LESSONS IN THE PROPAGANDA ART
A couple of Sundays ago, 10/27, while flipping through the radio dial I stumbled upon a rebroadcast of a 10/25 “This American Life” feature on National Public Radio.
The narrative presented by the ostensibly non-partisan producers carried overtones of McCarthyism and blacklists; pariahs and outcasts—a topic to which I’m receptive, for obvious reasons.
They told the tale of one Josh Inglett, former star Wisconsin high school quarterback, who was nominated for a position on the University of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors. The nomination was withdrawn by Governor Scott Walker’s office—apparently because Josh Inglett had signed a recall petition against the governor.
The NPR commentator narrated with the voice of moral seriousness and controlled public outrage. How bad was the offense, to merit a nationwide broadcast on NPR? Josh Inglett, a somewhat privileged young man, might’ve gotten a plum spot. If he had received the position, he’d have been wonderfully fortunate. (Especially considering his age.) But he didn’t get it.
Did Inglett’s signing of the petition justify Scott Walker’s staff looking elsewhere for their candidate? Depends on how you look at it. To me, trying to get someone recalled from his position—kicked out of his job—is as personal as you can get. (Expecting that same man to give you a job is asking much, at least in the real world.)
“This American Life” producer Ben C. Calhoun asks pristine perfection of the Scott Walker staff. It’s the kind of perfection NPR itself pretends to have. The mantle of moral purity which the standard NPR listener wears.
It’s laudable that “This American Life” goes after injustice. They looked long and hard, apparently, to find an example of it—discovering it, coincidentally, in the camp of one of the liberal establishment’s political enemies: the staff of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
I’m sure “This American Life” examined first all the many patronage positions given out by Democratic officeholders, for examples of apparent unfairness—but just couldn’t find any!
So instead: poster child Josh Inglett, former star high school quarterback, positioned to receive, after a lifetime of struggle, a patronage position, at the tender age of 23!—and he didn’t get it. Horrors, to the NPR listener, that life is truly unfair.
The National Public Radio story is in fact a subtle hatchet job. Reminiscent to me of the hatchet jobs done on the Underground Literary Alliance ten years ago.
No, we weren’t coming from the Right in our attacks on the liberal establishment, our exposes of corruption, but we were a threat to the elite liberal image of perfection. We were also Do-It-Yourselfers; crude, independent voices not properly vetted by said establishment. We were aliens, as alien to the Perfect People as Tea partiers are now, and so we had to be destroyed.
Interesting to me, in the NPR story, were the mentions of the Tea party brought into the narrative as a kind of dark, offstage force. The true villains in the piece, according to NPR; pushing for a vendetta against young Mr. Inglett, innocent victim.
Josh Inglett probably is the lamb NPR portrays him to be. Why did Josh sign the recall petition against Scott Walker? For his mother! Josh Inglett signed the petition not out of conviction, but for his schoolteacher mother. Granted, a son’s loyalty is always (usually?) laudable, but I’m not sure someone of such tender age, lacking as yet independent control of his own mind, was quite the individual Wisconsin taxpayers wanted on that Board of Governors.
But, the Tea Party. The NPR story’s subtext. Implied: dangerous. The standard NPR listener reacts in fear and outrage at the very mention of the name, so thorough has been the media’s creation of the stereotype.
This is a standard tactic—one I saw used often against the Underground Literary Alliance. Call it “Flipping the Script.” It’s a useful tool for shutting down dissent. Small-d democratic populists become portrayed as the very thing they’re fighting against. The very purpose and thrust of the Tea Party is a call for decentralized power. Protest against what they see as a too-big authoritarian central government. They’ve been on the receiving end of the authoritarian power, as seen in the revelations of IRS machinations against them.
Though the populists have no power—other than their voices—they become the potential authoritarians in the standard narrative. As in NPR’s narrative. The tactic is Orwellian.
This isn’t Propaganda 101. It’s a 700-level class. For grad students only.
More important than the actual story, and the tactical distortions created by it, is the media’s selection process. Which stories do we see? In a nation of 300 million people, there are hundreds of such stories at any moment to be found. For those who listen only to NPR, an entire carefully-selected distorted world can be created to give the slant NPR wishes to present.
To my knowledge, National Public Radio has never examined corruption and cronyism in the ranks of themselves and their friends. Or in the privileged milieu from which they stem, of well-positioned, well-schooled like-minded writers and commentators.
Such as the established U.S. literary scene, for instance, which, as the ULA once claimed, is utterly stagnant, closed, and corrupt; aggressively intolerant of alternative voices. Either that, or the literary world is utterly wonderful, perfection itself, free of all prejudice—and there just happen to be no contrary voices to be found anywhere.