“War in Europe and the rise of raw propaganda.”
Ukraine and the Anglosphere, past and present.
We once again welcome John Pilger to our pages. In the following commentary, the Australian–British journalist and filmmaker considers recent developments in the sharpening Ukraine crisis and brings “historical memory” to bear upon them. Moscow’s recent proposals, as advanced in draft treaties sent to Washington and NATO, he writes, “amount to a comprehensive draft of a peace plan for all of postwar Europe and ought to be welcomed in the West.”
—— P. L.
By John Pilger
19 FEBRAURY—Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy in a 1971 interview that “the successor to politics will be propaganda” is now our reality. Raw propaganda is now the rule in Western democracies, especially the U.S. and Britain.
On matters of war and peace, ministerial deceit is reported as news. Inconvenient facts are censored, demons are nurtured. The model is corporate spin—the currency of the age. “The medium is the message,” McLuhan famously declared in 1964, The lie is the message now.
But is this new? It is more than a century since Edward Bernays, the father of spin, invented “public relations” as a cover for war propaganda. What is new is the virtual elimination of dissent in the mainstream.
The great editor David Bowman, author of The Captive Press, called this “a defenestration of all who refuse to follow a line and to swallow the unpalatable and are brave.” He was referring to independent journalists and whistle blowers, the honest mavericks to whom media organisations once gave space, often with pride. That space has been abolished.
The war hysteria that has rolled in like a tidal wave in recent weeks and months is the most striking example. Known by its jargon, “shaping the narrative,” much of it, if not most of it, is pure propaganda.
The Russians are coming. Russia is worse than bad. Putin is evil, “a Nazi like Hitler,” salivates Labour MP Chris Bryant. Ukraine is about to be invaded by Russia—tonight, this week, next week. The sources for this “information” include Ned Price, an ex–C.I.A. propagandist who now speaks for the U.S. State Department and who offers no evidence of his claims about Russian actions because “it comes from the U.S. government.”
The no-evidence rule also applies in London. The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, who spent £500,000 of public money flying to Australia in a private plane to warn the Canberra government that Russia and China were both about to pounce, offered no evidence to support this assertion. Antipodean heads nodded; the “narrative” is unchallenged there. One rare exception, Paul Keating, the former prime minister, called Truss’s warmongering “demented.”
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