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The rise of pro-Western disinformation Dirty tricks campaigns aren't confined to Russia

A protestor in Iran (Getty Images)


August 15, 2023   5 mins

When the US State Department launched its Iran Disinformation Project in the autumn of 2018, it was hailed as a new weapon in the war on hostile foreign propaganda. Staffed by diaspora Iranians and handed an initial $1.5 million of public funding, the online operation was designed to neutralise Iranian “lies” about the West with “real-time counter narratives and truth-telling”. Moreover, it would achieve this by amplifying the voices and actions of “courageous Iranians who reveal the regime for the evil it truly is”. This, at least, was the grand idea.

The reality was somewhat different. In a matter of months, the fact-checking service had itself become a fountain of conspiracy theories and inflammatory smears, with staff accused of harassing domestic critics of Trump’s decision to strengthen America’s sanctions regime. Dovish American activists were denounced for “lobbying” for the Iranian regime; Georgetown University adjunct professor Ali Vaez was described as “practically a substitute spokesman” for the Iranian foreign ministry; Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist who had been imprisoned and tortured in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for 544 days, was accused of “spreading regime disinformation”. As the false accusations mounted up, targeting prominent figures at the BBC and Human Rights Watch, an embarrassed State Department finally pulled the Project’s funding in May 2019. 

More than three years later, with concerns about disinformation as feverish as ever, the project’s rise and fall remains a lesson in what can happen when Western governments pour public money into combatting it. Today, the “disinformation wars” can be split into two camps. In one corner, there are those who believe that Russian, Iranian or Chinese online propaganda is not just factually incorrect, but is a new form of dangerous untruth that must be exposed and neutralised by expert inquisitors. In the other, critics of this approach highlight how treating the media as an inquisition or battlefield runs counter to democracy. Indeed, as many journalists have discovered, Western governments often use the spectre of disinformation to monitor domestic critics and push for social-media censorship.

Both sides, however, miss an important point: disinformation is not the unique wonder-weapon of foreign despots. In other countries, Western governments and pro-West partisans are just as willing to put out dishonest and destructive propaganda.

The US military, for instance, has deployed fake social media accounts to push certain messages abroad, just as Russia does. Last year, it was revealed that the Pentagon had used them to spread unverified rumours that Iran was stealing the organs of Afghan refugees. Messages in last year’s Twitter Files also exposed how military officials have pretended to be Arab citizens defending the Saudi invasion of Yemen. For all the freedom-fighting rhetoric in public, the US government is just as willing to deploy dirty tricks in the service of friendly tyrants.

Voters, meanwhile, are largely unaware that their tax money is being used to spread falsehoods and outright slander. In 2019, a scandal erupted when Radio y Televisión Martí, a US state-run broadcaster aimed at audiences in Cuba, ran an antisemitic hit piece on the liberal billionaire George Soros, in which he was described as “a non-practising Jew of flexible morals”. It was the typical sort of conspiracy theory found in Spanish-language anticommunist media, which often traffics in dark fantasies about Left-wing “witchcraft” and the coming dictatorship of “Jews and blacks”. Several Radio y Televisión Martí reporters were fired for the Soros report, and an audit found the station rife with “bad journalism” and one-sided “propagandistic” coverage. 

The latter accusation was, of course, the point. The explicit policy of the US government — outlined in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act — is to pursue regime change in Cuba. Radio y Televisión Martí, which is run by exiled Cuban dissidents, some of whom spent long and traumatic stints in prison there, is supposed to rile up Cubans. Its mistake was to do so against the wrong target.

Similar miscalculations have flared up in the Middle East, too. In 2021, Al-Hurra, an Arabic-language satellite TV channel funded by the US government, reported that the Al-Khoe’i Foundation, a charitable organisation in London that represents a strain of Shia Islam opposed to the Iranian government’s theology, might be “spreading terrorism” on behalf of Tehran. The story was based on a paper by an obscure Israeli think-tank, filled with sloppy logical leaps, factual errors and anti-Shia paranoia. Here, the channel was playing to the crowd: fear-mongering about Iranian conspiracies is a way to win over a Sunni Arab audience that distrusts the United States but despises Iran more. In an attempt to cover itself, the US State Department, which does try to maintain good relations with Shia clergy outside of Iran, was forced to issue a separate statement affirming that “Al-Khoe’i Foundation is a well-regarded international charitable and educational organisation”.

Americans are unaware, by design, that they are funding this propaganda. A piece of post-war legislation called the Smith-Mundt Act was designed to create a firewall between American society and the government’s foreign-facing broadcasters, to avoid the appearance of Soviet-style domestic manipulation. The Smith-Mundt Act also instructs the US government to use “private agencies” for its propaganda “to the maximum extent practicable”. In practice, this means dumping a lot of money into disreputable activist groups such as the Iran Disinformation Project and its counterparts in other countries.

But empowering conspiracy theorists to promote Western causes has never been a wise tactic. Although disinformation can foment popular anger and undermine governments in the short term — goals that Western leaders may back — its powers end there. A movement run by delusional leaders and held together by fantasies cannot effect long-term change.

Consider the Chinese religious movement Falun Gong, which has endured horrific persecution by the Beijing government and has become one of its most vocal opposition factions abroad. As part of a pressure campaign, the Trump administration set aside funding for an app that Falun Gong developed for Chinese citizens to access banned media. There appeared to be little consideration that Falun Gong’s founder preached a belief in shape-shifting aliens and an opposition to interracial marriage. (Falun Gong representative Larry Liu called these beliefs “misinterpretations” and “tangential” to their doctrine in a follow-up email.) The movement’s newspaper, Epoch Times, is a firehose of misinformation about the coronavirus, child sex trafficking and other topics. It’s one thing to support Falun Gong’s right to hold dissident beliefs; it’s another to appoint it as the group responsible for breaking Chinese internet censorship. 

Undeterred, the US government has continued to invest in its massive army of undercover social media accounts around the world. It remains unclear exactly how extensive it is, though a report by the Stanford Internet Observatory last year revealed the kind of content the US government pushes clandestinely. Posters posing as “independent media” plagiarised real news outlets, then added in anti-Russian or anti-Iranian talking points. The network even included a fake journalist, whose picture was a portrait of a Puerto Rican actress photoshopped to look Central Asian.

Elsewhere, some of the pages promoted Iranian nationalism to Iranian audiences, arguing that the Islamic Republic was draining the country’s resources for the sake of foreign client rulers. Others stoked anti-Iranian nationalism in neighbouring countries, claiming Iran was depleting Iraqi water supplies and pumping the streets of Baghdad full of crystal meth.

None of this is to suggest that propaganda can or should be abolished. It has, after all, been a tool of foreign policy and war for centuries. What it does reveal, however, is that the problem of disinformation is not unique to any political system: it is not a matter of democracy vs autocracy. Western governments and politicians will propagandise, as all governments and politicians do. If disinformation really is a threat to Western society, its warrior critics could do worse than start at home.


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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Eye-opening essay for sure. You would have to be pretty naive to think the US, Britain et al are not conducting disinformation campaigns in foreign countries.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Eye-opening? Really? I grew up in NI during the Troubles. Tuning in for the daily lies lol. State disinformation is old news to anyone who didn’t grow up in a middle-class bubble.
All states are at it, obviously. I’d be somewhat concerned if they weren’t.
There are however 2 critical differences between the context of totalitarian Russian propaganda and that of democratic propaganda:
You’re free publicly to criticise and counter a democratic state’s propaganda without risk of being jailed, or shot.
Governments in democratic cultures are at least embarrassed by being caught out in a lie (though that reaction has of course abated in our current “post-truth / my truth” culture created by the Internet). By contrast, Russians view veracity with contempt. In Russian culture, lying is something to be proud of. Truth telling is viewed as the preserve of weaklings. See from an older blog:
“I’ve worked with Russian business-people. They have a particular culture, and it is not Western.  Putin’s approach – a mix of secrecy, strategic lying, self-pity, and macho inflexibility – is not just a trait peculiar to him, it’s not uncommon in Russian business culture – see my post about the time a Russian businessman asked me to draft an assassination clause: https://ayenaw.com/2022/03/10/drafting-an-assassination-clause/ 
Westerners, nice bourgeois well-meaning Westerners who abhor violence and who pay their parking tickets, don’t really get Russia. It’s well-intentioned, but it is an innocent form of cultural arrogance, or, at least, a form of stupidity – to assume that a bloke with the same refrigerator as you thinks the same as you do.”

And:
“In the late 1940’s, Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and sociologist, predicted that the Americans and the British would make a mess of their diplomacy with the Russians, because they would assume that Russians are gentlemen, and that they would not make agreements which they would have no intention of carrying out.
“What you can’t believe,” Myrdal said, “is what every Swede knows in his bones. The Russian culture is not a gentleman culture.”
See: https://ayenaw.com/2022/07/23/negotiating-with-russia-is-a-liberal-delusion/

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

For me, the specific examples of Iran and Cuba were enlightening. If western govts are fully prepared to use psyop campaigns against their own people, of course they will do it to foreign countries.

I’ll add another difference between Russia and western govts. Russian people expect their govt and business leaders to lie to them. Citizens in democracies expect their leaders to tell the truth. Sadly, many people still think their govts are telling the truth on important issues.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Excellent comment! Thank you for the quotes also. A lot of food for thought.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

For me, the specific examples of Iran and Cuba were enlightening. If western govts are fully prepared to use psyop campaigns against their own people, of course they will do it to foreign countries.

I’ll add another difference between Russia and western govts. Russian people expect their govt and business leaders to lie to them. Citizens in democracies expect their leaders to tell the truth. Sadly, many people still think their govts are telling the truth on important issues.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Excellent comment! Thank you for the quotes also. A lot of food for thought.

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes, the naivety of this living-in-a-bubble-world writer is breathtaking. But perhaps this will be the first step on his path of realisation, who knows.

What I cannot understand is why Unherd thought this “limited hangout” was fit to publish. It is common knowledge the US government lies to its citizens.

Most famously CIA Director William Casey told an early February 1981 meeting of the newly elected President Reagan in the White House: “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

Last edited 9 months ago by Simon S
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

My guess is that somebody in marketing or some outside consultant has told them to try to appeal to younger audiences. Even a cursory perusal of the comments of most articles would reveal that Unherd’s main demographic is people who have, shall we say, passed certain milestones in life and acquired the cynicism and disillusionment that tends to accompany such experience. Yet, any good marketing student would tell you that it is good business practice to cultivate younger customers who will grow your customer base or at least continue to support your product in the the future as older customers die off. My guess is that this article is that sort of effort, a nod to young people who have come out of our failed education system of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘self-esteem building’, and who are nonetheless not fully indoctrinated, reasonable, intelligent, and mentally flexible enough to look at reality and realize they’ve been duped, of which I suspect there are a great many despite the efforts of academia and educators. If I were one of those young people, I would probably be shocked by the extent of the misdeeds of my government as well, and I might further be open to hearing more of what has obviously been withheld. If that is the case, I can understand and support Unherd’s efforts. Those of us old enough to have benefited from an education system that still sought to prepare us for the world as it is rather than shelter us from it should not begrudge young people the chance to, through the free exchange of ideas in an open forum that publishes many different opinions, the opportunity to discover for themselves what the education system withheld from them.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon S

My guess is that somebody in marketing or some outside consultant has told them to try to appeal to younger audiences. Even a cursory perusal of the comments of most articles would reveal that Unherd’s main demographic is people who have, shall we say, passed certain milestones in life and acquired the cynicism and disillusionment that tends to accompany such experience. Yet, any good marketing student would tell you that it is good business practice to cultivate younger customers who will grow your customer base or at least continue to support your product in the the future as older customers die off. My guess is that this article is that sort of effort, a nod to young people who have come out of our failed education system of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘self-esteem building’, and who are nonetheless not fully indoctrinated, reasonable, intelligent, and mentally flexible enough to look at reality and realize they’ve been duped, of which I suspect there are a great many despite the efforts of academia and educators. If I were one of those young people, I would probably be shocked by the extent of the misdeeds of my government as well, and I might further be open to hearing more of what has obviously been withheld. If that is the case, I can understand and support Unherd’s efforts. Those of us old enough to have benefited from an education system that still sought to prepare us for the world as it is rather than shelter us from it should not begrudge young people the chance to, through the free exchange of ideas in an open forum that publishes many different opinions, the opportunity to discover for themselves what the education system withheld from them.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve Jolly
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Eye-opening? Really? I grew up in NI during the Troubles. Tuning in for the daily lies lol. State disinformation is old news to anyone who didn’t grow up in a middle-class bubble.
All states are at it, obviously. I’d be somewhat concerned if they weren’t.
There are however 2 critical differences between the context of totalitarian Russian propaganda and that of democratic propaganda:
You’re free publicly to criticise and counter a democratic state’s propaganda without risk of being jailed, or shot.
Governments in democratic cultures are at least embarrassed by being caught out in a lie (though that reaction has of course abated in our current “post-truth / my truth” culture created by the Internet). By contrast, Russians view veracity with contempt. In Russian culture, lying is something to be proud of. Truth telling is viewed as the preserve of weaklings. See from an older blog:
“I’ve worked with Russian business-people. They have a particular culture, and it is not Western.  Putin’s approach – a mix of secrecy, strategic lying, self-pity, and macho inflexibility – is not just a trait peculiar to him, it’s not uncommon in Russian business culture – see my post about the time a Russian businessman asked me to draft an assassination clause: https://ayenaw.com/2022/03/10/drafting-an-assassination-clause/ 
Westerners, nice bourgeois well-meaning Westerners who abhor violence and who pay their parking tickets, don’t really get Russia. It’s well-intentioned, but it is an innocent form of cultural arrogance, or, at least, a form of stupidity – to assume that a bloke with the same refrigerator as you thinks the same as you do.”

And:
“In the late 1940’s, Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist and sociologist, predicted that the Americans and the British would make a mess of their diplomacy with the Russians, because they would assume that Russians are gentlemen, and that they would not make agreements which they would have no intention of carrying out.
“What you can’t believe,” Myrdal said, “is what every Swede knows in his bones. The Russian culture is not a gentleman culture.”
See: https://ayenaw.com/2022/07/23/negotiating-with-russia-is-a-liberal-delusion/

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes, the naivety of this living-in-a-bubble-world writer is breathtaking. But perhaps this will be the first step on his path of realisation, who knows.

What I cannot understand is why Unherd thought this “limited hangout” was fit to publish. It is common knowledge the US government lies to its citizens.

Most famously CIA Director William Casey told an early February 1981 meeting of the newly elected President Reagan in the White House: “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

Last edited 9 months ago by Simon S
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Eye-opening essay for sure. You would have to be pretty naive to think the US, Britain et al are not conducting disinformation campaigns in foreign countries.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago

It’s not new, and pretty obvious every country indulges in propoganda.

However, most other countries people treat their official figures and propoganda with a healthy amount of scepticism.

The problem with Western propoganda is that their own people believe it.

It’s amazing, for instance, how many people I see here who believe a) Russia is getting it’s arse kicked by Ukraine and b) Russia is about to invade Poland, Finland and beyond
At.the.same.time.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Straw-man posturing, mate. I haven’t encountered anyone who perceives that. Mainstream Western narrative is that the war has degenerated into a bloody stalemate, with neither side currently achieving much in military terms.

Bernard Davis
Bernard Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

To avoid the truth. i.e. that Ukraine is losing badly, the Western mainstream narrative has shifted from “Ukraine is winning” to “stalemate”. That’s all.

Tony Testosteroni
Tony Testosteroni
9 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Davis

If Ukraine is losing badly than why is Russia using conscripts and recruiting convicts , losing territory and being bombed daily ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Tony Testosteroni
Tony Testosteroni
Tony Testosteroni
9 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Davis

If Ukraine is losing badly than why is Russia using conscripts and recruiting convicts , losing territory and being bombed daily ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Tony Testosteroni
Bernard Davis
Bernard Davis
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

To avoid the truth. i.e. that Ukraine is losing badly, the Western mainstream narrative has shifted from “Ukraine is winning” to “stalemate”. That’s all.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Are you serious?
Please tell us why Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO then?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

A more relevant question would be, why did Sweden and Finland not Zjoin NATO in 1950, when the Soviet Union under Stalin was far more aggressive, powerful and closer to those countries than Russia is today.

The answer is, they had serious people leading their countries then.

Joining NATO, incidentally, does nothing to make them secure. There was little change on the Finnish border in 1945, there was no strategic or political reason for either the Soviet Union or Russia to go barging into Scandinavia.

All that it does is, add those countries to the map of Russian nuclear missile targets, if and when war happens.

Last edited 9 months ago by Samir Iker
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

A more relevant question would be, why did Sweden and Finland not Zjoin NATO in 1950, when the Soviet Union under Stalin was far more aggressive, powerful and closer to those countries than Russia is today.

The answer is, they had serious people leading their countries then.

Joining NATO, incidentally, does nothing to make them secure. There was little change on the Finnish border in 1945, there was no strategic or political reason for either the Soviet Union or Russia to go barging into Scandinavia.

All that it does is, add those countries to the map of Russian nuclear missile targets, if and when war happens.

Last edited 9 months ago by Samir Iker
Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Straw-man posturing, mate. I haven’t encountered anyone who perceives that. Mainstream Western narrative is that the war has degenerated into a bloody stalemate, with neither side currently achieving much in military terms.

Andrew F
Andrew F
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Are you serious?
Please tell us why Sweden and Finland decided to join NATO then?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago

It’s not new, and pretty obvious every country indulges in propoganda.

However, most other countries people treat their official figures and propoganda with a healthy amount of scepticism.

The problem with Western propoganda is that their own people believe it.

It’s amazing, for instance, how many people I see here who believe a) Russia is getting it’s arse kicked by Ukraine and b) Russia is about to invade Poland, Finland and beyond
At.the.same.time.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

Remember that the term “conspiracy theory” was coined by the CIA in the 1960s in order to discredit those who would uncover their cyclical, manipulative lies. Or maybe that’s just another “conspiracy theory”. Honestly I am fed up of people using that term to dismiss, out of hand, perspectives that don’t conform to the mainstream narratives that an increasingly desperate, failing corporate establishment want to ram down our throats. Was Jean Heller, the young investigative reporter who in 1972 uncovered the fact that agents of the US government had conspired to deliberately and systematically lie to hundreds of black men in Alabama and deny them treatment for syphilis over a period of 40 years, a “conspiracy theorist”? She certainly had a theory about a government-sponsored conspiracy; it just turned out that it happened to be true.

Hating on George Soros because he is a “non-practising Jew” is racist and anti-Semitic (and as such it is a vile, stupid thing for anyone to do), but it does not itself make one a “conspiracy theorist”, whatever that means. And even if one has such idiotic views on Soros, it does not make one automatically right or wrong, or well informed or misinformed, about literally anything else – including the nature and abuse of power in the 21st century; dodgy furin cleavage sites; or whether Jaffa Cakes are in fact cakes or biscuits. The author is at pains to point out that there are not “goodies” and “baddies” at the level of government; but the same is true of literally everyone else. If you insist on reading that as condoning anti-semitism: it isn’t, and you need help. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

Of course Western governments are systematically lying and propagandising their own populations. We all know this. We know this because they openly say that is what they are doing, eg increasing the “perceived level of threat” from covid or climate, and we can see them doing it with our own eyes. That doesn’t mean they are lying about everything of course but they have undermined public trust to such a degree that it is best to take everything they say with a massive punch of salt. Even better, just ignore them and the captured mainstream media. Don’t let yourself get sucked in to bot-ridden social media corrupted by corporate and government sponsored “influencers”, and try not to let yourself get too wound up by badly worded stories on mainstream-adjacent, multi-millionaire funded media such as Unherd!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

That leaves a problem. If you ignore and disregard governments, mainstream media, and social media, whre do you get any kind of information from? Do you simply detach from the world and let things go as they will? Or do you select a small bubble that you trust wile ignoring everything else – which would leave you at high risk from finishing down a rabbit hole? I suspect you have an answer, so I am honestly curious to hear it.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Mostly I switch off and detach from the flow of day to day news, yes. Most of it is irrelevant or trivial anyway. Read lots of books written before c1990, in general the earlier the better – you can learn a lot about today’s world from history and philosophy. If engaging in current affairs – go to the source, ie read the actual detailed WHO or IPCC reports and the underlying academic papers and not the coverage of them in the media but don’t just assume what they say is true. Don’t trust in one person, or group of interconnected persons, on either side of any narrative. Have no heroes. Assume journalists are lazy and weak, don’t bother to investigate anything properly, and will follow editorial orders anyway. Always assume money, power and herd behaviour are in play unless there is very good reason not to. Certainly don’t trust anyone who puts their faith in “narratives” or unquestioningly accepts results of modelling as truth. Follow Orwell’s advice and try and write opinions about current affairs down, using your own words, before adopting them.

I won’t lie, it is not easy and it is time consuming but it at least it’s some insulation against the relentless stream of two dimensional government and corporate-sponsored propaganda to which we are constantly subjected. And, you know, you learn interesting stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise learn.

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It is simple – at least in principle: 1) Take the time to develop a multivariate and opposing list of information sources. Note: not “news”, which is noise, but rather analysis, which contains more signal (meta data is more useful than data); 2) consume them all, but with due skepticism while applying the Fichte/Hegelian mental model known as “thesis->anti-thesis->synthesis” – i.e. actively pursuing information/opinion that counters your inherent belief/bias then 3) have the patience to withhold judgement – wherever and whenever reasonably possible – until the Synthesis is a) validated or b) invalidated by reality or data. Then adjust your ranking of whichever sources you used – or discard them depending on the seriousness of the lapse.
Seems easy, but that’s not how we do it. At least one of the challenges is that “the system” is optimized for churning out unanchored, morally preening, over-credentialed and under-educated “consumers” who neither possess, nor strive to attain, the psychological and/or philosophical armour plating needed to apprehend or endure, let alone process, information or opinions that conflict with their own.
The world is not short of information or “knowledge”. It lacks the people able to model, then semantically connect, the available information with reality. It is a lifelong challenge with no finish line, and no one is immune.
Humility (personal and cultural), and a sense of history, are good places to start.

Last edited 9 months ago by Peter Buchan
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

@Andrew Horsman, Peter Buchan,

Sounds sensible (if a lot of work). I am rather more trusting of serious mainstream information than you are (anyway I am a scientist, so if I do not trust a scientific consensus, what is there to do), but I’d agree with your principles.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

He’s baaack! I’m glad you’re more active on the boards again, Mr. Fogh, as I’ll be letting my subscription lapse indefinitely soon and I worry about the rising rage and broad-brush denunciations in the (un)herd, especially among those without a “multivariate” informational diet. Not that anyone has a unclouded lens or wisdom and wherewithal to steer the (un)herd mentality in a reliable good direction.
I trust you’ll continue to promote your consensus understanding of science, critical thinking, with a balanced sociopolitical and argumentative approach, when you have the time. Sorry to gush a second time, but I wanted to applaud your contribution here once more. In future, if the opportunity arises I promise to find fault with your posts whenever possible.

Kent Ausburn
Kent Ausburn
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I too am a scientist, and I do not reflexively trust scientific consensus, and neither should any man/woman of science.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Kent Ausburn

But should you therefore trust anomalies and fringe viewpoints?

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Um no. But nor should anyone trust what they may perceive to be a “consensus”, scientific or otherwise. May I refer you to the motto of the Royal Society*: Nullius in verba. Take nobody’s word for it.

* The Royal Society describes itself as “the independent scientific academy of the UK, dedicated to promoting excellence in science for the benefit of humanity” (but don’t take their word for it)**

** For the avoidance of doubt, that’s my very weak attempt at humour

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

That seems sensible. I’m not someone who adopts consensus views wholesale, let alone uncritically. However, they seem a useful starting point or stop gap when one hasn’t the expertise or time to test and develop an independently verified understanding from the ground up. No one has the combination of time and cognitive versatility that would be needed to become a reliable authority on every subject.

For example, I’ll begin by tending to place more faith in the ecological assessments of the overwhelming majority of scientists–thougu not the histrionic doom language they sometimes indulge in–than those of the most contrary fringe of the scientific community. And certainly more than the most opinionated person at a pub or on an online comment board.

There is tendency among many to treat the inversion of the common or consensus understanding as a reliable shortcut to a better understanding. Such radical skepticism or reverse credulity is a growing problem.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

That seems sensible. I’m not someone who adopts consensus views wholesale, let alone uncritically. However, they seem a useful starting point or stop gap when one hasn’t the expertise or time to test and develop an independently verified understanding from the ground up. No one has the combination of time and cognitive versatility that would be needed to become a reliable authority on every subject.

For example, I’ll begin by tending to place more faith in the ecological assessments of the overwhelming majority of scientists–thougu not the histrionic doom language they sometimes indulge in–than those of the most contrary fringe of the scientific community. And certainly more than the most opinionated person at a pub or on an online comment board.

There is tendency among many to treat the inversion of the common or consensus understanding as a reliable shortcut to a better understanding. Such radical skepticism or reverse credulity is a growing problem.

Last edited 9 months ago by AJ Mac
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Um no. But nor should anyone trust what they may perceive to be a “consensus”, scientific or otherwise. May I refer you to the motto of the Royal Society*: Nullius in verba. Take nobody’s word for it.

* The Royal Society describes itself as “the independent scientific academy of the UK, dedicated to promoting excellence in science for the benefit of humanity” (but don’t take their word for it)**

** For the avoidance of doubt, that’s my very weak attempt at humour

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Kent Ausburn

But should you therefore trust anomalies and fringe viewpoints?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

He’s baaack! I’m glad you’re more active on the boards again, Mr. Fogh, as I’ll be letting my subscription lapse indefinitely soon and I worry about the rising rage and broad-brush denunciations in the (un)herd, especially among those without a “multivariate” informational diet. Not that anyone has a unclouded lens or wisdom and wherewithal to steer the (un)herd mentality in a reliable good direction.
I trust you’ll continue to promote your consensus understanding of science, critical thinking, with a balanced sociopolitical and argumentative approach, when you have the time. Sorry to gush a second time, but I wanted to applaud your contribution here once more. In future, if the opportunity arises I promise to find fault with your posts whenever possible.

Kent Ausburn
Kent Ausburn
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I too am a scientist, and I do not reflexively trust scientific consensus, and neither should any man/woman of science.

T Bone
T Bone
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The propaganda of the mainstream media is primarily due to: 1) Errors of omission so readers can’t contextualize the evidence they’re given. 2) The Primacy Effect- The Flashy Headline drives the story instead of the details and 3) The Recency Effect or conclusion drawn at the close simply reinforces the Headline.

One doesn’t have to neglect the mainstream press which is currently biased toward a Left-Center worldview. It just has to be read carefully and extract first hand sources, largely ignoring the subjective opinion drivel. Then a comparative review of other sources will get you closer to the truth.

Over time, patterns develop and you can get a true picture of where the propaganda is in each story. I would encourage anyone Center-Right to regularly read Establishment News so they can see how it establishes its narratives. Basic Empiricism sheds alot of light.

Last edited 9 months ago by T Bone
Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
9 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is evident in the media every day. Author Michael Crichton created the name after he realised that everything he read or heard in the media was wrong when he had direct personal knowledge or expertise on the subject. He surmised that almost everything else is probably incorrect as well.
Crichton explained:
“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray Gell-Mann’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect. I call these the ‘wet streets cause rain’ stories. Newspapers are full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about say Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page and forget what you know.”

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
9 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is evident in the media every day. Author Michael Crichton created the name after he realised that everything he read or heard in the media was wrong when he had direct personal knowledge or expertise on the subject. He surmised that almost everything else is probably incorrect as well.
Crichton explained:
“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray Gell-Mann’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect. I call these the ‘wet streets cause rain’ stories. Newspapers are full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about say Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page and forget what you know.”

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

At the risk of butting into another’s conversation, let me relate my own solution, as I find your question to be particularly insightful and important. For myself, I try to listen to many different perspectives and sources without fully trusting or distrusting any, and comparing these perspectives to see where they agree and disagree, what language they use, the quality of their writing, their use or overuse of generalizations, etc. Were that the entirety of my process, I would no doubt arrive at bland centrism, but it is not. I also compare all the information with my lived experiences, my values, and the opinions of the few people other than myself whose opinion I value more than a slice of pizza. I readily admit my solution shows remarkable hubris, as I regularly question or disregard the opinions of people far more educated or with far more expertise on a particular subject. This is why I find myself at odds with much of the modern political establishment, who seek to replace democratic, representative governments with appointed unaccountable bureaucrats and ‘experts’. I judge the risk of error due to personal ignorance is far less than the risk of error due to the unchecked biases, corruption by manipulation by the wealthy and powerful, and/or willful misbehavior of whoever has been put in charge of vetting information, whatever the source, be it media or government. In short, I have major trust issues, so I muddle along as best I can using my own judgement. I would rather make my own mistakes than repeat somebody else’s.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve Jolly
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The Daily Mail online and real clear politics offer both left and right perspectives on most issues.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Mostly I switch off and detach from the flow of day to day news, yes. Most of it is irrelevant or trivial anyway. Read lots of books written before c1990, in general the earlier the better – you can learn a lot about today’s world from history and philosophy. If engaging in current affairs – go to the source, ie read the actual detailed WHO or IPCC reports and the underlying academic papers and not the coverage of them in the media but don’t just assume what they say is true. Don’t trust in one person, or group of interconnected persons, on either side of any narrative. Have no heroes. Assume journalists are lazy and weak, don’t bother to investigate anything properly, and will follow editorial orders anyway. Always assume money, power and herd behaviour are in play unless there is very good reason not to. Certainly don’t trust anyone who puts their faith in “narratives” or unquestioningly accepts results of modelling as truth. Follow Orwell’s advice and try and write opinions about current affairs down, using your own words, before adopting them.

I won’t lie, it is not easy and it is time consuming but it at least it’s some insulation against the relentless stream of two dimensional government and corporate-sponsored propaganda to which we are constantly subjected. And, you know, you learn interesting stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise learn.

Peter Buchan
Peter Buchan
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It is simple – at least in principle: 1) Take the time to develop a multivariate and opposing list of information sources. Note: not “news”, which is noise, but rather analysis, which contains more signal (meta data is more useful than data); 2) consume them all, but with due skepticism while applying the Fichte/Hegelian mental model known as “thesis->anti-thesis->synthesis” – i.e. actively pursuing information/opinion that counters your inherent belief/bias then 3) have the patience to withhold judgement – wherever and whenever reasonably possible – until the Synthesis is a) validated or b) invalidated by reality or data. Then adjust your ranking of whichever sources you used – or discard them depending on the seriousness of the lapse.
Seems easy, but that’s not how we do it. At least one of the challenges is that “the system” is optimized for churning out unanchored, morally preening, over-credentialed and under-educated “consumers” who neither possess, nor strive to attain, the psychological and/or philosophical armour plating needed to apprehend or endure, let alone process, information or opinions that conflict with their own.
The world is not short of information or “knowledge”. It lacks the people able to model, then semantically connect, the available information with reality. It is a lifelong challenge with no finish line, and no one is immune.
Humility (personal and cultural), and a sense of history, are good places to start.

Last edited 9 months ago by Peter Buchan
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

@Andrew Horsman, Peter Buchan,

Sounds sensible (if a lot of work). I am rather more trusting of serious mainstream information than you are (anyway I am a scientist, so if I do not trust a scientific consensus, what is there to do), but I’d agree with your principles.

T Bone
T Bone
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The propaganda of the mainstream media is primarily due to: 1) Errors of omission so readers can’t contextualize the evidence they’re given. 2) The Primacy Effect- The Flashy Headline drives the story instead of the details and 3) The Recency Effect or conclusion drawn at the close simply reinforces the Headline.

One doesn’t have to neglect the mainstream press which is currently biased toward a Left-Center worldview. It just has to be read carefully and extract first hand sources, largely ignoring the subjective opinion drivel. Then a comparative review of other sources will get you closer to the truth.

Over time, patterns develop and you can get a true picture of where the propaganda is in each story. I would encourage anyone Center-Right to regularly read Establishment News so they can see how it establishes its narratives. Basic Empiricism sheds alot of light.

Last edited 9 months ago by T Bone
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

At the risk of butting into another’s conversation, let me relate my own solution, as I find your question to be particularly insightful and important. For myself, I try to listen to many different perspectives and sources without fully trusting or distrusting any, and comparing these perspectives to see where they agree and disagree, what language they use, the quality of their writing, their use or overuse of generalizations, etc. Were that the entirety of my process, I would no doubt arrive at bland centrism, but it is not. I also compare all the information with my lived experiences, my values, and the opinions of the few people other than myself whose opinion I value more than a slice of pizza. I readily admit my solution shows remarkable hubris, as I regularly question or disregard the opinions of people far more educated or with far more expertise on a particular subject. This is why I find myself at odds with much of the modern political establishment, who seek to replace democratic, representative governments with appointed unaccountable bureaucrats and ‘experts’. I judge the risk of error due to personal ignorance is far less than the risk of error due to the unchecked biases, corruption by manipulation by the wealthy and powerful, and/or willful misbehavior of whoever has been put in charge of vetting information, whatever the source, be it media or government. In short, I have major trust issues, so I muddle along as best I can using my own judgement. I would rather make my own mistakes than repeat somebody else’s.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve Jolly
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The Daily Mail online and real clear politics offer both left and right perspectives on most issues.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

That leaves a problem. If you ignore and disregard governments, mainstream media, and social media, whre do you get any kind of information from? Do you simply detach from the world and let things go as they will? Or do you select a small bubble that you trust wile ignoring everything else – which would leave you at high risk from finishing down a rabbit hole? I suspect you have an answer, so I am honestly curious to hear it.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
9 months ago

Remember that the term “conspiracy theory” was coined by the CIA in the 1960s in order to discredit those who would uncover their cyclical, manipulative lies. Or maybe that’s just another “conspiracy theory”. Honestly I am fed up of people using that term to dismiss, out of hand, perspectives that don’t conform to the mainstream narratives that an increasingly desperate, failing corporate establishment want to ram down our throats. Was Jean Heller, the young investigative reporter who in 1972 uncovered the fact that agents of the US government had conspired to deliberately and systematically lie to hundreds of black men in Alabama and deny them treatment for syphilis over a period of 40 years, a “conspiracy theorist”? She certainly had a theory about a government-sponsored conspiracy; it just turned out that it happened to be true.

Hating on George Soros because he is a “non-practising Jew” is racist and anti-Semitic (and as such it is a vile, stupid thing for anyone to do), but it does not itself make one a “conspiracy theorist”, whatever that means. And even if one has such idiotic views on Soros, it does not make one automatically right or wrong, or well informed or misinformed, about literally anything else – including the nature and abuse of power in the 21st century; dodgy furin cleavage sites; or whether Jaffa Cakes are in fact cakes or biscuits. The author is at pains to point out that there are not “goodies” and “baddies” at the level of government; but the same is true of literally everyone else. If you insist on reading that as condoning anti-semitism: it isn’t, and you need help. The line between good and evil runs through every human heart.

Of course Western governments are systematically lying and propagandising their own populations. We all know this. We know this because they openly say that is what they are doing, eg increasing the “perceived level of threat” from covid or climate, and we can see them doing it with our own eyes. That doesn’t mean they are lying about everything of course but they have undermined public trust to such a degree that it is best to take everything they say with a massive punch of salt. Even better, just ignore them and the captured mainstream media. Don’t let yourself get sucked in to bot-ridden social media corrupted by corporate and government sponsored “influencers”, and try not to let yourself get too wound up by badly worded stories on mainstream-adjacent, multi-millionaire funded media such as Unherd!

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
9 months ago

Add Hong Kong 2019 to the list.

Frank Carney
Frank Carney
9 months ago

Add Hong Kong 2019 to the list.

Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
9 months ago

“None of this is to suggest that propaganda can or should be abolished.”
 
(?) It should suggest it to anyone with enough respect for human intelligence–and democracy–to believe we’re better off when people are accurately and fully informed and left free to judge for themselves what their priorities should be, and how to attain them, instead of being treated as witless sheep or lemmings, fit only to be herded in the proper direction. The antidote to propaganda isn’t counter-propaganda but non-propaganda. The moment I discover you’re editing reality with a view to manipulating me, under the guise of informing me, you sabotage your own credibility–and mine is hardly a unique reaction. There’s a reason the credibility of governments and legacy media is on life support: the despised common man is generally pretty good at discerning when his trust is being abused and his intelligence insulted.

If you’re concerned enough about propaganda and its influence to want to combat it, try unvarnished truth-telling. Acknowledge where your own information is incomplete and your analyses and arguments shakiest, and accept remedial input. You’ll still have enemies for sure, and you won’t rid the world of dishonesty; but eventually you’ll have a reputation as a reliable information source that’s unassailable. Even propagandists who consider you a threat to their aims will regard you as dependable.

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
Mark Kennedy
9 months ago

“None of this is to suggest that propaganda can or should be abolished.”
 
(?) It should suggest it to anyone with enough respect for human intelligence–and democracy–to believe we’re better off when people are accurately and fully informed and left free to judge for themselves what their priorities should be, and how to attain them, instead of being treated as witless sheep or lemmings, fit only to be herded in the proper direction. The antidote to propaganda isn’t counter-propaganda but non-propaganda. The moment I discover you’re editing reality with a view to manipulating me, under the guise of informing me, you sabotage your own credibility–and mine is hardly a unique reaction. There’s a reason the credibility of governments and legacy media is on life support: the despised common man is generally pretty good at discerning when his trust is being abused and his intelligence insulted.

If you’re concerned enough about propaganda and its influence to want to combat it, try unvarnished truth-telling. Acknowledge where your own information is incomplete and your analyses and arguments shakiest, and accept remedial input. You’ll still have enemies for sure, and you won’t rid the world of dishonesty; but eventually you’ll have a reputation as a reliable information source that’s unassailable. Even propagandists who consider you a threat to their aims will regard you as dependable.

Last edited 9 months ago by Mark Kennedy
AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago

I appreciate the unveiling of specific western disinformation campaigns and practices. However, the central premise of the article, that Western powers and concerns engage in propaganda and disinformation too, is obvious and well-established elsewhere.
One difference is that in rather more free societies, like those loosely associated with or comparable to the West, one can expose and oppose such campaigns–though fighting against powerful and determined groups–with minimal fear of being jailed or disappeared just for asking questions or calling out lies.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

But the narrative isn’t in effect being opposed, except in rare cases like this.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago

That’s true enough.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago

That’s true enough.

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
9 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

But the narrative isn’t in effect being opposed, except in rare cases like this.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
9 months ago

I appreciate the unveiling of specific western disinformation campaigns and practices. However, the central premise of the article, that Western powers and concerns engage in propaganda and disinformation too, is obvious and well-established elsewhere.
One difference is that in rather more free societies, like those loosely associated with or comparable to the West, one can expose and oppose such campaigns–though fighting against powerful and determined groups–with minimal fear of being jailed or disappeared just for asking questions or calling out lies.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

MKUltra. If you ever feel tempted to dismiss something as a paranoid ‘conspiracy theory’ you might want to have a look into MKUltra and the other things intelligence agencies have provably got up to.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Fortunately our own Secret Services were so riddled with sodomites and communists that we didn’t/couldn’t resort to such interesting methods.

Instead we relied on the ‘Chocolate Sailor’* to produce a ridiculous macho eulogy.

(*Ian Fleming Esq.)

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

The USSR’s implosion proved my fellow Hibernian, Joseph McCarthy (may he have repose in Our Lady’s merciful embrace, Deo volente), provided an accurate assessment of America’s subversion by pinkos. England is no worse than her noxious daughter in that regard, although the Englishman’s sodomitical tendencies will never be outstripped by the Americans. One wonders what England would be like if it was ruled by heterosexuals.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Hence the famous song that starts: “There is a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach, but alas I cannot swim


.”

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Hence the famous song that starts: “There is a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach, but alas I cannot swim


.”

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

The USSR’s implosion proved my fellow Hibernian, Joseph McCarthy (may he have repose in Our Lady’s merciful embrace, Deo volente), provided an accurate assessment of America’s subversion by pinkos. England is no worse than her noxious daughter in that regard, although the Englishman’s sodomitical tendencies will never be outstripped by the Americans. One wonders what England would be like if it was ruled by heterosexuals.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Fortunately our own Secret Services were so riddled with sodomites and communists that we didn’t/couldn’t resort to such interesting methods.

Instead we relied on the ‘Chocolate Sailor’* to produce a ridiculous macho eulogy.

(*Ian Fleming Esq.)

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

MKUltra. If you ever feel tempted to dismiss something as a paranoid ‘conspiracy theory’ you might want to have a look into MKUltra and the other things intelligence agencies have provably got up to.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Excellent survey but Western news manipulation is not an innovation. 

For example, in the 1950s CIA and MI6 spent more on various forms of propaganda and disinformation than on espionage. Some campaigns worked e.g. the splitting of the pre-war alliance in Western Europe between social democrats and communists by discrediting the latter. Their translation and publishing in numerous countries of Orwell’s Animal Farm was only one example. Others failed e.g. MI6 – who secretly controlled various local news agencies in the Middle East as well the most popular radio station, which featured Lebanese singers interspersed with slanted news – was entirely unable to convince the Arabs that Britain was an amiable and desirable overlord. As now, there were three major drawbacks. In addition to the hit and miss impact, it was impossible to avoid domestic spillover – making a mockery of democracy – or a long term effect of spreading cynicism and distrust of all media in the target countries.

I suppose that, given the efforts of other states, this sort of activity is inevitable overseas but perhaps western governments need to try harder to minimise the deliberate use of these techniques to manipulate domestic opinion as it almost always ends up badly in the long run. CIA’s difficulties in the late 1960s and 1970s started with the exposure of one its surreptitious escapades in domestic journalism. As this excellent article documents, the US government has forgotten the lessons of the past and is currently playing with fire. It is, of course, not easy to keep the two aspects entirely separate.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
9 months ago

Excellent survey but Western news manipulation is not an innovation. 

For example, in the 1950s CIA and MI6 spent more on various forms of propaganda and disinformation than on espionage. Some campaigns worked e.g. the splitting of the pre-war alliance in Western Europe between social democrats and communists by discrediting the latter. Their translation and publishing in numerous countries of Orwell’s Animal Farm was only one example. Others failed e.g. MI6 – who secretly controlled various local news agencies in the Middle East as well the most popular radio station, which featured Lebanese singers interspersed with slanted news – was entirely unable to convince the Arabs that Britain was an amiable and desirable overlord. As now, there were three major drawbacks. In addition to the hit and miss impact, it was impossible to avoid domestic spillover – making a mockery of democracy – or a long term effect of spreading cynicism and distrust of all media in the target countries.

I suppose that, given the efforts of other states, this sort of activity is inevitable overseas but perhaps western governments need to try harder to minimise the deliberate use of these techniques to manipulate domestic opinion as it almost always ends up badly in the long run. CIA’s difficulties in the late 1960s and 1970s started with the exposure of one its surreptitious escapades in domestic journalism. As this excellent article documents, the US government has forgotten the lessons of the past and is currently playing with fire. It is, of course, not easy to keep the two aspects entirely separate.

Last edited 9 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago

I was wondering whether the author was trying to be ironic with his shocked attitude that western governments would engage in propaganda. As I read on, it seemed he was legitimately just realizing how our governments do and have sought to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries to support their interests. The truth is that the US, and its allies, are far more guilty of interfering in foreign elections and politics than Russia or China. The Russians probably had a chuckle at how irate many Americans got that Russia would dare use their resources to push one candidate over another, when the US does the exact same thing, pretty openly in most cases. That’s actually one of the primary sales pitches to foreign tyrants to ally with the US, you can either play ball and have our hounds hunt your enemies, or you can defy us and we’ll sick them on you instead. Fairly persuasive argument actually. Given history in general, and recent history in particular (the Iraq War most notably), that democratic governments can and do use propaganda, both on foreigners and their own people, should not surprise anyone. I was confused, as I said, until I looked at the author’s photo. He’s clearly of the right age to have grown up during the age of participation trophies, anti-bullying campaigns, and constant psychological assessment where much of actual history and much of actual reality, is not explored so as to protect the fragile self-esteem of young people, and he’s clearly not old enough to have enough accumulated enough experience to realize how completely his education failed him. In short, he’s been spared looking at the ugly side of the world we live in as a child, so he’ll have to learn it the hard way as an adult.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
9 months ago

I was wondering whether the author was trying to be ironic with his shocked attitude that western governments would engage in propaganda. As I read on, it seemed he was legitimately just realizing how our governments do and have sought to manipulate public opinion in foreign countries to support their interests. The truth is that the US, and its allies, are far more guilty of interfering in foreign elections and politics than Russia or China. The Russians probably had a chuckle at how irate many Americans got that Russia would dare use their resources to push one candidate over another, when the US does the exact same thing, pretty openly in most cases. That’s actually one of the primary sales pitches to foreign tyrants to ally with the US, you can either play ball and have our hounds hunt your enemies, or you can defy us and we’ll sick them on you instead. Fairly persuasive argument actually. Given history in general, and recent history in particular (the Iraq War most notably), that democratic governments can and do use propaganda, both on foreigners and their own people, should not surprise anyone. I was confused, as I said, until I looked at the author’s photo. He’s clearly of the right age to have grown up during the age of participation trophies, anti-bullying campaigns, and constant psychological assessment where much of actual history and much of actual reality, is not explored so as to protect the fragile self-esteem of young people, and he’s clearly not old enough to have enough accumulated enough experience to realize how completely his education failed him. In short, he’s been spared looking at the ugly side of the world we live in as a child, so he’ll have to learn it the hard way as an adult.

Moshe Simon
Moshe Simon
9 months ago

“…The story was based on a paper by an obscure Israeli think-tank, filled with sloppy logical leaps, factual errors and anti-Shia paranoia. ..”
The Israeli think-tank is Alma, and its papers are far from being filled with sloppy logical leaps, factual errors and anti-Shia paranoia. Unherd readers may wish to acquaint themselves with its exhaustive and informative account of the Israeli-Iranian struggle and the role of Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Syria. I was unable to find any paper on its website that deals with the Al Khoe’i foundation.
https://israel-alma.org/

Moshe Simon
Moshe Simon
9 months ago

“…The story was based on a paper by an obscure Israeli think-tank, filled with sloppy logical leaps, factual errors and anti-Shia paranoia. ..”
The Israeli think-tank is Alma, and its papers are far from being filled with sloppy logical leaps, factual errors and anti-Shia paranoia. Unherd readers may wish to acquaint themselves with its exhaustive and informative account of the Israeli-Iranian struggle and the role of Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Syria. I was unable to find any paper on its website that deals with the Al Khoe’i foundation.
https://israel-alma.org/