geert lovink on 13 Oct 2000 00:24:49 -0000

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<nettime> [RRE] campaign lunacy

from: Phil Agre <>
date: Mon, 9 Oct 2000 12:07:53 -0700

The US presidential election campaign has descended into lunacy.
George W. Bush lacks the mental capacity to explain his own policies,
which is just as well, given that he is on the losing side of just
about every major issue.  Instead, he, his staff, and most of the
media are engaged in a campaign of character assassination.  That's
the only word for it.  They've decided that their strategy is "Al
Gore's tendency to exaggerate", and they are mass-producing factoids
that fit the pattern, accompanied by frequent, pointed suggestions
that Gore is mentally ill.  The trouble is, the vast majority of
these factoids are false, exaggerated, or trivial.  They are bunk.

The mother of all "Gore's tendency to exaggerate" factoids, of course,
is his supposed claim to have invented the Internet.  This factoid is
just plain flat-out false.  Gore made a perfectly accurate statement
taking credit for his legislative work on the Internet, and the
Internet's inventors back him up on it.  Even Newt Gingrich backs him
up on it!  But still the claim is endlessly repeated by the Republican
candidates and the media.  For more examples, see:

Why isn't it big news that the Internet's inventors speak so heatedly
against the Republican media claim?  Where are the headlines about
that?  I've enclosed the most recent of many statements, this one from
Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf.  Presented with this statement, the Wired News
reporter who originated the false accusation against Gore actually
responded by suggesting that Vint Cerf was speaking in bad faith,
covering Gore for political reasons.  These people will say anything,
which of course is the reason why they accuse Al Gore of the same.
Read it here:

A recent article in First Monday also adds some facts to the story by
digging up some of the specifics of Gore's congressional record:

But this story is defective in two ways.  First, it fails to trace
the false claim back to Wired News.  And second, more disturbingly,
it accepts, for no clear reason, and despite the massive evidence
to the contrary, the claim that Gore's assertion was false.  This is
so strange.  It's like we're all in a lunatic asylum.  Look: Al Gore,
during his service in the United States Congress, took the initiative
in creating the Internet.  This is a plain fact.  It sounds like a
wild claim only to people who aren't acquainted with the remarkable
reality of Gore's very early and very extensive work on the issue.

This is how smear campaigns work: lie or exaggerate, and then never
report the facts that would make your lies and exaggerations sound
wrong.  It's the same thing with the Buddhist temple deal: the press
rarely, if ever, reports the simple fact that the Buddhist temple
event was free!  No money changed hands at it!  Gore didn't use the
event to ask for money!  Only if you don't know these facts can you
sit calmly while politicians and pundits question Gore's character and
even his sanity for insisting that the event was not a fund-raiser.

Another example is Gore's supposed claim that his mother sang him the
"union label" song as a lullaby.  It was a joke!  Any sane person who
thinks about it for one second can see that it was a joke!  It was a
union audience, and he was telling a union joke!  The audience laughed!
It's incredible.

Yet another example is Gore's supposedly false claim to have worked
on a farm.  It sounds crazy so long as nobody reports the fact that,
well, it's true.  And not just slightly true but completely true.  At
least three biographies of the man, as well as several news articles
from the days before the "exaggeration" lunacy, describe his onerous
childhood farm chores in detail.  Yet this lie is repeated down to the
present day:

The examples go on and on and on.  The underlying pattern, as I have
explained at length, is projection: accusing your opponent of what
you are doing yourself.  George W. Bush makes false statements all the
time, enormous ones about issues that really matter to people's lives,
but because of the spin machine it's *Gore* who is supposedly the liar.

The pattern was extremely clear during the first debate between the
two of them, which was one of the strangest things I have ever heard.
Bush said a long series of things that were utterly false.  He pulled
a trillion dollars out of the air.  A trillion dollars!  He asserted
that he is proposing new spending equal to his tax cuts -- the truth
is more like one quarter to one third.  He asserted that a family
would receive benefits under his plan when they clearly would not.
He issued a bunch of numbers from the Republican Senate staff, all
of them based on dubious assumptions.  And when Gore challenged him
on this stuff, Bush simply asserted that Gore was lying.  He did
this repeatedly.  He issued phony numbers and then accused Gore,
on no evidence, of dealing in phony numbers.  He engaged in fuzzy
math and then accused Gore, on no evidence, of dealing in fuzzy math.
He stated that Gore is spending more money than he is, when the truth
is the reverse by a huge margin.  He's spending that money on a smear
campaign of false attacks on the character of his opponent.  This
disturbing pattern of exaggeration is a disgrace, hardly anybody is
calling him on it, and I'm sad to say that it appears to be working.

There is method in this madness.  If your followers believe that your
opponents are liars -- that everything they say is a lie -- then you
can tell them whatever nonsense you like, and they will automatically
screen out anybody who says anything different.  It's part of the
overall strategy of crushing people's reason so that, for example,
they won't ask whether your numbers really add up, but will instead
assume that anybody who wants to check the numbers must be one of
Them.  Indeed, I think the single most disturbing thing I've ever
heard George W. Bush say was in comments quoted in the very pro-Bush
Daily Telegraph (9/26/00), in the context of a discussion of Bush's
conspicuous lack of brainpower: "We need less planners and thinkers",
he said, and then he referred to "thinkers and planners and plotters
in the nation's capital".  What's disturbing here is the primitive
way in which he is trying to equate "thinkers" with "planners" and
"plotters".  Following the basic method of public relations, he is
trying to create a mental association between thinking and those other
bad things -- "planning" (aka communism) and "plotters" (conspiracy).
In other words, he is insinuating, people who think are communist
conspirators.  But only insinuating, because in the public relations
style he is creating this association in a subrational way that is
fully deniable because no clear, accountable assertion has ever been
made, even though the utterance has no meaning otherwise.

You'll recall that in early September the Republicans broadcast a TV
ad in which the word RATS appeared in very large type for one frame.
It had been part of the word BUREAUCRATS, which had broken into pieces
and scattered across the screen.  The New York Times article on the
subject, while correctly pointing out that a big-time political ad
maker would definitely know what's in every one of the 900 frames of
a 30-second ad, omitted one fact that was reported in the Guardian:
that the same political ad maker had included a much worse subliminal
image in an ad that he made for Jesse Helms in his 1990 campaign
against a black opponent named Harvey Gant.  This would be the famous
"white hands" ad, in which a pair of white hands crumples a letter
that supposedly tells their owner that he has been passed over for a
job because of affirmative action.  "[B]ut for a fraction of a second",
the paper reports, "the letter fades to a picture of Gant and the
hands appear to be crushing his head".  The article quotes Kathleen
Hall Jamieson as saying that these are the only two known examples of
subliminal messages in political ads.

Hearing about that ad reminded me of the climactic scene in Orwell's
"1984".  You will recall that Party member O'Brien, in the culmination
of his campaign to crush Winston's mind, straps a device to his face
that contains some large, starving rats.  He pulls open a door in the
device, and the rats come flying at Winston's face, only to be stopped
by one final door, which he then threatens to open.  The Bush campaign
is higher-tech than that.  They, too, have omnipresent video screens
that broadcast lies all day long, but they have developed their own
Newspeak to such a degree that they think they can crush our reason
with video rats.  In a few weeks we will see whether they are right.]

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