Propaganda 200: In Summation, Gist The Whitewashing Power Of Editing

TWO.COLOR_.PENCIL_largeby GENE HOWINGTON

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” – George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language

We’ve previously discussed both the power of words and the power of silence as propaganda tools. This current story creates the perfect example to illustrate the synthesis of those powers in action. How does one combine words and silence as a method of distorting information?  The editorial process, both in general and in the practice of (selective) summation. I say selective summation with purpose and we’ll get to that purpose presently, but first a small detour into technologies past. In the days before computers, editing was done with colored pencils on hard copies. A red pencil was used because it did not show up on xerograhpic reproduction processes. A blue pencil was used because it did not show up on lithograhpic or photograhpic reproduction processes (hence the name “non-photo blue”). It should also be noted that the “Blue Pencil doctrine” is a real thing at common law, referring to the doctrine of rendering components of a contract null and unenforceable while retaining the rest of the documents terms. Given the vast editorial power of the blue pencil, it should come as no surprise that “blue pencil” is a pejorative term for censorship.  Which in turn brings us back to propaganda and the power of editing and selective summation. We will also touch upon restrictions of scope in investigation as a tool for information management.

Since 2009, the British government has been ostensibly looking at the build up for the invasion of Iraq via the Chilicot inquiry led by Sir John Chilicot, a Privy Council and former civil servant. In particular, the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry was examining the communications between former President (George W.) Bush and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  This inquiry has come under fire for many reasons but not the least of which is the selective release of information via summary conclusions having been deemed by some, specifically former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, “that there was no way the notes or records of correspondence between Bush and Blair could be published in their entirety, even with redactions.”  Add to this the rather spotty record of Sir John Chilicot in such inquires (which we’ll get to) and the power of selective summary as one of the most powerful tools to re-frame truths into untruths and the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry appears to be another in a running exercise of what we’ll call blue pencil propaganda. All applied neatly to the effect of whitewashing; the process of glossing over or covering up vices, crimes or scandals or to exonerate by means of a perfunctory investigation or through biased presentation of data. These perfunctory investigations do a good bit of their dirty work in two ways: placing restrictions (found in what is known as the terms of reference or project charter) on scope designed to steer findings and/or render the purpose of investigation – nominally the truth – functionally null and the use of skewed summary conclusions designed to influence public opinion (and some would argue re-write history). Let’s look at some examples.

To understand the nature of the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry, it is helpful to know a bit of history leading up to it regarding two previous inquiries held by the British, the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Review. These two reviews set up the tone and illustrate a pattern apparent in the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry.

The Hutton Inquiry

Former PM Tony Blair Image: (c) World Economic Forum

Former PM Tony Blair, Destroyer of Lives, Maker of Gestures
Image: (c) World Economic Forum

The Hutton Inquiry, unlike the subsequent Butler Review, was a public inquiry, i.e. the inquiry accepts evidence and conducts its hearings in a more public forum and focuses on a specific occurrence or tightly related group of events. At such inquiries, any interested members of the public and organizations may make (written) evidential submissions and listen to oral evidence given by other parties.  The subject matter of the Hutton Inquiry was the death of David Kelly, biological weapons expert and former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq.  In the weeks leading up to his death, Kelly had been revealed via a leaked government report as a journalistic source to BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan and the basis for media claims that Tony Blair‘s government had “sexed up” information on Iraq’s alleged biological weapons program(s). A scandal ensued as pols and reporters alike sought to assign and shift blame. Andrew Rawnsley, a reporter for The Observer, has claimed that on July 8, 2003, PM Tony Blair had sanctioned the leak as part of Kelly’s identity as part of a strategy to discredit Gilligan. Blair, as one might expect, denied this claim. Subsequently Kelly was subjected to what some describe as a brutal public hearing front of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee. On July 17, 2003, Kelly was at home dealing with the fallout of the affair, answering emails from supporters and detractors alike.  He told his wife he was going for his usual walk.  The next day, Kelly was found dead in the woods not far from his home, allegedly by his own hand. Media chaos ensued. The Hutton Inquiry was opened on August 11, 2003 to address the fallout from the initial reporting and Kelly’s alleged suicide.

The findings in summary exonerated the government from any wrongdoing despite finding that that:

  1. the wording of the dossier had been altered to present the strongest possible case for war within the bounds of available intelligence,
  2. that reservations had been expressed by experts within the Intelligence Community about the wording of the dossier,
  3. that, following Kelly’s decision to come forward as one of Gilligan’s contacts Alastair Campbell (nominally a journalist, Blair’s then Director of Communications and Strategy, widely considered a major propagandist à la Karl Rove) and Geoff Hoon (then Secretary of State for Defence and David Kelly’s boss) had wanted his identity made public, and
  4. that Prime Minister Tony Blair himself had chaired the meeting at which it was decided that Kelly’s name would be confirmed by the Ministry of Defence if put to them by journalists.

The Hutton Inquiry came to the conclusions that there was “no underhand [government] strategy” to name Kelly as the source for the BBC’s accusations and that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) was at fault for not informing Kelly of its strategy that would involve naming him publicly.  They also concluded that Gilligan’s original accusation was “unfounded”, the BBC’s editorial and management processes were “defective”, and the dossier on Iraqi biological WMD capacity had not been “sexed up” and in line with available intelligence although the Joint Intelligence Committee, chaired by John Scarlett, may have been “subconsciously influenced” by the government.

Uh huh.

The public and media reception of the Hutton Inquiry’s findings is best described as skepticism laced with incredulity. Lord Hutton did enjoy the reputation as an impartial judge, but the manifest contradictions in the specific findings versus the holding was a hard pill for many to swallow. The aftermath of the findings included three resignations from the BBC (including Gilligan) and a host of condemnation in the press. One notable headline at the time was found on The Independent.

Whitewash_Independent

For best effect, imagine the paper folded just above the body of text. As a matter of presentation on newsstands, the large white space must have been quite an effective eye-catcher. They totally stole the idea from The Beatles, but what works, works.

Many felt a more stringent inquiry should be held concerning Kelly’s death, some even suggesting that is was murder instead of suicide. This, of course, resulted in several weeks of accusations, dismissives, apologetics, excuses and all manner of spin from both sides of the partisan divide and falling along those lines as is predictable:

“Exoneration!” / “Conspiracy!”

As often with this kind of situation, the truth was somewhere in between and a dab of both with no one being held accountable for their actions. However, the headline above catches the general public reception: whitewash. As the quote oft attributed to Abraham Lincoln notes, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” It may not have been a conspiracy to get David Kelly to end his life. It may not have been murder. But none except the hardest of partisans can say the government wasn’t up to no good during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq after any kind of objective analysis is had or that David Kelly had wasn’t purposefully used as a public scapegoat. There were no WMDs in the end and the British government (and the U.S. government) lied about there being any to begin with, playing the “bad intelligence” card. One would think that the intelligence used to justify an invasion – the ultimate transgression against another nation’s sovereignty – would merit double and triple checking before it was used to make a decision.

The internal inconsistency of the findings makes it hard to believe the conclusions on their face. Lies of omission and lies of exaggeration are still lies. Defusing the blame onto the nebulous “intelligence community” and away from the man clearly issuing orders – then PM Tony Blair – was too obvious and ham-fisted. Nobody paying attention was fooled. And isn’t that a fair description of the methodology of propaganda through manipulating word choice (exaggeration) and censorship (omission)? One might think. The next time around, the British (taking a cue from the American Bush Administration) upped their game. Some people think that putting a velvet glove on a ham fist changes the underlying truths.

The Butler Review

Lord Butler of Brockwell wearing his robes as a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter, in procession to St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle for the annual service of the Order of the Garter. Also big influence on the fashion sense of Prince. Image: (c) Philip Allfrey

Lord Butler of Brockwell wearing his robes as a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter and influencing  the fashion sense of Minneapolis musician Prince (Ed. Note: Prince not actual royalty.).
Image: (c) Philip Allfrey

The Butler Review (formally known as the Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction) was announced in February and published in July of 2004.  Headed by Lord Robin Butler of Brockwell, the stated goal of this inquiry was to examine the intelligence on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in specific and weapons of mass destruction in “countries of concern” and any global trade in such weapons in a more general sense. In specific, they were looking at claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from parties in Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This nominal investigation had an American counterpart in the also suspect Iraq Intelligence Commission, formed just one scant day before the Butler Review. Chilcot was also a member of Butler Review although he had no part in the Hutton Inquiry. Unlike the Hutton Inquiry, the Butler Review was not a public inquiry. It met in secret and only published its summary findings upon completion. That does not mean that the Butler Review was untouched by the untrusted and unpopular findings of the Hutton Inquiry. Indeed, its very inception was intimately marred by the public and media fallout from Hutton. And a particular artificial constraint: no scrutiny of the actions of politicians or assessment of responsibility or blame would be forthcoming.

Because of this constraint, the Liberal Democrats refused to participate outright. Liberal Democrat and Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell asked Tony Blair:

Don’t you understand … that following the public response to the Hutton report that an inquiry that excludes politicians from scrutiny is unlikely to command public confidence…

It is rumored the Mr. Blair responded with a raspberry or possibly a “neener neener neener”. (Ed. Note: Fact not checked but highly likely.) Not to be outdone in terms of righteous indignation, the Conservatives jumped on the “we’re not going to play that game” bandwagon as well although Conservative member Michael Mates opted to stay on the panel. It was an instance where both ends of the collective spectrum didn’t want to be touched the obvious taint of what had the appearance of being a rigged game out of the gate. The counterpart American inquiry suffered no such public distancing by either the DNC or RNC, but it wasn’t suffering from the bad press generated by the death of David Kelly and a recently suspect inquiry. It did, however, operate with the same artificial constraints as the Butler Review. Did the British take their cue on that tactic from the Americans or vice versa?  Who knows. The desire to avoid personal responsibility seems inherent in the species homo politicus mustelidae.

In July of 2004, an unclassified report was published with the findings. To almost no one’s surprise, the government was cleared of any wrongdoing and no one was held responsible. Outcome determinism in action despite the other findings of the Review, which included:

  1. Key intelligence used to justify the war with Iraq was unreliable.
  2. The Secret Intelligence Service did not thoroughly vet its sources and sometimes relied on third hand reports rather than first hand intelligence.
  3. There was an over-reliance on Iraqi dissident sources (hardly impartial sources).
  4. That “more weight was placed on [. . .] intelligence than it could bear”.
  5. That judgements had stretched available intelligence “to the outer limits”.

That last item is oddly ironic for yet another report that held “mistakes” were made but that no one was responsible for them. Seems like a lot of strained judgements were being made. It was no surprise then when in March, 2005, the American Iraq Intelligence Commission came to similar conclusions. However, before that Stateside reveal, many in the British press still weren’t buying what the Butler Review was selling. In February of 2004, Private Eye magazine called the integrity of the panel into question again, saying:

On 18 September 2002 an official in Blair’s office sent this memo to chief of staff Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell: “The PM has asked Ann Taylor to read through the dossier in draft and give us any comments. He stressed that it is for her and for her only and that no one else outside this building was seeing it in draft. I’m contacting John Scarlett to work out how this should happen — needs to be tomorrow.” Taylor went to Scarlett’s office at 8 o’clock the next morning, read the dossier and gave her comments to the spy chief — who then passed them on to Blair. She advised that it “needs to come across as an impartial, professional assessment of the threat”, and that the PM should “undercut critics” by explaining why Saddam should be stopped now. So the only person outside No 10 and the JIC who was trusted to help with the dossier (and who also expressed a wish to see Blair’s critics undercut) is now sitting on the inquiry into its contents. One wonders why Blair didn’t go the whole hog and add Alastair Campbell to Lord Butler’s team of independent inquisitors.

The obvious answer to that rhetorical question is “Imagine what public reaction in the U.S. would have been to Karl Rove being on Bush’s handpicked Iraq Intelligence Commission?” The answer to that hypothetical is probably “That so and so got kicked off of ‘American Idol’ is a crime!”  But I digress. The British news outlet the Western Mail joked that “When you call the Butler, you get what you ordered.” London’s Evening Standard dismissed the report’s findings under the déjà vu inducing front-page headline “Whitewash (Part Two)”. Even pols and academics got in on the denunciation. Labour MP Lynne Jones said of the Review’s composition, “It is self-evidently bad practice to appoint someone to a committee when their previous conclusions are under scrutiny”, which can be filed under “Duh But Truthful”. Chiming in from the University of Sussex, Theoretical Physics professor and nuclear expert Norman Dombey noted that the evidence was incomplete and that a visit by Iraqi officials to Niger was in itself meaningless. Iraq already had enough raw uranium without getting more from African sources, so that wasn’t their roadblock. Expensive and hard to come by refining equipment required to process the uranium was a bigger problem. There was no evidence Iraq was trying to begin uranium processing. Add to the professor’s observation the facts that the uranium mines in Niger are controlled by the French and that the uranium mine in the Congo has been flooded and out of service since the 1990’s, and the claims of an Iraqi nuclear program working toward fissionable materials could be said to stray from incredible and stretched to farcical and fabricated.

The score for those playing the home game is: Whitewash 2, Truth 0.

The Chilicot Iraq Inquiry

Now we have the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry. As with the Butler Review, those who would obscure the truth have stepped up their game. Announced on June 15, 2009, by then PM Gordon Brown, the proceeding came under immediate and harsh criticism. With a stated goal of investigating the role of the British government in the invasion of Iraq, the original plan was to make this inquiry secret like the Butler Review until public outcry and criticism from both the media and the House of Commons forced a reversal of that decision. In opening comments, Chilicot revealed in a case of déjà vu all over again that while not placing blame the inquiry would seek “the heart of the matter”. Funny, they didn’t call this “inquiry” a truth and reconciliation exercise. Then in October of 2009, even more terms of reference were announced. The so-called October Protocol provided that evidence would not be made public if it was likely to:

a) cause harm or damage to the public interest, guided by the normal and established principles under which the balance of public interest is determined on grounds of Public Interest Immunity in proceedings in England and Wales, including, but not limited to, 1) national security, defence interests or international relations; 2) the economic interests of the United Kingdom or of any part of the United Kingdom;

b) endanger the life of an individual or otherwise risk serious harm to an individual;

c) make public commercially sensitive information;

d) breach the principle of legal professional privilege (LPP);

e) prejudice, in the case of legal advice (following any voluntary waiver of LPP) rather than material facts, the position of HMG in relation to ongoing legal proceedings;

f) breach the rules of law which would apply in proceedings in England and Wales under the provisions of Section 17 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000;

g) breach the rules of law applicable to the disclosure of information by the Security Service, SIS or GCHQ, the third party rule governing non-disclosure of intelligence material or other commitments or understandings governing the release of sensitive information;

h) breach the Data Protection Act 1998; or

i) prejudice the course or outcome of any ongoing statutory or criminal inquiry into matters relating to the information proposed for release

Of particular interest are items b, c, e and i. “B” seems specifically designed to get out in front of any Kelly-like situation that might result. Don’t want a replay of that nasty Hutton Inquiry fallout, no. “C” is almost an appropriate alliteration since as you must protect those corporate interests manipulating things like the decision to invade a sovereign nation.  “E” is for “everything else” as in “we’ve got a catch-all provision and wont release anything that will embarrass HMG in to prosecuting any guilty parties”. “I” is for “individuals will avoid potential incarceration.” The media, of course, had a field day with this announcement.

Add to this obvious machination the following criticisms:

Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg accused the government of “suffocating” the inquiry, citing the power given to individual government departments to veto sections of the final report. The power of editing? You don’t say. Also, the timing and limited nature of the inquiry generated political controversy because it would not report back until after the general election. Can’t have any kind of substantive findings that might reflect poorly on polling day, no sir. In Parliament, a debate over the establishment of the inquiry heard MPs from all the major parties criticizing the government’s selection of panel members, noting the absence of anyone with first hand military expertise or members with acknowledged or proven inquisitorial skills and failing to include any elected representatives as serious shortfalls as well Chilicot’s inability to receive evidence under oath.

In 2011, part of the fallout from the Wikileaks disclosures of 2010 was Cablegate, a controversy that revealed Jon Day, director general for security policy at the British Ministry of Defence, as having promised the US to have “put measures in place to protect your interests” regarding the inquiry. Nothing improper about fixing an outcome before a match, all jolly good gentlemanly conduct. Could things get more embarrassing? According to The Independent they could. In that same year, they published an article citing fifteen (15) charges Tony Blair had yet to answer sufficiently or at all during his phase of testimony early in the inquiry.  They were:

  1. Misleading Parliament over the legality of an invasion.
  2. Misleading the nation over Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  3. Misleading parliament about intelligence.
  4. Falsely blaming French for collapse of United Nations talks.
  5. Exaggerating to Parliament the threat from Saddam.
  6. Marginalizing his most senior legal adviser.
  7. Pressuring Lord Goldsmith into clearing military action.
  8. Misleading the nation over the threat from Iraq.
  9. Hiding his discussions with President Bush from the public.
  10. Hiding his discussions with President Bush from colleagues.
  11. Launching an invasion whose sole (and illegal) justification was regime change.
  12. Recklessly undermining the weapons inspectors’s work.
  13. Reckless disregard for the well-being of Iraqi civilians.
  14. Failing to fund post-war reconstruction properly.
  15. Recklessly endangering British civilians.

The Independent supplements this by breaking down each claim by Blair’s claim, the truth and the evidence. It provides a fairly short but damning read and any one of this “missing claims” is in and of itself sufficient grounds for public outrage at Mr. Blair and his administration.

But wait! It gets even more painfully transparent. Philippe Sands, a British lawyer at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International Law at University College London submitted to the Inquiry in 2013 that “an independent Dutch Inquiry has recently concluded – unanimously and without ambiguity – that the war was not justified under international law. The Dutch inquiry Committee was presided by W.J.M. Davids, a distinguished former President of the Dutch Supreme Court, and four of its seven members were lawyers. The Dutch Committee was well-placed to address the substantive legal issues. I note, however, that the composition of this Inquiry includes no members with any legal background.” You know, referencing a proper legal inquiry willing to look at all the evidence and assess blame and staffed with actual legal experts including a former Dutch Supreme Court Justice. Oops. That same year, Lord David Owen, British Foreign Secretary from 1977 to 1979 and “independent social democrat” characterized the inquiry as “being prevented from revealing extracts that they believe relevant from exchanges between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair”, blaming Blair and Conservative Party leader David Cameron for this state of affairs.  He believes both men entered into a private deal to suppress the publication of important documents. Their motivation? That old driver of dirty deals from time immemorial, mutual self-interest.

All that seems missing from this circus at this point is a small car with an inordinately large number of clowns exiting it.  Oh, wait, that may be it pulling into the center ring right now . . .

On Thursday of last week, May 29, 2014, the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry was again accused in the press of – you guessed it – whitewashing and, indirectly, of stonewalling (another tried and true propaganda technique). The Guardian reported:

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war has been accused of allowing a whitewash after it struck a deal with ministers to publish the gist of letters between Tony Blair and George Bush but not the full correspondence.

The publication of the Chilcot report has been overdue for several years with discussions in recent months focused on 25 notes from Blair to Bush and 130 records of conversations.

After intense negotiations, Sir John Chilcot, who has been leading the inquiry since 2009, has now agreed with the Cabinet Office that the gist of the conversation can be made public, but direct quotation from the notes will be kept to “a minimum necessary for the inquiry to articulate its conclusions”. He has also agreed that use of material from the letters “should not reflect President Bush’s views”.

[. . .]

Chilcot was told by former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell in 2011 that there was no way the notes or records of correspondence between Bush and Blair could be published in their entirety, even with redactions.

The deal means the report may now be published by the end of the year after senior politicians, including David Cameron and Nick Clegg, demanded a speedier resolution. Blair this week repeated denials that he was responsible for the blockage and Whitehall sources said the main source of objections was the US.

However, on Thursday, a number of politicians raised concerns that the Chilcot inquiry had capitulated to the demands of the Cabinet Office by agreeing not to publish the full correspondence. John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said the failure to publish the entire dialogue “confirms suspicions of whitewash” and undermines the credibility of the whole report.

The level of disclosure was also criticised by Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, who said it was crucial the public was not simply given the partial truth about the decision to go to war in Iraq. “It’s a shame it has been going on for so long and they are still unwilling to tell us the whole truth,” he said.

Andrew MacKinlay, former Labour MP for Thurrock, who sat on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said he thought Chilcot had surrendered in a “bad, bad day for democracy and justice”. “The establishment of this country, and the security and intelligence services have won again. Truth has lost out,” he said.

[. . .]

The inquiry’s website said: “Detailed consideration of gists and quotes requested by the inquiry from communications between the UK prime minister and the president of the United States has now begun. It is not yet clear how long that will take, but the inquiry and the government should work to complete the task as soon as possible.”

The letter also revealed that some “potential gaps” in material had been identified which had now been addressed, “including some material received by the inquiry very recently”.

Pressure has been mounting for the report into the Iraq war to be published as soon as possible. Earlier this month, Cameron said he wanted the report by the end of the year, adding: “I think we shouldn’t have to wait much longer.”

[. . .]
[Nick Clegg] said those who might not like being subject to scrutiny must accept that it would happen, given that it was “one of the most momentous, one of the most catastrophic decisions in British foreign policy. I would say the most catastrophic decision since Suez”.

Care to guess what the smart money in Vegas is on if not a total route of Team Truth by Team Whitewash?

Artificial constraints on investigation are less traditional propaganda than an exercise in pure cover-up, blame shifting, punishment avoidance and outcome determinism. The tactic relies less on direct messaging than on preemptive information management and in that regard it is useful to propagandists. While used as a political machination, such information management should be distinguished from pure propaganda. In many ways, information management is more insidious and corrupting than propaganda itself and indicative of a rigged game at onset. Such constraints clearly played a part in both the Butler Review and the Chilicot Iraq Inquiry not to mention the Iraq Intelligence Commission although it is arguable that the Hutton Inquiry came to bad summary conclusions without that steering device. All three, however, came to questionable summary conclusions arguably internally inconsistent with their other findings.

A summary is a powerful thing even when it is not in the form of a holding. When used properly, it is a concise and accurate encapsulation of facts and logic leading to sound conclusions based thereupon. The reading of case law relies heavily upon summations, but unlike the general public, properly trained lawyers applying critical thinking will always read the details leading to those conclusions because the nature of that profession is knowing that “the Devil is in the details”. When used improperly, a summary is a way to distort and omit facts and use outcome determinism to rationalize a desired outcome.  “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” The power of summary by people with a motivation to lie evokes the worst (or best depending upon your viewpoint) elements of propaganda and censorship.  In regard to these three inquiries all geared into examining governmental impropriety leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there is an old truism in the legal profession. “Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern.” To paraphrase heroic astronaut Jim Lovell, “Houston, we have a pattern.”

This all relates back to basic principles discussed in “Propaganda 101: What You Need To Know Or . . . The Word“.  Specifically:

Be aware and suspicious of word choice, certainly.  Especially when dealing with adjectives as they have by their nature a great capacity to carry connotation. However, it is equally important to consider the speaker. When evaluating something you suspect is propaganda, ask these questions:

  • Who is the speaker?
  • What does the speaker want from me?
  • What advantage does the speaker gain from my agreement or lose from my disagreement? And vice-versa?
  • Does the speaker represent other interests that may not be obvious?
  • Why is the speaker giving this message now?

What is your first line of defense against propaganda?

Be aware of the meaning and choice of words. To that end, work to strengthen your vocabulary. Buy a “Word A Day” calender or download an app for your phone, use a website or download a tickler program for your computer.

Always question the message and the messenger as well as any who may have sent the messenger. Practice reading with emotional detachment and a critical eye to not only what is said, but how it is said and by whom.

When dealing with any form of summary conclusion, especially from a body essentially investigating itself, these cautionary practices and examining the details to come to your own conclusions is more important than ever. Comparing the relative advantages of the parties involved, the above can easily be seen as whitewashing. When someone is trying to give you the gist of something – the substance or general meaning of a speech or text or the real point of an action – it is hard to see that summation as anything but self-serving when the pattern is perpetual exoneration and a lack of ability or will to assign responsibility (can’t have that, too close to “blame”) when the evidence clearly suggests exoneration may not be the truthful outcome but rather the politically expedient outcome and protecting those who may have factually been in the wrong.

“Deny” is very often used as a tactic in politics and all too often used in the form of the “Big Lie“. As citizens, do we have a duty to the truth to protest such official denials and exculpations when the conclusions of these investigations are internally inconsistent and strain credulity? I think we do. It is a maxim that to fix a problem one must first know the scope of a problem and one cannot define the scope of the problem if it is obscured by the “Big Lie” or any other propaganda technique or combination thereof. Other than the general awareness techniques listed about, it may be advantageous to start with an attitude of distrust toward summary conclusions from investigatory bodies with a vested interest in what and/or whom they are investigating. Consider the granular detail and discern the facts as best you can, then do the heavy mental lifting and think critically to come to your own conclusions. Question authority. Think for yourself.

You, dear reader, are still the first line of defense against propaganda. Propaganda that benefits from both the synthetic combination of tactics and repetition to dull your perception and hammer at your acceptance. Critical thinking is a skill and it is a skill crucial to discerning propaganda from truth. Learn it. Apply it. Know he enemies of truth, freedom and peace.

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. – Sun Tzu

To know them, is the first step in disarming them. Because make no mistake about it, there is a war going on for your mind. The goal? To get you to accept (perpetual) warfare and domestic oppression in the name of security.  To not hold those accountable in your government for waging wars of aggression against countries that didn’t attack anyone. To thank them for taking your freedoms in the name of the “War on Terror”. When you don’t have a convenient scapegoat to use as a justification for such actions, it is expedient to create an imaginary enemy. When  fabrications are called out by manifest truths, it is expedient to whitewash.

It is also wrong.

That is the gist of it.

What do you think?

Source(s): The Guardian, The Independent, Wikipedia (various sub-references)

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Corruption, Fascism, Foreign Policy, George W. Bush, Hypocrisy, Imperialism, Justice, Oligarchy, Politics, Propaganda, United Kingdom, United States, War and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Propaganda 200: In Summation, Gist The Whitewashing Power Of Editing

  1. Mike Spindell says:

    Gene,
    Once again you score heavily in your ongoing series about how governments manipulate citizens and how powerful interests influence popular sentiment and thus government actions. In this instance you illustrate it perfectly by showing how three British “commissions”, ostensibly organized to ascertain truths about the Iraq debacle, really served to cover up the fact that the premise for that war was fake from the start. As you illustrated, they were even able via strategic editing, to present a modicum of truth as to the emptiness of the Iraq endeavor, while simultaneously “whitewashing” the specific deceptive acts by the Blair government that caused this tragic mistake. Another example of the technique you illustrate is in the “Snowden Affair”, where certain authoritative sources seemingly decry the NSA excesses revealed, but revile the man who revealed them as a “traitor”. As I’ve written you before, in my opinion your entire “Propaganda” series has the makings of a textbook that should be read by all, so they can guard against the false premises and mythology created to keep us all confused and vulnerable.

  2. Mike Spindell says:

    To our readers I would categorically state that if the only material you read at FFS is Gene’s “Propaganda” series, then this blog would have fulfilled the mission of its creators, which is to try to reveal truths about the world we live in.

  3. Thanks, Mike. High praise indeed.

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