Spin

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Astroturfing the Spinternet

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Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Propaganda.com
by Evgeny Morozov
The New York Times Op Ed
March 29, 2009

censorship-200This year’s report on “enemies of the Internet” prepared by Reporters Without Borders, the international press advocacy group, paints a very gloomy picture for the freedom of expression on the Web. It finds that many governments have stepped up their attacks on the Internet, harassing bloggers and making it harder to express dissenting opinions online.

These are very disturbing trends. But identifying “Internet enemies” only on the basis of censorship and intimidation, as Reporters Without Borders has done, obfuscates the fact that these are only two components of a more comprehensive and multi-pronged approach that authoritarian governments have developed to diffuse the subversive potential of online communications.

Many of these governments have honed their Internet strategies beyond censorship and are employing more subtle (and harder to detect) ways of controlling dissent, often by planting their own messages on the Web and presenting them as independent opinion.

Their actions are often informed by the art of online “astroturfing,” a technique also popular with modern corporations and PR firms. While companies use it to engineer buzz around products and events, governments are using it to create the appearance of broad popular support for their ideology.

Their ultimate ambition may be to transform the Internet into a “spinternet,” the vast and mostly anonymous areas of cyberspace under indirect government jurisdiction. The spinternet strategy could be more effective than censorship — while there are a plenty of ways to access blocked Web sites, we do not yet have the means to distinguish spin from independent comment. (more…)

Mythology in the Making: Clean Coal

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Clean Coal for Christmas
by Sheldon Rampton
Center for Media and Democracy / PRWatch.org
December 11, 2008

Viral emails have become a pleasant staple of the holiday season. A couple of weeks ago, I sent one myself to a few friends and family — an “Elf Yourself” video featuring me with my wife and one of our cats. (You can find it on my personal website if you’re interested.) “Elf Yourself” includes an understated advertising message for its sponsor, OfficeMax, but the dancing elves are kind of cute, and I figured my loved ones are strong enough to handle an occasional bit of commercialism.

It’s a different story, though, with the “Clean coal carolers” video shown here that was just released by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a front group for the coal industry. This latest PR ploy features animated lumps of coal singing Christmas carols with the wording changed to deliver pro-coal propaganda.

The “Clean coal carolers” video appears on the ACCCE website, which lets you adorn each lump of coal with a festive holiday cap or scarf, and then have them sing a song of your choosing, from options that include “Clean Coal Night,” “Abundant, Affordable,” “O’ Technology” and “Deck the Halls.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics to “Frosty the Coalman”: (more…)

2008 Falsies Awards from PRWatch.org

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The 2008 Falsies Awards: In Memory of the First Casualty
by Diane Farsetta
Center for Media and Democracy / PRWatch.org
December 10, 2008

There’s nothing quite like a hotly contested election. The candidates have their devoted supporters and angry detractors. Then there are vigorous debates over the issues, while some people question the integrity of the entire process.

We speak, of course, of the Falsies Awards.

This year marks the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD’s) fifth annual Falsies Awards. The Falsies are our attempt to shine an unflattering light on those responsible for polluting the information environment over the past year. We’re happy to report that more people — nearly 1,450 — voted in this year’s Falsies survey than ever before! We’re also bestowing special recognition on one of this year’s “winners.”

Falsies recipients can collect their prizes — a pair of Groucho Marx glasses, our two cents and a chance to atone for their spinning ways by making a detailed public apology — by visiting CMD’s office in Madison, Wisconsin. This year’s Gold and Silver Falsies go to masters of war deception, while the Bronze Falsie recognizes a massive greenwash campaign. The first-ever Lifetime Achievement Falsie goes to a serial corporate front man, while a determined (if at times laughable) attempt at nation re-branding wins dishonorable mention. Then there are the Readers’ Choice Falsies and Win Against Spin Awards, nominated by our survey participants.

That’s a lot to cover, so without further ado, the winners of the 2008 Falsies Awards are…

Grassroots Anti-Obama Fear Campaign Launches

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Grassfire’s Blitzkrieg of Fear Aimed at President-Elect Obama
Center for Media and Democracy / PRWatch.org
November 19, 2008

Source: Buzzflash website, November 19, 2008

Analyst Meg White examines the “blitzkrieg of fear mongering and misinformation” being whipped up against President-elect Barack Obama. “One phalanx in the fight belongs to Grassfire.org. … Grassfire sent out an e-mail designed to scare people into joining its ‘army that is ready to take on Obama’s agenda.’

…The e-mail lists nine ‘threats to our liberties’ presented by the incoming administration. The common thread through all of these threats is alarmism. … Grassfire is anything but grassroots. The 501(c)4 is listed as a front group on the (SourceWatch) site, and SourceWatch notes that public relations for Grassfire are handled by Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, whose president, Craig Shirley, was part of the team that created the infamous Willie Horton ad. Shirley and Banister represent like-minded clients such as Ann Coulter, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, and the National Rifle Association. Grassfire is one of many groups amassing armies to fight everything Obama tries to do, no matter where it falls on the political spectrum.”

Performance Art Takes a Hit

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Michael Stone guilty of plot to murder Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness
by David Sharrock, Ireland Correspondent
The Times
November 15, 2008

Michael Stone, who was found guilty of attempted murder, said that his actions were “performance art”

Michael Stone, a loyalist terrorist, was found guilty yesterday of attempting to murder Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in an armed attack on the Stormont parliament in Belfast.

Stone, 53, a former member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), was convicted at Belfast Crown Court over the incident in November, 2006, when he entered the building, while the Assembly was in session, armed with explosives and other weapons. He had claimed that his action was “performance art”. (more…)

Eisenstadt Hoax Analysis Continues: A Fake Fake Hoax?

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The Eisenstadt Hoax: A Real-life Example of a “Fake Fake”
by Sheldon Rampton
Center for Media and Democracy, PRWatch.org
November 14, 2008

The hoax in this case is Eisenstadt’s claim that he was the source for Carl Cameron’s report on Fox News. Cameron never spoke to Eisenstadt and did not use Eisenstadt as the basis for his reporting.

Topics:
There is a minor controversy bouncing around right now on the internet, and I’d like to do what I can to set the story straight. The controversy involves two incidents:

1. The day after the U.S. presidential election, Fox News reporter Carl Cameron gave an interview with Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly. During the interview, Cameron said that McCain’s advisors had told him about their unhappiness with Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate. Citing anonymous sources within the McCain campaign, Cameron recited a litany of complaints, including their claim that Palin was so ignorant she didn’t know Africa was a continent.

2. A blogger who calls himself “Martin Eisenstadt” stated a few days ago that he was the anonymous source for Cameron’s story. Earlier today, however, the New York Times reported that “Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes. And the claim of credit for the Africa anecdote is just the latest ruse by Eisenstadt, who turns out to be a very elaborate hoax that has been going on for months.” (more…)

Product Placement Becomes Product Subterfuge

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Marketing Through the Looking Glass
Center for Media and Democracy, PRWatch.com
November 3, 2008

Source: Christian Science Monitor

“‘Brand integration’ and ‘immersive’ commercial environments” are becoming more commonplace, as the range of media formats and platforms widens and viewers can increasingly avoid commercials, reports Gloria Goodale. This “blurring of story and selling” goes beyond traditional product placement. For example, actors in the MySpace web video series “Roommates,” which is sponsored by Ford and a contact lens company, use “their characters’ online profiles to chat with fans and dish out information about their clothing and other products.” Marketing professor David Howard says the trend creates “more potential for manipulation.” In one instance, amateur-seeming web videos “depicting cellphone signals powerful enough to pop corn kernels … ignited a flurry of news coverage about the topic of possible brain damage.” But the videos were “subtle” ads for wireless headsets. Another online video, of a girl “leaping to her feet to make a spectacular catch at a minor-league baseball game” and then returning to her seat, next to a bottle of Gatorade, “easily passed as an actual event.” Instead, it was a Gatorade ad, which played on television (identified as an ad) after the online version had generated enough “buzz.” Global spending on all types of product placement is expected to nearly double, “from $3 billion in 2006 to $5.6 billion by 2010.”

Dumming Down Conservative Party Politics

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The Perils of ‘Populist Chic’
By Mark Lilla
The Wall Street Journal
November 8, 2008

What the rise of Sarah Palin and populism means for the conservative intellectual tradition.

Finita la commedia. Many things ended on Tuesday evening when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, and depending on how you voted you are either celebrating or mourning this weekend. But no matter what our political affiliations, we should all — Republicans and Democrats alike — be toasting the return of Governor Sarah Palin to Juneau, Alaska.

The Palin farce is already the stuff of legend. For a generation at least it is sure to keep presidential historians and late-night comedians in gainful employment, which is no small thing. But it would be a pity if laughter drowned out serious reflection about this bizarre episode. As Jane Mayer reported recently in the New Yorker (“The Insiders,” Oct. 27, 2008), John McCain’s choice was not a fluke, or a senior moment, or an act of desperation. It was the result of a long campaign by influential conservative intellectuals to find a young, populist leader to whom they might hitch their wagons in the future.

And not just any intellectuals. It was the editors of National Review and the Weekly Standard, magazines that present themselves as heirs to the sophisticated conservatism of William F. Buckley and the bookish seriousness of the New York neoconservatives. After the campaign for Sarah Palin, those intellectual traditions may now be pronounced officially dead. (more…)

Before the Fox Leaves the Hen House…

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Spin of the Day, from The Center for Media and Democracy:


Bush Pushing Anti-Consumer, Anti-Environment “Midnight Regulations”
PR Watch
November 3, 2008

Source: Denver Post, October 31, 2008

In the final months of his administration, George W. Bush is working to enact a flurry of new federal regulations that will weaken rules protecting consumers and the environment. The so-called “midnight regulations” aim to relax standards that protect drinking water, loosen controls on global warming pollutants, remove obstacles to ocean fishing and ease restrictions on mountaintop coal mining activities. The new regulations would be difficult to undo, since the law mandates lengthy periods for re-drafting, re-analysis and public comment. Such activity by an outgoing president is not unusual, nor is the number of regulations being considered. But Matthew Madia of OMB Watch, a group formed to “lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the White House’s Office of Management and Budget,” called Bush’s deluge of rules “a last-minute assault on the public … happening on multiple fronts.”

photo: Whistleblowersblog.org

Deconstructing McCain: A Must-Read for All Voting Republicans

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Make-Believe Maverick
by Tim Dickinson
Rollingstone, Issue 1063
Oct 16, 2008

A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty

[Also watch this video by Tim Dickinson: Five Myths About John McCain]

At Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation’s capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It’s the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.

There’s a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a “confession” to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn’t survive the mistreatment. But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service’s highest distinctions. McCain would later hail him as “one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met.”

Read the rest of the article at Rollingstone.com or (more…)

Counter Spin: Unions Tackle Obama Race Issue Head On

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From Truthout.org:

Part 1:
Top AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka takes on the underlying racism that has been used to drive otherwise natural Democratic voters away from Senator Barack Obama.


Part 2:
Frank Talk of Obama and Race in Virginia
by Peter Wallsten
The Los Angeles Times
October 5, 2008

As Obama supporters push to win the dead-even battleground state, they are talking directly about race, betting that the best way to put neighbors at ease is to open up.

Whitewood, Virginia – The isolated towns of Virginia’s Appalachian coal region are home to strong labor unions and Democratic political machines that date back generations. Yet voters here who eagerly pushed Democrats into the Senate and the governor’s office are resisting Barack Obama.

Some Americans say Obama’s race and uncommon background make them uncomfortable – here those people include Democratic precinct chairmen and get-out-the-vote workers. Many Americans receive e-mails falsely calling Obama a Muslim – here a local newspaper columnist has joked in print that Obama would have the White House painted black and would put Islamic symbols on the U.S. flag. (more…)

Lee Atwater: Godfather of the Modern Negative Political Campaign.

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Screening September 26 through November 2, 2008 in independent cinemas and film festivals around the country. Check here for more info.

The Washington Times #1 Can’t Miss Pick!

Produced and Directed by Stefan Forbes
Produced by Noland Walker

Featuring Ed Rollins, Michael Dukakis, Tucker Eskew, Howard Fineman, Mary Matalin, Sam Donaldson and others

“Can you understand American politics if you don’t understand
Lee Atwater? I believe not.” – Tucker Eskew, Senior McCain/Palin Advisor

Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story is a comprehensive look at Lee Atwater, the blues-playing rogue whose rambunctious rise from the South to Chairman of the GOP made him a household name. He mentored Karl Rove and George W. Bush and played a crucial role in the elections of Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He wrote the Republican Party’s winning playbook which the McCain campaign is currently using. (more…)

Campaign Spin: Push Polls Disguised as Market Research

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Reach Out and Smear Someone
Politico.com via PRWatch.org
September 16, 2008

The Republican Jewish Coalition says it hired the political polling firm Central Research to “understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters.” But the poll questions upset many of the hundreds of Jewish voters in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey who received the calls.

Some say it was a push poll, designed to spread negative information and disinformation. Others say the calls, with more than 80 questions, were too long to be push polls; instead, they may be testing messages for future attack ads. One question the pollsters asked is whether it would affect the respondent’s vote if she or he knew that Hamas’ leader had “expressed support for Obama.” The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has endorsed John McCain for President, also helped launch the pro-war lobby group Freedom’s Watch. In the 2000 primary campaign, the Bush team targeted McCain with a push poll in South Carolina that claimed McCain had fathered an illegitimate black baby.

Read the whole article here at Politico.com.

photo: DataMikado.ning.com

The Weekly Spin on the Center for Consumer Freedom

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Rick Berman Gets Fat off the Obesity Industry
The Weekly Spin / prwatch.com
September 23, 2008

Kevin Anderson, blog editor for the UK Guardian, was bemused by an advertisement posted in the Washington DC subway. “This ad of a man’s beer belly stuffed with bills railing away against trial lawyers probably makes little sense to the average American.

Figuring out who is behind ads like this is even more interesting. The ad highlights an innocuous sounding website www.ConsumerFreedom.com (because who would be against consumer freedom?). What is this group? SourceWatch gives the history and current campaigns of the Center for Consumer Freedom. They originally started to fight against smoking restrictions in restaurants backed with money from tobacco giant Philip Morris. They have since expanded into other areas including anti-anti-obesity.

Hard-hitting news funny man Stephen Colbert gets to the bottom of the story in this interview of Rick Berman, the PR man behind the Center for Consumer Freedom.”

Keith Olbermann on the Anniversary of 9/11

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Special Commentary from Countdown with Keith Olbermann about the politicization of 9/11 by the Republican Party, MSNBC, September 10, 2008: