How propaganda poisons the mind – and our discourse

Glenn Greenwald writes:

Last week, on January 3, The Guardian published a scathing Op-Ed by James Richardson blaming WikiLeaks for endangering the life of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the democratic opposition in Zimbabwe. Richardson — a GOP operative, contributor to, and a for-hire corporate spokesman — pointed to a cable published by WikiLeaks in which American diplomats revealed that Tsvangirai, while publicly opposing American sanctions on his country, had privately urged their continuation as a means of weakening the Mugabe regime: an act likely to be deemed to be treasonous in that country, for obvious reasons. By publishing this cable, “WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder,” Richardson wrote. He added: “WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.”

This accusation against WikiLeaks was repeated far and wide. In The Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick — the long-time assistant of The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz — wrote under this headline: “Julian Assange’s reckless behavior could cost Zimbabwe’s leading democrat his life.” Kirchick explained that “the crusading ‘anti-secrecy’ website released a diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Harare” which exposed Tsvangirai’s support for sanctions. As “a result of the WikiLeaks revelations,” Kirchick wrote, the reform leader would likely be charged with treason, and “Mr. Tsvangirai will have someone additional to blame: Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.” The Atlantic‘s Chris Albon, in his piece entitled “How WikiLeaks Just Set Back Democracy in Zimbabwe,” echoed the same accusation, claiming “WikiLeaks released [this cable] to the world” and that Assange has thus “provided a tyrant with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy.” Numerous other outlets predictably mimicked these claims.

There was just one small problem with all of this: it was totally false. It wasn’t WikiLeaks which chose that cable to be placed into the public domain, nor was it WikiLeaks which first published it. It was The Guardian that did that. [Continue reading…]

As someone who jumped to the same false conclusion, I stand corrected and appreciate Greenwald’s tenacity in so closely tracking and analyzing this hugely important story.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “How propaganda poisons the mind – and our discourse

  1. Norman

    It’s good to see this expose of falsehoods that have followed Wikileak’s Mr Assange over some of the stories written. I also see a problem with the timing of Mia Culpa’s here., along with who did & who didn’t. More of the following the Governments rhetoric seems to have most blogger’s interests. I suppose better late than never, but then, it begs the question of where is the investigatory acumen today? Too many stories are written without fact checks of any sort, just to instantly get the story in print. True, we live in a fast paced society, but these stories are not erased after the 15 second/minute,fame is up, but linger seemingly forever. I would venture to say that none of this will matter soon, as the internet gets shifted, “O” gets his back doors, this and every other blog will become relic’s of the past. The only saving grace will be when the “Phoenix rises from the ashes” of the once great U.S.A.

  2. Christopher Hoare

    It is clear that lies are never adequately refuted in modern society because the persons they are directed at have the mind spans of maggots. To publish a lie is to enshrine it forever, despite valiant attempts to have them corrected. For a government spokesman to lie is no more than business as usual.

    The transgressors are those most intent on using their power to ensure this situation prevails — so the path to freedom and truth lies in attacking the mechanisms they use to do so. Newspapers must be required to have a front page column where their errors are proclaimed. The electronic media should be fined heavily for every false statement made — no face saving ‘retraction’ for these outfits that are a travesty of journalism. Government spokesmen should be used up by their lies — three strikes etc — and the very revolving door will proclaim the standards of the administration.

  3. rick

    (I second Christopher Hoare’s proposal that Government spokesmen get three strikes, then they’re out!)

    Once again, I’ll make some points that do not map neatly into the categories preferred by the opposing ideological herd mentalities — for which I’ll probably get skewered …

    Greenwald fucked up — twice — in his article.
    I hate it when his outrage and haste undermines the case he’s trying to make.

    Is there a “Rush to Judgement” against Wikileaks, partly fueled by *FALSE* accusations — e.g, that “Wikileaks indiscriminately published 250,000 secret cables”?


    Do many mainstream interests in media and government support that lynchmob mentality to demonize Assange, demonize Wikileaks — and demonize the very idea that leaking (by anyone other than, “anonymous highly-placed administration officials”) could have any net positive effect?


    Do fallible human beings neglect to fact-check, and therefore
    repeat false information — yet without intending to knowingly spread lies?


    Did “the monolithic U.S. government” *initiate* this particular
    Wiki-Zimbabwe witch-hunt? Maybe, but Greenwald offers zero evidence.
    That both weakens the core of his case, and diverts attention from what should be the central issues.

    Instead, Greenwald — himself — *FALSELY* accuses Wikileaks,
    using *EXACTLY* the phrase that he condemns his opponents for using!
    Here’s the quote:

    “And leave to the side the fact that many of the documents
    released by WikiLeaks are rather banal and uninformative … ”

    OOPS. Wikileaks did not greenlight the release of banal documents.
    Wikileaks outsourced that function to its MSM partners.
    Those editorial selection decisions were made by The Guardian, El Pais, NYT, etc.

    Or, to let Greenwald hang himself on his own Double Standard:
    “There was [is] just one small problem with all of this:
    it was [is] totally false. It wasn’t WikiLeaks which chose
    that cable to be placed into the public domain … ”

    Sigh. Information Ethics standards are nice.
    Especially if they apply equally to everybody.

    Greenwald also lets his (justifiable) contempt for Richardson
    (the PR flack who wrote the Jan. 3 Guardian Op-Ed)
    lure him into falsely accusing Richardson of *initiating*
    this Wiki-Zimbabwe witch-hunt. Greenwald describes
    Richardson’s hatchet-job, then proceeds to claim that many others
    (e.g, Christopher Albon), “echoed the same accusation”:

    “This accusation against WikiLeaks was repeated far and wide.”

    OOPS. Albon published Dec. 28, whereas the PR flack published
    on Jan. 3. That’s not an “echo” or a “repeat”.

    And it tends to undermine the Vast Government Conspiracy theory.
    Instead, our government (or whoever hired Richardson) — given
    the gap between the Dec. 8 publication of a cable the U.S. *already*knew*
    had leaked, and the Jan. 3 Richardson hatchet job — looks like
    a latecomer piling-on to a “Demonize Assange” opportunity,
    rather than a crafty designer of strategic Info-War operations.

    To paraphrase Richardson, perhaps Greenwald ought to consider
    leavingInfo-War to those who understand it … and focus on
    what he does best, namely, documenting the Obama Administration’s
    domestic War on Civil Liberties.

    BTW, I *do* try to fact-check. Before writing my own Dec. 29 Comment at: ,
    I spent an hour tracking down the *initial* publication of the
    Zimbabwe cable. Yes, it was greenlighted by the Guardian.
    (Whether Wikileaks then posted that cable a few minutes before —
    or a few minutes after — the Guardian posted that cable, is irrelevant.)

    My Comment about Wikileaks’ formal editorial policy was based on
    accurate information — that Assange had created a situation where
    a decision by the Guardian to publish a cable.
    Hence the burden of responsibility — SHARED.
    And hence, my crediting Assange for learning to take advice from others.

    If you’re not yet overdosed on nuanced analysis, you might like:

  4. BillVZ

    Beltway propagandists and elites

    I usually begin the days “surfing” with Glenn Greenwald. I have followed and appreciated his writing and comments for years. I wonder if there are others who marvel at not only the content of his posts but the energy level it must take to come up with such appropriate posts day after day?
    Today Glenn,in his post,took to task The Brookings Institute and one of it elite resident writers,the one and only, face of “American exceptionalism”, Benjamin Wittes in particular- for his stance on “how wonderful President Obama was by not going to do violence to the two-century-old tradition in American life of incoming presidents by not prosecuting outgoing ones”.
    Glenn’s article was pretty much Glenn but when Wittes in his respons states that “I define the universe of people with whom I feel privileged to argue exceptionally broadly I count that Greenwald is not part of the same conversation as I am” one gets the ‘drift’ where this fellow is coming from and that it is hardly surprising that he would not even consider responding to such an alien to his intellectual universe.
    Hey, just a bit of ‘mind sparing’ between two antagonists-perhaps. But Wittes reponse along with this parting invitation to Greenwald’s readers to “stick around; you might learn something. We have no purity tests here–just a preference for civility and decency”- gives all of us an opportunity to appreciate such a world view in our lives.
    Thanks Glenn.

Comments are closed.