Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Propagandists Next Door

The right-wing Pass-It-On e-mails that come to me (via friends and relatives who know I collect it) was were a source of amusement for years. But what with the machinations of this administration and its lackeys - and a pending attack on Iran - I've come to see them in a darker light.

Folks, you're not just forwarding e-mail from friends. You're being used as propagandists by propagandandists.

An old one from 2002 came around again last week, already debunked by Among the lies it traffics in are:
Oliver North warned an unfriendly Senate inquisitor about Osama bin Laden during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings. "Quotes" are included.

North's inquisitor was Al Gore.

9/11 mastermind, Mohammad Atta, in prison in Israel for a bus bombing conviction, was released from prison in 1993 at the behest of the Clinton administration. This "fact" was reported in the U.S. press immediately after 9/11, but subsequently censored.

Oceana has always been at war with Eastasia.
Okay, that last bit wasn't really in there. But as is customary, the spam urges readers to pass it on (to everyone in your e-mail list).

All lies, of course. It was Abu Nidal, not Osama bin Laden. Gore wasn't on that panel. It wasn't that Mohammed Atta - different guy, same name. Ollie North even disclaimed the e-mail on his own site. Newspapers did report the Atta story after 9/11, but stopped after the Boston Globe discovered the error.

The disquieting thing is, these things continue to crop up - along with new ones - and fan out like a chain reaction. And they fly comfortably below the radar, day after day, passed from e-mail list to e-mail list. The mail I got had 75 e-mail addresses on it.

What makes Pass-It-On mail such an efficient conduit for spreading propaganda is that it arrives from a friend, colleague or relative - sources less impeachable, and much less likely to be challenged than the Mainstream Media. A 30-sec Google search would reveal the mail to be false, less time than it takes to attach dozens of your friends' addresses to the forward. Yet few bother. It reinforces existing prejudices. It came from a friend. Why inquire further?

What especially strikes me about this one is, it's not just one falsehood that slipped through the cracks, but many. The newspapers got the Atta story wrong. Okay. But Oliver North (Iran-Contra transcripts are readily available)? Al Gore?

As with other mailings in my collection, somebody went to a lot of trouble to assemble and distribute these lies with World Trade Center graphics and extra-large, extra-bold red, white and blue formatting - not uncommon for Pass-It-Ons. Given what we've seen from the administration and its supporters, it's not a stretch to assume that the authors already knew these things were lies ... and didn't care so long as they furthered the cause and poisoned the well of public discourse.

Such tactics filter from the top down. We shouldn't be surprised.

With evidence that the recent right-wing blogger smear campaign against twelve year-old SCHIP recipient, Graeme Frost, was orchestrated out of Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, one wonders if the persistent Pass-It-On spam has similar parentage, though perhaps not regularly originating in the Senate.

These things do their jobs discretely, quietly poisoning minds, breeding mistrust of the unpatriotic Others, laying a foundation of support - almost subliminal - for secret prisons, military tribunals, indefinite detention, kidnapping, torture of prisoners, and the next preemptive war.

As a child reared during the Cold War, I was cautioned what would happen to freedom-loving "trouble-makers" if the Communists ever took over: surveillance, imprisonment, show trials, friends and relatives informing on each other, secrecy and ubiquitous propaganda.

They just never anticipated talk radio and the Internet.

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