unverified rumour and innuendo if it happens to suit their generally left-wing political agenda. The latest target is, of course, Sarah Palin, a backwoods yokel who confesses, horror upon horror, to being a Christian and who just happens to be in charge of an administration with some 15,000 employees, net assets of over $US 50 billion and revenues of over $US 14 billion per annum.
By now we've become inured to the media's persistent failure to undertake elementary fact-checks and its constant repetition of falsehoods, especially when reporting on Republicans in the US generally and George W. Bush in particular.
George W. Bush’s plastic turkey has ruled the global mediascape, from the Guardian to Pravda and the ABC, from the Sydney Morning Herald to the New York Times. This mighty bird, feasting on rich crops of gullibility and ignorance, may outlive the Bush administration. For as long as there are those who believe, the plastic turkey will remain forever real!
Recently during a discussion with a group of people, I heard yet again another old canard: that George W. Bush had never travelled outside the U.S. before he became President. Of course this must be true because all sophisticated people know that Bush is a congenital idiot.
Now to the facts. Here's a list of countries he visited before becoming President:
It must be conceded that he wasn't an extensive traveller, but he still travelled far more than received wisdom would have it.
Fortunately, we live in the age of the internet and for the first time people can often check things fairly quickly. Those that do often find falsehood after falsehood, which is why the MSM is gradually losing the trust of many of its readers. However, most people don't have either the time or inclination to check things, so they continue to repose trust in the media even when it is undeserved.
This gives rise to an opportunity.
If you get in first, you have a very good chance of turning a falsehood into a received truth.
Take the case of the conflict in Georgia. It provides an excellent example of a falsehood that's been accepted as truth by most in the media, as demonstrated by Robert Gottliebsen's article in the August 28 issue of the Business Spectator:
The Americans and the Georgians had plenty of warning that Russia was preparing a military exercise and yet Georgia attacked the Russian linked area of South Ossetia on August 8 anyway.
By contrast, also on August 28, Merik Kaylan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, gave a fundamentally different account in his piece entitled How the Georgian Conflict Really Started:
"I got a call from the minister of defense that Russian tanks, some 200, were massing to enter Tskhinvali from North Ossetia," Mr. Saakashvili told me. "I ignored it at first, but reports kept coming in that they had begun to move forward. In fact, they had mobilized reserves several days ahead of time."
This was precisely the kind of information that the Russians have suppressed and the world press continues to ignore, despite decades of familiarity with Kremlin disinformation methods. "We subsequently found out from pilots we shot down," said Mr. Saakashvili, "that they'd been called up three days before from places like Moscow. We had intelligence coming in ahead of time but we just couldn't believe it. Also, in recent weeks, the separatists had intensified artillery barrages and were shooting our soldiers. I'd kept telling our guys to stay calm. Actually we had most of our troops down near Abkhazia where we expected the real trouble to start. I can tell you that if we'd intended to attack, we'd have withdrawn our best-trained forces from Iraq up front."
Read the whole thing.
Michael Totten confirms The Wall Street Journal's account with an excellent bit of independent, on-the-ground journalism.
(Michael Totten, whose blog is entitled Middle East Journal, is normally based in Beirut, but he travels all over the place to get on-the-spot views of what's going on. Over the years, he has acquired a good reputation, totally different from that of frauds like Robert Fisk and John Pilger.)
The Internet has become the mechanism of choice for spreading disinformation and both the Russians and the Chinese have become expert at it. Richard Fernandez discusses this in his post on August 14 on cyberwarfare entitled The ghost in the machine 2. Some extracts:
One of the reasons that Russia and China spend so much effort on cyberwarfare is that Western information institutions — universities, the press and even the Internet — are so vulnerable to disinformation. The MSM in particular is structurally incapable of classifying and analyzing new information at a near real-time rate. It can be cyberherded easily. And because it is institutionally perpetually amateur, it often can’t even tell when it is being had. Plus many of its major connected nodes are probably compromised and the small world property means that these compromised nodes will spread the poison.
Later in comments:
...if you poison a few key nodes with disinformation then the poison spreads to the very ends of the earth. “I saw it on Global Voices, Huffington Post, the Belmont Club, etc …” — choose your vector — and the lie is off and running. I gave a talk in late 2005 describing how the Internet works as an amplifier and filter for memes. The “amplifier” part is important to enemy disinformation. They tailor a message which will pass the host filter (if you feed the Guardian or Huffington Post a piece that blames America, for example) then it will zip past the gates and be amplified. A site’s very traffic can be used against it.
Against this you can set the “wiki” effect which you can observe on the Belmont Club. After a piece of information is posted, the various skeptics begin to examine it for accuracy, consistency and logic. And often the lies or mistakes are thereby unmasked. One of the reasons I try to encourage a diversity of commenters on this site is to make the filter unpredictable. When there’s too much groupthink, then you are a sitting duck for a piece of engineered information.
But we’ll never win this war through purely defensive measures. We need to push forward into enemy cyberspace, as it were, to deliver our own memes.
There are two memetic aspects to a cyber-attack. The first is to manipulate or change the weights of the meme-spreading network. That is done by planting disinformation in the key nodes, as I’ve described in the comment above. But the second is to suppress original material and salient facts.
Did you know that Wikipedia has a policy against posting original material? That’s because original material is, in the first instance, unverified. It becomes hallowed by a process of consensus or information cascade. But at its genesis, most of our original material comes from the press and increasingly, onsite bloggers. The real significance of denial of service attacks on the .ge (Georgia) domains was to suppress original material, to preserve the Big Lie for as long as possible. The Big Lie is eventually unmasked, but the process is lagged, by which time it has been supplanted by another Big Lie. And since the Press jumps like a frog, from lilypad to lilypad of subject matter, (not through personal incompetence but because of the way the news model works) then it is a perfect subject for disinformation. Putin just needs to leave a trail of lilypads …
The obvious way to stop this is to dump the last 3 months of packet stats into a database, mine it for patterns and determine the profile of the threat. And then we need to create triggers that will spot this profile or something structurally like it and send an alert. Then the options are, to shape their bandwidth, yank their cables, disinform their disinformers, wage a counter meme shaping campaign of their own. This is not rocket science. The key breakthrough will be political will and managerial focus.
Here's an example of the process Richard Fernandez discussed. It's a story about how false information zoomed around the world in 2004, was never corrected and became generally accepted as factual. It annoyed Lounge Lizard, which you can see from the edited copy below of one of several emails he sent to colleagues at the time. The edits have been made to remove identifying names, embed internet links and remove a reference to a firewall that has now been circumvented. In the case of two internet links that no longer operate and can't be reconstituted from an internet archive, the original internet address is shown.
----- Original Message -----
From: Lounge Lizard
Sent: Friday, June 25, 2004 5:07 PM
Subject: LIES, DAMNED LIES AND JOURNALISM
As promised, here's the exposé of a newspaper fabrication I told you about this morning.
It all began when copies of an article by Julie Macken entitled “The double-whammy drought”, published in the May 4, 2004 edition of The Australian Financial Review, were circulated at a meeting I attended. I rose up like a Roman candle and said that parts of this article were manifestly false and promised to expose these falsehoods at the June meeting, which I did.
The article contained the following statement:
A recently leaked report by the Pentagon predicts that “abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies”.
It concludes by saying: “Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life… once again, warfare would define human life.”
This cacophony of falsehood was first launched into the world by a report by Mark Townsend and Paul Harris published in The Observer, a UK paper, on February 22, 2004. The report was entitled “Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us” and it may be found here.
The report opens:
Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.
A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
Naturally, being an anti-American story and, even better, an anti-Bush story, it was greeted everywhere with whoops of joy. Nothing could stop it. It roared off around the world.
In a report entitled: “PENTAGON WARNED OF ECO DISASTER" SBS stated:
Britain’s Observer newspaper said the report was ordered by an influential US Pentagon adviser but was covered up by "US defence chiefs" for four months, until the paper "obtained" it.
The leak promises to draw angry attention to US environmental and military policies, following Washington's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
News Limited obtained its version via Agence France-Presse. Its report commenced: >
Climate threat worse than terrorism From correspondents in London
A SECRET report prepared by the Pentagon reportedly warns that climate change may lead to a global catastrophe costing millions of lives and is a far greater risk than terrorism.
The report was ordered by an influential US Pentagon adviser, but had been covered up by "US defence chiefs" for four months, the British newspaper The Observer said.
The Australian published this report on February 23, 2004.
On February 24, The Sydney Morning Herald published a report under the headline “Warning of global anarchy”. It commenced:
A secret report prepared by the Pentagon…
Naturally, Greenpeace leapt into the fray noting:
... the Pentagon's report warning that global warming is a greater threat than terrorism.
However, this whole scenario is fundamentally flawed. Here are the facts:
The report -
- was NOT secret;
- was NOT suppressed;
- was NOT first obtained by The Observer; and
- was NOT prepared by the Pentagon.
The real story was published by Fortune magazine in JANUARY 2004, well before The Observer article. Here are some relevant extracts:
Recently, renowned Department of Defense planner Andrew Marshall sponsored a groundbreaking effort to come to grips with the question [of climate change] ...
When scientists' work on abrupt climate change popped onto his radar screen, Marshall tapped another eminent visionary, Peter Schwartz, to write a report on the national-security implications of the threat.
Schwartz formerly headed planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group and has since consulted with organizations ranging from the CIA to DreamWorks—he helped create futuristic scenarios for Steven Spielberg's film Minority Report. Schwartz and co-author Doug Randall at the Monitor Group's Global Business Network, a scenario-planning think tank in Emeryville, Calif., contacted top climate experts and pushed them to talk about what-ifs that they usually shy away from—at least in public.
The result is an unclassified report, completed late last year, that the Pentagon has agreed to share with FORTUNE. It doesn't pretend to be a forecast. Rather, it sketches a dramatic but plausible scenario to help planners think about coping strategies.
One of the report’s authors, Peter Schwartz, had this to say on a BBC forum on weather warming:
This is very much in the spirit of thinking the unthinkable. The report that we put together for the Pentagon is an extreme scenario, in the sense that most climatologists would say that this is low probability, in the sense of it happening soon, and as pervasively. But it is the Pentagon's job to think about many cases, the worst-case scenario.
If you’re really interested, you can read the entire report by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall here.
The truth of the matter is now well known and available to anyone who bothers to check, but NOTHING will stop The Observer's fabrications becoming part of the wisdom of the politically correct. For example, The Age editorial of May 27, which advocates the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol saw fit to state:
A recently leaked Pentagon paper concluded climate change could become an issue of national security.
So there you are. Don't trust the press. Falsehoods like this are spread about every week.
Finally, an acknowledgement. Tim Blair, who writes for The Bulletin and has a webpage here, originally assembled the facts that I’ve summarised above.