The right to lie! What would Springsteen say?

It’s bizarre how politicians promote alternative realities, expecting us to buy in. I was listening to a podcast by Ezra Klein addressing reality distortion, which he says is a given in the old Soviet Union but is (surprise, surprise!) now quite the norm in two of the biggest anti-communist countries, the UK and the US.

Klein  takes the view that spin doctors and politicians do not control information by throttling it, but by shaping it. (1989 is the anniversary of the victory of freedom of information over censorship, he reminds us – speaking of the collapse of communism and the Wall.)

Just like Klein, another ‘philosopher’ by the name of Bruce Springsteen (!) made a similar observation, back in 1984. I made me want to revisit that interview of  Springsteen by Rolling Stone magazine.  To the question about the Boss’ response to president Ronald Reagan invoking his name when visiting New Jersey, Springsteen had this to say:

“I think what’s happening now is people want to forget. There was Vietnam, there was Watergate, there was Iran – we were beaten, we were hustled, and then we were humiliated. And I think people got a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is gettin’ manipulated and exploited. And you see the Reagan reelection ads on TV – you know: “It’s morning in America.” And you say, well, it’s not morning in Pittsburgh. It’s not morning above 125th Street in New York. It’s midnight, and, like, there’s a bad moon risin’. And that’s why when Reagan mentioned my name in New Jersey, I felt it was another manipulation, and I had to disassociate myself from the president’s kind words.

In hindsight, the beautifully crafted campaign ad, It’s morning in America seems like the kind of place we want to go back to. Except it was a distorted mirror. I wonder what the boss would say about the present batch of ads and sound bytes.

Abraham, Martin, John, and… John

As the larger than life Arizona senator John McCain is laid to rest yesterday, some things about him stood out. And it’s not because of the eloquent eulogies of his daughter and two former presidents.

The one I remember most is his 2008 response to a question in a town hall meeting when he was running against Barack Obama. I showed this video to my communications class at the community college last week. Not because it happened to be the week of the funeral, but to analyze the ‘Transactional model‘ of communications. The audience, can and will talk back to the speaker, so it’s important to plan for it. Do watch the clip below, and notice how McCain responds instinctively.

One of my students pointed out to the reaction of a lady in the audience on the top left of the screen – a reflection of our reaction too, as a television audience.

McCain spread a culture of decency and integrity as if a counter to our disillusionment with government and those who represent some of its branches.

Recall that 1968 song, Abraham, Martin and John? Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy embodied something that larger than themselves, as John McCain did for our times. One of the much repeated quotes of his was about standing up for “a cause greater than our self interest.”

Cyber-warfare – a new definition is overdue

Used to be that cyber war was considered actions of an adversary to take down a system using the Internet. Like crippling a financial system, hacking into and holding hostage a web site, compromising power and communication grids etc. That definition  is really old now!

As authorities uncover Russian interference – specifically the work of trolls, fake social media accounts, and even advertising piped through Facebook, Twitter and Google – we should understand that cyber warfare is more subtle, and has outgrown the old definitions. It is about disrupting the behaviors, and messing with the minds of citizens. Before we show our irritation with foreign culprits, we should be unhappy with how we citizens are easily manipulated by what is online.

The glue that holds us together appears to be easily dissolved by what passes for ‘information.’ As the Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals, we are experiencing high-tech cracks and wedges to undermine us. They worked because of a critical mass of people who unthinkingly re-tweet and share posts and sponsored content. Content that few care check where the source of the post is.

Consider this sponsored ad (featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer story). It looks so silly, and poorly crafted that you’d think any person with some common sense would not even read it, let alone pass it along to others. Variations of these include chain-letters, and memes that no one knows the origin, but often accompanies a statement like “Could I hear an amen?”

For the record I never respond with an amen, for two reasons. The word is a statement of approval or concurrence reserved for prayer. It’s not the linguistic equivalent to the Like button. Also, someone’s rant does always not require public approval to make it more valid. You can still be a friend whether or not you agree with someone’s pet peeve. And for heaven’s sake (pun intended), don’t Like or re-tweet this post unless you a read it in its entirety.

Cyber war is no longer just about attacking hardware or infrastructure. It’s about unhinging us through the things that pass through the pipes that connect our hardware. It’s not about a denial of service, but about a denial of common sense.

Spin doctors and the ‘Ministry of Truth’ go back a long way

There’s a new way to do spin, and it comes packaged from the Ministry of Truth. (Poor Edward Bernays. The so-called father of spin, must be doing somersaults in his grave.) Modern day spin is much more insidious that doublespeak, or ‘Newspeak.’

We the hoipolloi have a ‘scientific’ way to deal with spin. It involves making air-quotes whenever we use a word or a term generated by the Ministry.

I take on this delicious topic in my May column in LMD Magazine, titled, Alternative facts from the Ministry of Truth

Read it here.

Good riddance to election noise pollution!

When the party next door becomes too noisy, people sometimes call the cops. But there was very little we could do about the ‘Party’ noise machines we’ve been enduring for the past year or more.

Finally we can reclaim some peace, as the two-party cacophony comes to an end today. (I know what you’re thinking: Yeah right!)

If it was true that Trump’s Twitter account had been wrestled away from him, it won’t be long when he gets back on the air. But at least the media might have other matters to report on. Here’s what I’m dying not to hear about:

  • The word ‘surrogates‘ and any reference to people who echo the party line.
  • Pundits. Those folks to ‘weigh in’ on every gesture or turn of phrase.
  • The phrase ‘social media lit up with…” as a preamble to a political story with no substance.
  • Sloppy, Madison Avenue-like phrases such as ‘Draining the Swamp’ and slogans such as ‘Feeling the Bern.’

Not that vacuous campaign slogans are anything new. In 1944, Thomas Dewey’s slogan was (get ready for this) “Dewey or Die.” And there was the 1980’s slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again” which was recycled (or was it ‘plagiarized’?) this season.

It’s settled then: There won’t be an oxymoron in the White House

For all the debate prep, no one could have contained Donald Trump as he hurtled toward the precipice, sliding on the rocks of loose talk. In the end, despite fancy slogans, websites, and stage props, something as basic as good communication skills makes or breaks a leader.

A free, seemingly easy-to-master, tool should be handed to someone of Donald Trump’s personality with a warning: “May cause user to implode.” Just like Twitter, a microphone could also be a dangerous tool. Indeed, many before him have been dispensed into the heap of disgraced leaders and also-rans because of a hot mic, or a video capture, or even a spool of tape.

Another interesting thing about Trump was his penchant for ‘truthful hyperbole’ – a term he used in his book, The Art of the Deal, which, to be fair was ghost-written.

quote

But as is evident now, truthful hyperbole, a classic oxymoron, is the long fuse that led him to where he is, an outcast of the party he represents.

Citizens vote for leaders who articulate their hopes and needs. Thankfully voting for an oxymoron was not an option.

Footnote worth listening to: Nixon’s tape archive recording where he and his staff discuss ”lying to a base.’