October 25, 2009
The Slander NetworkBy J.R. Dunn
It's a rare pleasure to see that Going Rogue doing so well ahead of publication. (Even though rescheduling the publishing date delayed my book -- but I forgive you, lass). When it appears, there's little doubt it will go through the roof.
Along with fits from the Olbermanns and Courics of the world, we can look forward to seeing a few myths definitively punctured -- the "I can see Russia" story, the shooting wolves from a helicopter narrative, or alternately, the "she can't shoot a gun" claim. (Really, Levi? After a lifetime of hunting trips with her father? Are you absolutely sure?) Punctured, but not put to rest -- because these stories were not designed to be put to rest
The choice of "designed" is deliberate. Sarah Palin was the victim of the most vicious, global, and organized campaign ever carried out against a modern politician. It might have begun spontaneously, as the standard mud-flinging attendant to any political campaign. (Yeah, I know - liberals don't actually do that, they sit around on chaise lounges wearing togas discussing policy in Socratic dialogue. I'm just being a throwback.) But it soon expanded well beyond the customary level of heated campaign rhetoric to fill every last niche of the media sphere, a process that could not have occurred without manipulation at every last turn.
The anti-Palin campaign was intended to implant myths so complex, so convoluted, and so widespread that they could never be completely countered. The American left has developed the art of slander to a degree never previously achieved. It's one thing they're good at. Not even the most acid-tongued gossips of the Bourbon court at Versailles were quite the match of contemporary left-wing political operatives.
But with the uproar that greeted the emergence of Governor Palin, art may have been transformed into science. What follows is of necessity speculative in nature. But if the developments discussed here do not yet exist, they will, and in either case need to be combated.
The basic hypothesis is simple: that there exists an organized, centrally-controlled network, based on the Internet and related technical systems, entirely devoted to spreading slander and disinformation against individuals -- primarily politicians -- opposed to the progressive program. This system utilizes e-mail, comment threads, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever somebody invented last week. It is staffed and operated by the usual left-wing suspects -- students, eccentrics, outpatients, paranoiacs -- layabouts with plenty of time on their hands. It operates in loose coordination with the legacy media and liberal political operatives, forming the third leg of a national left-wing propaganda machine. It operates sub-rosa and without acknowledgement -- exposure would leech it of much of its power.
Something along these lines has been taken for granted in center-right circles for some time. While little concrete evidence exists, the effects are there. It's like a sniper in the trees. You can't see him, but when people keep falling over, you'd better have a move ready to make. That follows is an attempt to map the tree in which the sniper hides.
Vicious innuendo has been part of the left's toolkit for generations. Long before Saul Alinsky formalized the practice, mud-throwing was a central element of left-wing strategy. Reading some of the attacks written by Marx and Lenin would make your hair stand on end. (Curiously, most of this stuff was aimed, not at the capitalist oppressor, but at lefty comrades, including Marx's brethren in the Socialist International and Lenin's direct competitors, the Mensheviks.)
This kind of thing entered liberalism with its shift leftward in the wake of the New Deal, overwhelming the genteel, mannered tea drinkers that comprised the liberal ascendancy of the period. Liberalism used to be noted for high-class (and high-strung) types such as Walter Lippmann and Lionel Trilling. Those days ended long before Michael Moore picked up his first camera.
The end of polite liberalism can be dated with certainty to 1964. In the previous decade nasty remarks had been thrown at Ike ("the Great Golfer" and so forth), all pretty tame by current standards. This was followed by a strange and still unexplained public hysteria beginning in 1962 involving claims that right-wing armies were drilling in the backwoods ready to sweep into the cities, or that, alternately, the military was under the control of a clique of rogue officers up to some barely describable form of mischief.
The 1964 election marked the culmination of this fever. The GOP candidate was Barry Goldwater, a no-nonsense western conservative, viewed as stalwart, straightforward, and a little dull. Then Goldwater declared his candidacy and was immediately transformed into a fire-breathing right-wing lunatic. JFK had been murdered only months earlier, and no Republican had much of a chance, but the left pulled out all stops anyway. Ralph Ginzburg, a glossy porn merchant (and no relation to poet Allen, though I thought that myself for years), published a claim by "500 psychiatrists" that Goldwater was a paranoid schizophrenic. The charge was a complete fabrication -- Ginzburg may as well have said 5,000 or 5 million -- but it was repeated across the country all the same. After traveling to Germany to meet members of the center-right Christian Democrats, Goldwater, whose father was Jewish, was accused of meeting with Nazis. (A friend of mine, a stolid old-school suburban Republican, was painted as a Nazi by The New York Times for campaigning for Goldwater. An apology? Are you kidding?) About the only thing Goldwater wasn't accused of was hunting wolves from the air.
The effort climaxed with a slander orchestrated by that moral paragon, Bill Moyers, who oversaw the creation of possibly the most infamous campaign commercial of all time, the "little girl" or "daisy" ad (the ad can be found here and is certainly worth checking out). A cute little girl is seen pulling the petals off a flower and chanting to herself. A gruff voice suddenly overrides hers, counting down from 10. As the voice reaches "1", the scene -- child, flowers and all -- is obliterated by a nuclear blast. On the soundtrack, we hear the voice of Democratic candidate Lyndon B. Johnson misreciting a line of poetry from W.H. Auden: "We must love one another, or die." (Actually, coming from LBJ, it sounded more like, "We mus' luv one unadda, er dah.")
Moyers' ad was vicious, inaccurate, and very effective. As the culminating ad in a series (there were three or four others, each just as meretricious, none quite as powerful), it had the impact of a knockout punch. For days afterward, few politically-aware Americans spoke of anything else.
Although many people recall it, few saw the actual ad itself, which was broadcast only in the New York City area. What they remember seeing were the news reports that night, in which all three (and only three, believe it or not) networks replayed the ad in toto. Need we go into reasons? With the Moyers ad, the American news media crossed a line from reportage into open advocacy. Never before had the national media -- at that time undergoing its transformation from the "press" -- worked directly to destroy a candidate. Never again was it to hesitate.
Richard M. Nixon was hated by the left for his role in running down Soviet spy Alger Hiss in the late 40s. After his election in 1968, he governed as a liberal, which earned him no slack whatsoever. At the time the left was involved in one of its periodic civil wars, with the anti-Vietnam war New Left preoccupied with crushing the old Cold War liberals, so Nixon finished his first term untouched. But when he humiliated the far left's handpicked candidate George McGovern in 1972, the newly-empowered Democratic leftists turned on him with a vengeance. Media cooperation was assured. "There's got to be a bloodletting," James Reston of The New York Times is alleged to have said, and the knives flashed with alacrity.
Whatever may be said about the "two-bit burglary" at the center of Watergate, it was not the attempted coup, the subversion of the Constitution, or the universal conspiracy against the Republic that it was portrayed as at the time. Nixon was scarcely involved, in the position of a beleaguered boss coming to the aid of erring employees. Working together, the left and the media succeeded in transforming the peculiar, stiff, but undeniably capable Nixon into something resembling an American Satan. Watergate marked a high point of the Media/Left coalition. Despite their best efforts, the new model failed to have the same impact on future Republican presidents.
It failed utterly with Ronald Reagan, the cowboy, moron, and B-movie actor. Never before had a president been attacked so universally and constantly, and never has any president overcome it so completely. A bewildered left derided him as the "teflon president", unable to grasp what it was that enabled Reagan to surmount even the most concerted media attacks. Reagan had a secret weapon: natural charm. A charm professionally polished and nurtured in Hollywood. Contrasted to Reagan's unfailing suavity and good cheer, reporters and activists ended up looking like a pack of crazed Morlocks. Nor can Reagan's simple competence be overlooked. (Charm and competence explain why Palin is regarded as a female Reagan, and a major reason why she is so loathed by the left -- they cannot degrade either.)
One innovation marked the campaign against Reagan. So desperate were the left to get at him that they targeted his family. Pat Nixon and her daughters were left more or less alone even at the height of the anti-Nixon frenzy. But Nancy Reagan became nearly as much a target as the president himself. One of the few limits acknowledged by the Mafia is a taboo against attacks on a man's family. The American left can't even match the moral standing of professional gangsters.
The campaigns against George W. Bush and Palin are too fresh in the memory to require any repetition. (Nor can we spare any space for such figures as Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.) But we recall them clearly enough: the Supreme Court electoral decision slander, the Air National Guard hoax, Halliburton, the attempt to undermine the Iraq war effort, the torture accusations, in Bush's case. The beauty pageant slurs, the Couric ambush, and the family attacks (particularly against the defenseless Trig) in Palin's.
Liberal hate campaigns are a product of the ideologization of American politics. As liberalism has shifted more to the left, the concept of "the opposition" has altered. Classic American liberalism of the mature period of American politics in the late 19th to mid 20th century held a pragmatic view of competition. By the very nature of things, the opposition was someone you had to live with amid the give and take of the political game. While at one point you might be up, the next week it might be the guy across the aisle, so you treated him civilly as a matter of simple good sense. FDR selecting Wendell Willkie as ambassador without portfolio for Latin America after defeating him in the 1940 election is but one example.
Contemporary leftists, on the other hand, view their opponents as people you send off to the Gulag, unworthy of any respect, deserving of any kind of low blow, no matter how foul. So you accuse Goldwater of insanity, slander Justice Thomas as a sexual monster, casually publish plays, books, and films calling for the assassination of President Bush, and assault the first serious Republican female candidate at her weakest point -- her family. And of course, you scream to high heaven if any form of turnabout occurs in your direction, as in the case of the Obama family, which was declared "off limits" early in the presidential campaign, at the same time that Palin's family was being stretched on the media rack. (Someday, somebody has to do a study of liberalism and hypocrisy. It'll be an awful lengthy volume.)
This style of political loathing has become effectively innate. It has been systemized to such a degree as to become integral. Modern liberalism cannot do without it. An entire structure has been erected on the basis of political hatred, and from that structure a whole new strategy has arisen.
Now, if this strategy were to be expanded to take in use of the Net, we'd expect to see certain things. We'd expect a networked form of attack based on the Internet's viral capabilities. A story would begin at one or two distinct nodes (perhaps a politically connected law firm) and spread through e-mails, thread comments, tweets, and Facebook entries. It's very similar to the activities of the botnets, the illegal networks of zombie computers used to spread spam, malware and viruses, except that here the machines are volunteers. There would be no point in specifically aiming at "target audiences" or "opinion leaders" because the story will reach them one way or another.
That includes the legacy media, which in recent months has begun treating the Net as an unimpeachable source when it's convenient for them. (These are the same people who dismiss bloggers as amateurish, undependable, and unsavory, but we'll overlook that). The story leaps from the Net onto the cable networks, where it receives its baptism as "news", in the process acquiring a patina of respectability. It then jumps to the big networks, and finally, after a considerable delay, to the print media. (We've all experienced the peculiar shock of seeing a respected paper "break" a story as much as a week after it began cycling on the Internet. It's like seeing old gramps decked out in a set of way-cool threads behind the wheel of a 60s muscle car remake. The only proper response is pity and embarrassment.)
After it hits major media, it then dips back into the Net, in supercharged form and on a more widespread scale, being accessed this time around by general readers with no direct interest in the subject. Eventually it ends up in the hands of editorial writers, late-night comics, politicians and their staffers, and even senior government officials (such as my crazy aunt in the White House). The entire media sphere is saturated, in an extremely short period, and with very little in the way of effort. (It might well pay large dividends to actually track such a story from point to point, from its beginnings on the Net all the way down the line. Who can guess what kind of connections would become evident?)
A useful analogy here would be Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, occasionally still carried out by the more twitchy examples of the hacking fraternity, in which a site or organization is jammed with so much traffic that no one can get through. In our case what is denied is the propagation of a political message by filling all possible pathways with a false story. This method of operating has predecessors in the natural world. Think of the "swarming" of bees, barracuda, or piranha. It is also common in military tactics. The steppe tribes utilized a method of surrounding enemy forces and "swarming" them that was brought to perfection by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. In WW II, U-boat "wolf packs" assaulted Allied convoys in much the same way, attacking simultaneously from all directions. In the Pacific, the U.S. Navy developed a tactic called "the big blue blanket" in which hundreds of carrier aircraft would smother the defenses of Japanese-held islands. In all cases, the core method was the same: combining large numbers of discrete, independent units to overwhelm a single defensive system.
The latest example of this method involves Rush Limbaugh and the NFL. Here we can clearly see the strategy at work in detail across every level of the media ecology. A bogus quote is planted in Wiki to serve as the equivalent of a time bomb. The dependable proprietors of this "encyclopedia" (as I guess you'd call it) refuse to remove it even upon direct request. At the right moment, the quote is "discovered" and spreads out across the Net, acquiring a bodyguard of equally meretricious quotations in the process. At last it reaches honest Rick Sanchez of CNN, who, acting as a second stage, boosts it into the purview of the legacy media. From there it spreads worldwide as a "scandal" of universal interest. At no point does anyone think of verifying the quote(s) or contacting the principle. And all this for the sole purpose of torpedoing a private business deal with no direct connection to Rush's radio efforts.
It's this last touch of dementia that truly reveals the left-wing character at work here. What appears to be a minutely-devised plan involving months of preparation and a large number of participants was triggered and carried out not to shut down Rush's talk show, destroy the Excellence in Broadcasting Network, and drive him off the air, but to interfere with a hobby; his involvement in pro football. It's as if the Imperial Japanese Fleet in 1941 accepted all the risk and effort of launching an air armada against Pearl Harbor in order to destroy the base's recreational facilities while leaving various battleships and cruisers intact to come raging after them. I imagine that the Limbaugh fleet will be setting out shortly.
So there we see the number of the beast. Now, I'm willing to entertain the possibility that old JRD is subsiding into paranoia as a direct result of all those neurons lost slugging back shots at CBGB and Max's back in the day. That what appears to be directed and controlled effort is in fact no more than the emergent properties of a still novel and not yet fully understood global communications system. But in that case, I would have to be given a convincing reason why the left would not take advantage of such a clear opportunity when it arises. It's the nature of the Net, and millennial tech in general, that if a niche exists it will be filled sooner or later. If something is possible, somebody will attempt it. It's the nature of the American left to abuse and misuse technology. That being the case, if such a network is not yet in operation, it soon will be.
We'll be dealing with this -- and variations yet unimagined -- for years to come. More planted quotes and stories, more revelations from Levi, more attacks on all levels and of all kinds. So what would a defense look like? The WW II defense against wolfpacks was the convoy, in which large numbers of vessels traveled together to maximize defensive capabilities. The analogy to the current situation is obvious -- that the center-right as a whole needs to pool its capabilities against the new threat. This means, among other things, that nobody named "Frum" chooses to publish attacks on Rush Limbaugh (not to mention Glenn Beck) the same week -- purely by coincidence, you understand -- that the racism hoax was peaking.
It means foregoing careerism to refrain from cutting deals with the enemy. It means not undermining your own side in hopes of boosting your faction or candidate. Granted that all this may be too much to ask. In that case, we're going to see somebody badly hurt, and not necessarily the obvious figure. (Lady Nimrod, after all, seems to have a solid understanding of the new technology -- recall what her single "death panel" posting did to O's health-care effort.) There are elements among the center right who believe, for reasons not easy to understand, that they possess some kind of immunity to left-wing activity. Such beliefs are likely to be misplaced. Consider what the slander network would do to Mitt Romney.
Further action will likely be necessary. To rework an ancient saying, a defense is only as good as the offense it supports. The various elements of the network (or networks) need to be made to pay a price for their participation. Legal sanctions, which may well result from the Limbaugh attack, offer one possibility. But other methods exist as well. Deterrence will be a key factor in controlling this type of abuse. The Wiki staffs and Rick Sanchezes of the world must be encouraged to think twice next time. To do this effectively will require more knowledge of the network -- its operations, its extent, and its composition.
That knowledge will come. The left is facing a historic debacle in 2010 as their Obamoid dreamworld continues to deteriorate. It won't get any better for them. They're bound to pull out all stops in an effort to save as much of a plurality in Congress as possible. If I'm correct, clear and obvious evidence of the defamation network will emerge at that time. Let's not be taken by surprise.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of Ameircan Thinker.