“You can’t read Pravda the way you read the New York Times.” Someone gave me that advice years ago, when I was working at the U.S. State Department. It was at a time when people could still pretend there was some difference between the American news media and the government/Party controlled media in places like the old Soviet Union.
These days there may be a few Americans who are still prey to that delusion. Most of them just woke up from the coma they’ve been in for the last 30 years. People these days don’t trust the news media any more than they believe what people say about themselves on the internet. Media bias, including wholesale fabrication, is now taken for granted.
But the fact that you know you’re reading propaganda doesn’t mean that you know how to read it. It’s not just that nothing is what it seems to be. If that were reliably true, the task wouldn’t be so challenging. It’s that every story, every fact, every impression left by a propaganda report is like an opponent’s move in chess. The question isn’t just “What did he do?” It’s “What is he up to?”
I want to get to an example of what I mean but before I do there's one more mindset I need to discuss.
Many people don’t look for the agenda at work in propaganda because they refuse to believe that the folks responsible for it are “smart enough” consciously to conceive and implement a strategic plan to manipulate public attitudes and perceptions.
Unlike them I have no trouble assuming that the guy on the other side of the board knows what he’s doing. If you bother to look, you can see examples of such strategic manipulation in the history of America’s actions and activities in other countries (post WWII Greece, Iran in the fifties/sixties, and Chile in the eighties, for example). Americans don’t want to admit that it’s happening here because doing so begs an obvious question, to wit, “Do they really think we’re that stupid?”
Yes they do. But the more important question is, “Do we really mean to go on acting like we’re that stupid?”