Shortly after George W. Bush was selected president, the Onion joked that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over." Now Bush is making the same joke himself and using it as an excuse for breaking his campaign pledge to avoid defecit spending. "You know, when I was running for president, in Chicago, somebody said, would you ever have deficit spending?" Bush says. "I said, only if we were at war, or only if we had a recession, or only if we had a national emergency.
"I accuse the media in the United States of treason," says a State Department official in a Washington Post opinion piece. Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service in the U.S. Department of State, goes on to propose that the American press be censored in its coverage of the war on terrorism. "If there were an 'Osama bin Laden' award given out by al Qaeda, I believe that it would be awarded to the U.S news media for their investigative reporting," he says. "This type of reporting -- carrying specifics about U.S.
Republicans are largely sticking to their plan to partially privatize Social Security. "When it comes to style, though, Republicans are running from the term 'privatization' as fast as they can," notes Ben Fritz.
Ben Fritz of Spinsanity.org analyzes the rhetoric in a recent New York Post column by John Podhoretz, who "frames the entire debate ... as a crude either-or proposition: we're either fighting ourselves or we're fighting the terrorists. ... Podhoretz would do well to remember, however, that questioning the performance of our government is not an act of treason. It's part of the process of open debate that is central to American democracy."
The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (ADTI), a libertarian think tank that gets part of its funding from Microsoft, has issued a new white paper that seems calculated to tell computer buyers, "If you are not with Microsoft, you are with the terrorists." Some government agencies, including the U.S.
The recent disclosure that President Bush received a general warning before Sept. 11 of possible hijackings prompted a firestorm of spin. Conservative pundits and politicians fought back on cue, showing impressive message-discipline as they argued in unison that criticism of the president amounts to treason in the face of terrorism. Democrats "need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions," said Vice President Dick Cheney (without specifying any "incendiary suggestions" that any Democrats had actually made).
The Enron scandal and the declining stock market have left more people worried about the Bush administration's plan to convert Social Security funds into private investment accounts, so Republicans are using focus groups and pollsters to help them finesse the issue. "Key House Republicans now are moving toward declaring themselves against complete privatization -- a deliberate exaggeration of what Bush proposed -- so they can say in campaign ads they oppose the idea and perhaps even sue opponents who accuse them of it," report Mike Allen and Julie Eilperin.
If you can dismiss someone as "crazy," you don't have to address the substance of what they're saying, which is why dime-store psychoanalysis is a frequent propaganda tactic used by political pundits. Spinsanity.org, a website that analyzes manipulative rhetoric in politics, examines National Review's use of this tactic to disparage critics of Israel in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
PR Watch editor John Stauber and Hunter College Professor Stuart Ewen recently participated in a a panel discussion on the topic of "perception management" and managed to make an impression on columnist Danny Schechter's own perceptions of today's over-spun media environment. The influence of PR, he observed, has some unintended consequences for us all. When spin doctors "drive the news agenda" with "pre-fabricated messages," rational public discourse starts to break down. "Think about the messages of the terror war or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Schechter says.
"Take an ad suggesting that doing illegal drugs can lead to terrorism and add the word 'beer' and what do you get?" Advertising Age asks. "As the Office of National Drug Control Policy discovered some very angry beer wholesalers and brewers." The ad copy in dispute reads "Last night, I met the guys for beers, went out for dinner and helped gun down 21 men, women and children." The White House drug office says the ad is part of a series showing how illegal drugs finance terrorism and is not meant to make a connection between alcohol and illicit drugs.