Thursday, April 12, 2007

Commentary - Disinfo, rumor and grey propaganda

Two recent news stories highlight the care that must be taken when reporting or blogging current events. The news items in question are the story told by Ford Motor Company CEO Allen Mulally about preventing the President from accidentally blowing himself up with a new hydrogen fueled vehicle during a photo op; and the story which connected Coptix and with the growing scandal over fired US Attorneys based on political grounds. In both cases the information that was being reported were incorrect. The Ford CEO story involved a mis-reporting by the press as Mulally attempted to make a joke which didn't exactly get told correctly. The Coptix story was actually a hoax created by employees of Coptix complete with a Photoshopped picture of Karl Rove.

Rumors, lies, propaganda and red herrings are abound in the world of political maneuvering, especially with the current White House staff. I don't believe there has been a more manipulative and smoke and mirrors driven Presidency in my lifetime. Chief of Staff Karl Rove has a long and legendary history of creating false stories and using lies as a tool dating back as far as 1970. Identifying the lies is not easy, especially for the regular blogger or average CT enthusiast. For the casual CT enthusiast the challenge is even greater. Faced with a master political manipulator like Karl Rove we all have our jobs cut out for us, conspiratorial centric or not.

There are 3 forms of propaganda; white, grey and black. White propaganda is classified as propaganda in which the true source is declared. Black propaganda is classified as propaganda that is purportedly to be from a source on one side of a conflict but is actually from that sources opposite side. Grey propaganda is classified as propaganda with no identified source. From these three choices, a propagandist will take an existing propaganda model (stereotyping, flag-waving, etc..) and create their message. Rove and his followers are particularly adept at weaving their web using these tools.

Was the Photoshopped Coptix/ hoax really just a joke? What did the creators of this hoax have to gain and did they gain anything? What did this hoax prove? What did the hoax really do?

The Joke - Speculating motivation is tricky so we have to take the act and the explanation by the hoaxers at face value and go from there. The perpetrators of the photo hoax have claimed it was an April Fools joke, but the joke wasn't revealed until several days after the fact. Let me ask you a question: If you own or are employed by a professional technology business with customers that include mass media (Chattanooga Times-Free Press), one of the major political parties in America (The Republican National Committee) and the means of communication that the RNC uses for electronic communication with the staff of the President of the United States( are you going to risk your reputation and income by creating this type of "joke"? The payoff for such a ruse is minuscule compared to the firestorm of bad publicity you'll receive, not to mention the potential customer base you will lose once your antics get publicity.

The gain - On the surface, the only thing that appears to be gained by working this hoax is publicity; and the joke is one that can only be appreciated by a small, fragmented sub-culture that is loosely tied by political ideology. Chattanooga is a city that is going through a period of major growth. Over $1.2 billion dollars of business investment is in progress in the city right now( ), international businesses are investing in the city and smart local business owners have everything to gain with their reputations alone. Copitx has three "Tiffany" customers; one is local (Times-Free Press) and two are national/international (RNC and, and we are asked to believe that the corporate leadership at Coptix is willing to risk all that over a "joke" played by it's employees? No one was fired for misrepresenting the company they are employed by? Would your employer condone your actions if you pulled a similar publicity stunt with their company? Outside of Hollywood the axiom of "There is no such thing as bad publicity." does not apply. When you are a business owner, and especially in the fickle and tumultuous world of technology providers, the last thing you want associated with your company name is bad publicity and an instance of hoaxing the public.

What did the hoax prove - The hoax proved one thing, bloggers can be lured into taking the bait without vetting the source and we can't always believe what we see. Not at all surprising since very few bloggers are doing this full time and would not have the time, resources or skills to fully investigate the story in question. In hindsight it has proven one very important thing. There are people within the blogosphere who are considered a threat to certain people in power and this was most likely a shot across the bow by Rove and his followers. It was an attempt to discredit and tarnish the work of certain blogs and bloggers. The lingering effect will be to equate blogs and bloggers as untrustworthy and gullible, like the conspiracy theorists.

What the hoax really did - To political bloggers it proved that they need to be more careful and skeptical when a scoop pops up in their inbox. It also proved that they need to be wary of what the powers that be think about them. For conspiracy theory researchers, authors and enthusiasts it reinforced our knowledge of the tactics and MO of certain targets of the subject matter we follow. This is a chance for a lessons learned moment.

The other half of this story will be asking ourselves how it fits into the bigger picture of propaganda, conspiracy theory study and the Bush Presidency. Was the Dan Rather Air National Guard documents controversy an act of a single person or was it a conspiracy that originated within Karl Rove's office? Why isn't the mainstream media weaving together the instances of false documents, propaganda and lies which all terminate and originate with this administration? We know that answer to that, so what do we do about it?

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