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Manipulation and deception

1) Deception can be defined as the deliberate effort by an individual or an organization to act according to their self-interest by systematically conveying misleading information, thus generating a false understanding.135 All advertising tries to show that a product or a service is better than it really is. Thus all advertising is manipulation, by definition.

2) To get an idea of the power of manipulators it is enough to consider how little we knew about French involvement in Rwanda while the massacres were happening.136 Among thousands of journalists hardly any saw or were able to report the truth. Thousands of intellectuals in France could reflect on the contents of all kinds of media reports every day for many months without appreciating that their own government supported the killers, and had even trained them.

3) Anyone dealing with the mass media must learn to speak the language of power, which means distinguishing and practicing the difference between two sorts of discourse, one on and one off the record. All world leaders except Putin and a few others know not to reveal personal opinions in the media, simply because doing so would make them look bad in the eyes of the public. (Russian leaders simply don't care.)

4) The strategy of the language of power consists of never using any harsh words, or making any blunt statements, in public, but yet always answering questions and seeming polite. In everyday language we call these "social skills". Media professionals, PR experts and politicians, know how to use specific accepted phrases in a formulaic way, repeating them again and again while on the record. Being caught on the record using off-the-record language can destroy any politician's career.

5) Off-the-record language is anything but mumbo-jumbo. Its words reflect the speaker's true interests and come straight from the heart. It contains no ambivalence. Overheard in public, it has immediate negative consequences. Heard in private, it gives the parties an immediate understanding of one another's position.

6) Do not imagine that the social sciences are exempt from these constraints. In place of "social skills" there is "political correctness", PC for short. The social sciences in general only seem non-normative.

7) If you do not observe this interplay of interests, the chances are that you are being manipulated. On-the-record political comments serve one purpose only, to win or maintain support. Political idealists die young. Politicians tell people what they want to hear. Telling the truth may gain you occasional respect, among certain groups of individuals for a certain period of time, but it will not win an election in a modern democracy. We prefer a man of action to a man of thought, a man who can look convincing on television to someone merely telling the truth: a John Kerry to a Howard Dean.

8) The growth of the mass media has made it increasingly necessary for large organizations to employ a PR person or publicity officer. All external communication in competitive organizations of more than, say, a dozen employees will nowadays be controlled that way. The relevant officer ensures that no blunders or strong opinions that could damage the organization are uttered, that employees are never interviewed directly, and that all interview questions are checked and approved in advance. This has become common sense in organizations today. Few people even think of it as manipulation.

9) Becoming adult entails learning not to speak one's mind. That is why we find children so refreshing: they speak their minds and tell the truth - at their best they even speak our minds. Then we have to laugh.

10) When we do speak the truth it is in special circumstances, such as when we retire or change jobs. Always listen to someone who is retiring with a good pension: he has little to lose. Others may say "well, off the record."; that is when you should listen.

11) Geopolitical and geoeconomic ideas come from the gut. Their content is crude and can be offensive, to a nation, a people, or a competitor. Nothing is more revealing.

12) It is increasingly difficult to detect manipulation in a modern society. This creates a problem for the health of our democracies. Because we are subject to manipulation, we must read more. Each of us must make up his or her own mind on any subject of importance. We need to keep the mass media at a distance. Avoid journalists for purposes of gathering information. Journalists are useful for placing stories.

13) Rather, we should seek out and read specialists within each area of interest. For each topic there is always a best book, a real expert. Go to him. First you must learn to locate him. Build up your information portfolio by drawing on sources from different parts of the world, gather them together on an RSS feed system, and focus on individuals rather than organizations. Change your feeds every now and then. Depending on what your profession is and what position you occupy in your organization, set aside half an hour to a couple of hours a day for reading and managing your information-sets.

14) When something significant happens in the world, wait till the journal article or the book comes out to find out why it happened. If you fill your time with "news" you risk getting bored with the subject long before answers are available. Tell yourself "Now I know the 'what, i need to wait a few weeks or months before I can get the 'why' ". Good analysis and synthesis is not done overnight. Authors need time.

15) Frequent techniques of manipulation include bribes to journalists, control of the information source, and control of the news agencies. Information seldom comes from a reporter; he or she is only the messenger, a broker for whatever information sells or can be made to sell on the news market.

16) Journalism can be seen as the work of deciding and selling an angle or a perspective on a reliable source to a particular audience. It's a business for fairy-tales.

17) The good thing about democracies is that the truth almost always comes out, sooner or later. A new generation means new interests. The main exception is when institutions themselves are in danger. Then the public will not learn the truth, not even after documents have been declassified. Examples include assassination of heads of State or leading politicians. Thus, in Sweden we still do not know who killed Charles XII in 1718, or Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. If we do know, today, that Gustav III was killed in 1792 in a conspiracy between two counts and other members of his own aristocracy and an army officer, that is because the power of the royal family was restored. When discovered, threats to the establishment are always disclosed.

18) Laws of information:

(i) The more information we have, the faster our social development evolves, but also, the less time we have to reflect.

(ii) We can also state two propositions regarding distance:

1. The further away from the original source we are, the less we know about it (geographical distance).

2. The further away from our national interest an incident is, the less likely we are to hear about it (cultural distance). For instance, the tsunami in Indonesia became a topic of interest to us because so many of our own nationals were killed. Other tsunamis get little attention. When a boat sinks in Bangladesh and hundreds are drowned, that is hardly noticed.

19) Our leaders today depend on public opinion to stay in power. On one hand they gather information about what people want (market research). On the other hand they control and transmit information to the mass media to shape public opinion (PR). Running for and staying in office have become questions of executing successful marketing campaigns.

20) Over the last few decades, information dominance has become a significant strategy for nations, whether in its political, economic, or military form (cf. Toffler and Toffler 1994). Strategic information warfare (SIW) consists of conventional warfare (CW), that is destruction of infrastructure, command &control warfare (CCW), that is the attack on the enemy's command capabilities, and information warfare (IW), that is destruction and control of the enemy's information system (cf. Vincent Troin's contribution to Chauprade 2005: 160). This may be expressed as: SIW = CW+CCW+IW. Private companies are quickly learning these lessons.

21) There is a widespread idea in the USA that the country lost the Vietnam War because of the free press. "Intelligence betrayal", or "media risk", some call it. One example was the revelation of conditions inside the Abu Ghraib prison.

22) Think-tanks, like the Brookings Institute, function not only as intellectual factories, but as institutions which translate power concepts into acceptable language, so they will go down well with the public. Leo Strauss (cf. Strauss 1996) was in fashion under Bush. Declared Straussians in the early Bush administration included Paul Wolfowitz (architect of the doctrine of preventive war), Vice-President Dick Cheney, and defence minister Donald Rumsfeld. Another influential Straussian was William Kristol, editor in chief of the conservative magazine Weekly Standard (son of Irving Kristol, who fathered the neoconservative movement in the USA). All claimed to have been influenced by Leo Strauss's writings. A further example was Gary Schmitt, representative of the new conservative lobbying group "Project for the New American Century" (PNAC). The PNAC membership included Rumsfeld and Cheney. (Strauss was no liberal, not even a democrat; he was an ardent supporter of the ideas of Thomas Hobbes. His main Aunt Sally was the Weimar

23) These politicians are already on their way into history. Some of them might even face trial one day, but the power interests will remain much the same. The companies are the same, the industries are the same, and more importantly the logic is the same. Only the players and the rhetoric have changed with Obama. Obama is primarily a brand: "the promise of change". There is no reason to doubt his personal conviction, his integrity, or his rhetorical skills, but every reason to suspect that he will fail. This man is not a fighter, he is a compromiser. Corporate interests will ultimately have their way.

24) How not to be manipulated by the mass media:

a) Find authorities within each field of interest.

b) Learn to analyse the information yourself.

c) Read critically.

d) Look at different sources. Most newspapers within one country use the same sources, especially in connexion with foreign policy. If you take more than one paper, make one of them a foreign one: British or American, French, German, and, if you can, a Japanese or other Asian paper (many now have English-language editions).

e) Change sources regularly.

f) For insight, go to books.

This is likely to make you better informed overall.

 
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