14 August 2008
Why do so many people fall for Georgian propaganda?
Why are western new media falling for the Georgian propaganda lines? Just about everything that the Georgians have said so far has turned out to be a lie, so the question is apt given those circumstances.
Exiled Online, has argued the case that Georgia is just better at modern agitprop than their Russian adversaries. The website makes the point that Georgia is as nasty as anywhere else in that region, but it has to be admitted that above the clan-living peasant mass there is a ruling elite that understands the demands of the western media and how to play to them.
We live in a world of 24-hour news, but that does not mean that the audience for that type of programming has become more discerning. What has happened is that with a plethora of channels the audience's attention span has dwindled almost to the level of a lobotomised goldfish. He who gets in the best sound byte, delivered in English, is the one that gets remembered. If the sound bytes can be arranged to flow thick and fast then after a while people forget that yesterday's byte was a load of tosh because the news cycle has moved on.
As Exiled Online reports, almost within minutes of Georgia's act of aggression starting last Thursday night, her president was working the 'phones to every influential American that he could think of, to try and convince them that his country was the victim in all of that. Soon afterwards he started working CNN and the BBC, always with the same mantra: "Georgia is the victim, Russia is the aggressor, please help us". Over and over again that line was repeated throughout Friday.
By Saturday it was obvious that Tshinkvali might just have been wrecked thanks to Georgia's attacks, so the line switched to civilian casualties of Russian air raids, then to non-existent attacks on Georgia's oil pipeline. To anyone with a level of intelligence slightly above that of the village idiot, this last idea was risible. If the Russians had attacked the pipeline they would have destroyed it. The pipeline was undamaged, ergo it had never been attacked.
These lies did not become redundant because they were nailed: they just ceased to have any utility because the Georgians had gone on to claim another tissue of lies that were being carefully reported in the 24-hour western media.
To be fair to that media, they need stories and the Georgians were only to happy to feed stories to them. The Russians for their part came over as a bit stodgy, and it took time for the Russian version of events to come out.
However, that does not fully explain the story of Georgia's propaganda success. There are two other factors which Exiled Online did not consider, but which we can look at now.
The first is that people who work for the media have a vested interest in the continuation of the economic system that gives them their goodies. CNN may criticise individual politicians, but it does not go after the system that gives all of them such a nice life. Russia may be a post Communist state, but it is not a globalising post Communist state. In some small way Russia is still seen by opinion formers as a threat, precisely for that reason.
Secondly, Mikhail Saakashvili may come over to people like me as a rancid little pretty boy, but he plays rather well with western media types, many of whom are rancid little pretty boys themselves. He knows how to speak the metrosexual dialect - as a Georgian thug, of course, he is just mouthing the words - but you don't expect a genuine metrosexual to get that, do you? So they give him the benefit of the doubt, because after all, he is fighting for their values, so he says.
Luckily for the rest of us this war is now over, but we need to remember that it was the tactic that Bush and Blair used to gull the USA and the UK into the war against Iraq. It worked then and the Georgians did their level best to ensure that it worked for them.