James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

When news and propaganda merge

Language matters.

It matters greatly.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer Americans can read, or listen, with anything approaching critical attention. So we get conned and robbed and thrust into untenable and often illegal situations at every turn. We get pushed into wars that should never happen on the basis of what a Bush or Cheney or Rove seems to be saying, rather than hearing the truth beneath the twists and clever obfuscations.

We're constantly bombarded by the propaganda machine, hammered with words and phrases that seem to say something straight but that, in fact, encourage a belief in lies and dodges.

The propaganda machine includes the once independent news outfits -- virtually all radio and television and almost all newspapers.

Remember how quickly the “news” outfits adopted the Bush Administration word “surge” to describe the escalation in the occupation (never called an occupation) and war in Iraq? For at least a couple of months, you heard or read “surge” in every story about the escalation. You rarely saw “escalation” in a corporate newspaper or heard it on television.

“Surge,” a word chosen by the office of Karl Rove, conveys new strength. It says “increased power.” And that's the idea it sold. New strength, new power for our side in Iraq. And millions of Americans absorbed the word and its meaning and at least half believed it.

It was a lie, like almost everything out of the White House during the past six years. The same tactic had been tried before and failed. There was not the tiniest reason to believe the latest attempt would fare better. Thousands of people complained about the use of the word in the news, but the new failure had to become clear before the papers and television stopped using it and started pretending, in fact, that they'd never heard it.

Surge? What surge?

Most such propaganda words stay with us, unfortunately.

A few days after the I35W bridge in Minneapolis went down, Patricia Lopez, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, said in a story about replacing the bridge that the Democrats in the State Legislature were planning a “tax and spending” plan to rebuild the state's crumbling roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

“Tax and spend” is, of course, a right wing think-tank construction, endlessly drilled into the heads of the “base,” with the same fervor applied to “Support our troops.” It is a knee-jerk phrase, applied without thinking every time someone suggests our tax system favors the rich and hurts the rest of us.

Lopez used it as her own, not in quoting some Republican antitax fanatic, and in so doing, whether deliberately or stupidly, triggered the Pavlovian response of the nonthinkers and set them up against whatever plan the Democrats devise.

Liberals I know read over that without catching what had happened. Careless reading.

Can you identify the “frontrunner” for the Democratic presidential nomination?

Of course you can. The American press anointed Hillary Clinton with that title long before anyone had officially declared candidacy. And, yes, it matters.

A recent poll showed that about 53 percent of Democrats believe Clinton is the most “electable” of the Democratic candidates. The same poll showed Clinton is not “liked” by anywhere near the same percentage of Democrats.

The press and television have convinced them that she is the one who must be nominated.

That's propaganda at its most powerful. She and her campaign crew conned the political reporting herd, which moves almost entirely as a unit, right from the git-go, and they've worked hard to persuade Democrats that only Clinton can win.

Oh, and about that highway bridge: Not all of the bodies have yet been recovered, but the antitax mob already has shifted from clucking their sympathy to fighting any meaningful moves to improve Minnesota's rotting infrastructure.

Catch phrases – taught to the Republican base along with “tax and spend” and “Support our troops,” have appeared in at least a couple of op-ed pieces and in several letters to the editors of local newspapers.

Any time you see the phrase “throw money at,” you know the writer or speaker is someone who has learned the Republican mantra by rote. Any spending, for any purpose, no matter how good or necessary, is automatically dismissed as “throwing money at” whatever problem needs solving.

It means, “The rich guys are afraid they may have to pay something closer to their fair share of taxes and they damned well don't want to.” It also means: “We (or the rich guys who's butts we kiss) don't personally use this particular service, so we don't want it funded.”

Of course, it also can mean "We're too stupid and self-centered to understand how this benefits us," but one shouldn't say that, so I won't.

Another favorite, used very heavily right now by the tax haters in Minnesota, is “rather than taxes, we just have to reorder priorities.” That also has popped up in several letters to editors.

To those who created the phrase, it means “Take money from children's health programs, and education, and inner city police and fire departments and any government activity that doesn't directly and immediately serve me.”

And another: “bloated bureaucracy,” which simply means the people who do the public's work. It is never applied to the truly inefficient and fear-paralyzed bureaucracies of corporations. Supposedly, there is always “plenty of fat” in public budgets, and government can do it's work without people.

For a long time now, when I hear such phrases -- “too much fat in government budgets” or “bloated bureaucracy” I demand that the speaker give me specific examples, and they can't be fiction from the right wing myth machine. I have yet to get a straight answer.

Just one more:

One of the countless newspaper pieces on Karl Rove's supposed departure noted that one of his initiatives involved using public funds – tax money – to support “faith-based intitiatives.”

That term appears over and over in the news. The speakers or writers almost never point out that “faith based initiatives” or “faith-based programs” are simply the programs of religious organizations, and “public support for faith-based programs” means handing tax money over to (mostly) churches. There are some who quibble about the constitutional problem inherent in that action, but who pays any attention to the Constitution these days?

Folks, please read and listen with full attention to what's really being said, promoted, denigrated. It's dangerous out there.