Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Big Lie and How It Travels

After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer audaciously lied, in his first news media briefing, about the attendance estimates at Friday's presidential inauguration, a friend on Facebook posted an analysis that has since gone viral on social media, particularly on Twitter.  For instance, Oscar-winning composer John Legend, Helen Hayes award-winning actor Will Gartshore, and Republican political consultant Ana Navarro all tweeted a screenshot of the mini-essay to their thousands of Twitter followers.

The provocative analysis has caused a stir -- a real conversation about facts, lies, and propaganda -- so, since the original author gave his permission to "copy and paste" his status as long as his name was removed and the originator remained anonymous, I'm offering it here to expand its reach. It deserves to be read, reposted, restated, and challenged.

White House tourists police propaganda Trump
The White House
If you are puzzled by the bizarre "press conference" put on by the White House press secretary this evening (angrily claiming that Trump's inauguration had the largest audience in history, accusing them of faking photos and lying about attendance), let me help explain it. This spectacle served three purposes:

1. Establishing a norm with the press: they will be told things that are obviously wrong and they will have no opportunity to ask questions. That way, they will be grateful if they get anything more at any press conference. This is the PR equivalent of "negging," the odious pick-up practice of a particular kind of horrible man (e.g., Donald Trump).

2. Increasing the separation between Trump's base (1/3 of the population) from everybody else (the remaining 2/3). By being told something that is obviously wrong—that there is no evidence for and all evidence against, that anybody with eyes can see is wrong—they are forced to pick whether they are going to believe Trump or their lying eyes. The gamble here—likely to pay off—is that they will believe Trump. This means that they will regard media outlets that report the truth as "fake news" (because otherwise they'd be forced to confront their cognitive dissonance.)

Capitol Washington tulips propaganda
U.S. Capitol
3. Creating a sense of uncertainty about whether facts are knowable, among a certain chunk of the population (which is a taking a page from the Kremlin, for whom this is their preferred disinformation tactic). A third of the population will say "clearly the White House is lying," a third will say "if Trump says it, it must be true," and the remaining third will say "gosh, I guess this is unknowable." The idea isn't to convince these people of untrue things, it's to fatigue them, so that they will stay out of the political process entirely, regarding the truth as just too difficult to determine.

This is laying important groundwork for the months ahead. If Trump's White House is willing to lie about something as obviously, unquestionably fake as this, just imagine what else they'll lie about. In particular, things that the public cannot possibly verify the truth of. It's gonna get real bad.

The point is, if the Trump administration and the President himself are willing to lie about such petty things as the number of people who were or were not on the National Mall on January 20, what will they do when they want to send American soldiers into battle in some far-off place? What will they do when the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues a monthly unemployment figures that is unflattering to the Administration? What will they do when the number of anti-Administration protesters far outnumbers the guests at the inauguration?

A final note: Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau proves himself amazingly adept at interpreting Donald Trump. His comic strip today, which had to have been drawn days before the inauguration, as the President in the White House challenging the news media's reports on the inauguration's attendance numbers. You can't make this stuff up.

Update: Russian chess champion and political dissident Garry Kasparov made a similar, and pithy, point on Twitter:

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