Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mirror, Mirror

The Republicans’ ability to control the message is, according to billmon, its mission in manipulating both the people and the press.

Karl Rove’s White House was, in many ways, the Olympian ideal of a disinformation operation — a propaganda achievement that will probably never be topped, at least in American politics (God willing). But it looks as if the House Republicans are giving it the old college try.

Thus the rather amazing press conference Minority Whip Eric Cantor held earlier today, in which the Virginia Republican in effect accused the Democrats of inciting violence against all those innocent teabaggers out there who are simply expressing their sacred constitutional right to spit on black people and fax pictures of hangman’s nooses to their elected representatives.


The specific disinformation technique in play is one I call “mirror image” (or, when I’m in a Star Trek mood, “Spock with a beard”). It consists of charging the opposing side (i.e. the enemies of the people) with doing exactly what you yourself have been accused of doing, typically with a hell of a lot more justification.

“Mirror image” was Rove’s standard response on those relatively rare occasions when the Bush White House seemed to be losing control of the media narrative.

Thus, when Richard Clarke blew the whistle on the Bush White House sleepwalking past the CIA’s warnings about Al Qaeda in the summer of 2001, the White House quickly constructed a competing story line in which Clarke himself was the official responsible for flubbing the response.

Likewise, when the Democrats began making noises in early 2004 about using Bush’s somewhat, er, questionable, accounts of his National Guard service against him, the Republicans quickly rolled out counterclaims that John Kerry had lied about his war record.

But the example I recall most clearly came during the Valerie Plame investigation, when Fox News suddenly tried to argue that Rove was the aggrieved whistleblower, and Joe Wilson and his wife where the sleazy insiders who had leaked classified information:

Rove warned [a reporter] away from the idea that Wilson’s trip had been authorized by CIA Director George Tenet or Vice President Dick Cheney. “He gave proper guidance to a reporter who got disinformation in a leak” meant to assign responsibility to Cheney, former Bush aide Ed Rogers told FOX News.

As I wrote at the time: “This is starting to resemble that famous Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk winds up in a parallel universe where the Federation, not the Klingons, are the evil barbarians and Spock has a nasty beard.”


The basic objective of all this, as I wrote way back when, is very simple:

The goal is to confront the public with two sides hurling identical charges at each other — the better to convince them that it’s just another partisan mudfight and who the hell knows . . . anyway.

In that sense, the “mirror image” technique is a like a bomber scattering chaff behind it to try to fool enemy radar or deflect a heat-seeking missile from the real target. As I said, it’s one of the tricks Rove would use when Team Bush lost the news cycle, which suggests the past few days of coverage of the Great Teabagger Freakout have done some real damage –- or at least, that the Rovian high command thinks it has done some damage.

Will the ploy work this time? I don’t think so, or if so, only to a limited degree. The material may have been brilliant, but the performance sucked –- even Cantor couldn’t make himself sound like he actually believed it. Sure, Fox News is ready (as always) to take the baton and run with it, but I think the mainstream corporate media deadheads, brain dead as they may be, have finally picked up on the scam.

That remains to be seen; all they will do is change the message and wait for the deadheads to pick up on the next shiny object.

PS: It’s just a coincidence that both of my posts this morning have Star Trek-themed titles. It has nothing to do with the fact that I just got the DVD of the latest Star Trek film. Nothing at all.