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  • Writer's pictureLuis Rueda

Propaganda and Manipulation - You Are Being Had

The above article sparked my interest. You can read it for yourself, and maybe you should, but for now, I will summarize it for you. Fox News ran a story about inflation and the resulting empty shelves in American stores. The story included a photograph of President Biden superimposed over another photograph showing said empty shelves in America. It turned out that the photograph was 11 years old and was actually a photograph of empty Japanese shelves resulting from panic buying after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

I'm not picking on Fox News, it's just that while I was scrolling through my newsfeed, the above article popped up and sparked my interest. It is fairly common for images to be used incorrectly as part of an effort to leave a desired impact on the audience. An image has more power, makes a greater impact than words over time. Who can forget the image of the Vietnamese girl running down the road, her clothes burned off after a U.S. napalm strike? But can you remember the story? And the Afghan girl with the striking blue eyes? What was her story? Images leave a lasting impression that is hard to eliminate. That is why Fox News did what it did.

As I noted, everyone does it. Major news outlets do it, advertisers do it, even America as a nation does it. But what makes the Fox News action different is that it blatantly posted a false image in an effort to sway viewers toward a particular political view. When media outlets try to stir your emotions with an image, that image is usually real and associated with the story. That was not what Fox News was doing. They clearly and knowingly posted a false image, what we used to call lying. They have people who check facts and images in stories, they have to because of copyright issues. So they more than likely knew the photo was not of an American grocery store. And this is not the first time Fox News has used a misleading image. This was not a mistake, it was intentional. And now, Fox News viewers will carry that image with them, regardless of the facts.

Today, we are faced with a constant bombardment of "information" that is first and foremost designed to influence us rather than inform. The main purpose is to manipulate us into buying something, needing something, getting us to think in a certain way, generating fear, gain our support. You see this most obviously from politicians whose level of outright lying has reached new heights. But it is used at all levels. Take China as an example.

The terms we use alone show clear intent to manipulate. We say that China is a threat. That implies that China's goal is to somehow endanger the United States in a direct manner, destroy us and our way of life. I view China as a competitor and I doubt many China experts believe China intends on destroying the U.S. China is mostly concerned with building its power and influence and becoming a global superpower. The use of the word “threat” is designed to frighten us and obtain support for a variety of policies, especially the ever-growing purchase of expensive weapons systems that will ensure our survival. This characterization of China as a threat is an effort to prevent us from questioning whether our military spending is actually making us safer and whether we are purchasing the right equipment. Military contractors want you to be scared enough that you will unquestioningly support the purchase of their weapons, thus making them richer, their primary goal.

Take the recent discussion concerning China's production of amphibious assault ships. The various media outlets specializing in military issues call them small aircraft carriers and tout the new threat they pose. China only has two of these vessels and is building a third. They are designed to support the landing of amphibious troops and are extremely useful in power projection. The reality, however, is that these ships are not aircraft carriers. China does not have the aircraft that can take off from these ships. Maybe in the future, but not now. We have nine of these ships, eventually rising to 11. And we have the aircraft that can take off and land on these ships. We are far ahead, but those involved want you to be afraid of the China threat so that the purchase of more amphibious assault ships is not questioned. I believe in a strong defense, and I believe we need to be able to counter China's growing military expansion, but I also believe that we should not be making defense decisions based on fear or the need to increase profits for defense contractors and everyone who has investments tied to those contractors (House and Senate).

These are just some examples of how information is used to manipulate and influence us into actions that benefit the few rather than the nation as a whole. What about outside forces? Take a look at this 1984 interview of a KGB officer that I found on TikTok. It is fascinating to listen to his explanation of then-Soviet active measures designed to sow doubt and uncertainty in the U.S. Sounds eerily familiar.

I am not an academic expert on propaganda and influence operations. There are many people out there who have studied the subject, written books and papers on it, and go on news shows to discuss it. What I am, or was, is a practitioner of the art. For a large part of my career at the CIA, I was involved in numerous covert action programs which involved propaganda, misinformation, and manipulation. I see it all the time in this country. We are beset by friend and foe trying to influence us for their benefit, not ours. They will try to divide us for their own political, personal, or security gains. Our security, our well-being is secondary to these goals, if at all.

We need to filter the information we are receiving. Find sources of information that are neutral and generally reliable. Stop watching propaganda outlets. Question everything in a rational and logical way. If it sounds outlandish and ridiculous, then it is. Use critical thinking to analyze the information you are receiving. Always ask, "what's in it for them?" Challenge your own views, question your biases and preconceived ideas. Watch and read things that go against what you believe. Be your own person, don't let them win.

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