Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rumor Bomb Strikes Again: NY Times Publishes Fake Letter Criticizing Caroline Kennedy

NY Times publishes fake letter from Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë criticising Kennedy
The New York Times was forced to apologise on Monday after it published a fake letter, purportedly from the mayor of Paris, criticising Caroline Kennedy's bid for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat as "not very democratic".

Last Updated: 11:33PM GMT 22 Dec 2008

Caroline Kennedy wants to take over Hillary Clinton's old seat in the Senate Photo: AP
"What title has Ms Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton's seat?" the letter in Monday's edition of the newspaper said. "We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling."
In an note from the editor posted Monday on its website, the newspaper said the letter signed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë should not have been published because it violated the paper's standards and procedures.
"We have already expressed our regrets to Mr Delanoë's office and we are now doing the same to you, our readers," the Times said.
News of the hoax was first reported by France-Amerique, which published a story on its website on Monday. Jean-Cosme Delaloye, the Editor-in-chief of the French language monthly, which is based in New York City, said an employee read the letter in the New York Times on Monday morning and was sceptical.
"When we read the letter it just sounded very surprising, the choice of words sounded very surprising," he told The Associated Press. "When we called Paris to verify the information ... they were very surprised."
Virginie Christnacht, head of Mr Delanoë's press office in Paris, said the letter was a fake.
"We have asked the New York Times for a denial and an apology," she said. "Clearly, this was never sent by Bertrand Delanoë."
The Times blamed the mistake on a failure to verify the authenticity of a letter that arrived by email.
"In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back," the paper said. "At that point, we should have contacted Mr Delanoë's office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us. We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Obama Links to Blagojevich: Liberal Tabloid Frenzy

When I say "tabloid" I'm of course talking about that liberal rag, the New York Times. In their time-honored manner of bashing Republicans with groundless associations while saluting each time a Democrat wipes his/her ass, they now feed the intrigue mill with "association" talk about Republican high priest Rahm Emanuel, Obama Chief of Staff,and Obama himself (really a Republican is socialist trappings, everyone knows).
"Had Contact"? ooh, you mean like how I'm responsible for the phone calls made by the Apple Corporation because I had contact with their customer service dept. yesterday? That sounds right. When will these liberal attack dogs take a break and stick to the "facts"?

Emanuel Had Contact With Governor’s Office on Senate Seat
By HELENE COOPER and JACKIE CALMES
Published: December 13, 2008

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, communicated with the office of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois about potential candidates for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat and provided a list of names, according to two Obama associates briefed on the matter.
Read on here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Rumor Bomb in Flow

“[T]he information bomb’ [is] associated with the new weaponry of information and communications technologies. Thus, in the very near future… it will no longer be war that is the continuation of politics by other means, it will be what I have dubbed ‘the integral accident’ that is the continuation of politics by other means.” —Paul Virilio

While rumors are a timeless phenomenon, popular and academic voices note something changing. Like the Matrix, Baudrillard’s hyperreality, and David Lynch’s owls in Twin Peaks, things are at best not what they seem; at worst, perpetually disorienting. Henry Jenkins’s “convergence culture” has become a keyword for our present conjuncture where new and old media content, production and consumption, collide in fascinating new ways. Though gatekeeping practices in news and cultural production have weakened, creating new production opportunities, rumor rises to new levels of importance in a postmodern political context.

Despite the digital divide, the cases of rumor exploding into public scandal are fairly global. They have prompted suicides, imprisonments, stock plunges, resignations and government investigations . For example, on Friday October 3, on CNN’s “Citizen journalism” site a post appeared stating that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had had a heart attack. Apple stock plunged immediately, though the rumor was debunked an hour later, leaving suspicions it was planted by a short-seller after quick gains. But rumors have assumed a very special role in professionalized politics, where communication experts shrewdly read the new convergence culture and use rumor to try to steer political discourse via inter-media agendas. Click here for the rest of the article.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bush: "I fucked everything up the best I could"

I'm Really Gonna Miss Systematically Destroying This Place
BY GEORGE W. BUSH
DECEMBER 1, 2008 | The Onion ISSUE 44•49
http://www.theonion.com/content/opinion/im_really_gonna_miss

Oh, America. Eight years went by so fast, didn't they? I feel like I hardly got to know you and methodically undermine everything you once stood for. But I guess all good things must come to an end, and even though you know I would love to stick around for another year or four—maybe privatize Social Security or get us into Iran—I'm afraid it's time to go. But before I leave, let me say, from the bottom of my heart: I can't think of another country I would've rather led to the brink of collapse.

Boy, oh boy, if these Oval Office walls could talk. Seems like it was only yesterday that I started my first term despite having actually lost to Al Gore by more than a half million votes. Hmm. We were all so young and peaceful then. Gosh, gas was still under $2 a gallon! On my watch it peaked at more than twice that. Never getting it up to $6 or ideally $7.50 will be one of my few regrets when I leave office.

It's just gonna be so hard packing up my things and heading off into the sunset come January. I wish I could go on forever giving massive and disastrous tax cuts to the wealthy, taking the country from a surplus to a deficit—nearly $500 billion this year, likely to pass $1 trillion next year, fingers crossed—and just generally doing irreparable damage to the very underpinnings of our economy, but, well, I'm afraid the Constitution says I can't. And not even I can overrule the Constitution. Though Lord knows I tried! Initiating blanket wiretaps without warrants, suspending habeas corpus for prisoners in Guantanamo, infiltrating an unknown number of nonviolent civilian antiwar groups without permission… such wonderful memories. I'm going to cherish them forever.

My fellow Americans, I only hope that every time you have your civil liberties encroached upon by the Patriot Act, you'll think of me.

Everywhere I look brings back memories. The Blue Room is where Laura and I put up our first White House Christmas tree. Down the hall, in the East Room, is where I concocted my favorite signing statement to circumvent the anti-torture guidelines of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and—ooh!—right across the way is where Cheney and I decided to use the death of 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and the nation's subsequent fear of another attack as an excuse to carry out our long-standing plan to invade Iraq. I should really get a picture before I leave.

Speaking of pictures, whenever I look at the dusty old newspaper photos of those tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib or the crumpled ruins of that bridge in Minnesota, I can hold my head up high knowing that I truly fucked this nation—physically and symbolically—beyond repair. I only wish I had the time to destroy a couple more major American cities.

And Cheney, I almost forgot about Cheney. What a guy, huh? I can't believe that in a few short weeks he's never going to talk to me again. The stories I could tell you about what went on in some of those back rooms—well, you wouldn't believe me if I declassified the memos. I don't know, maybe in 20 years, when the economy has rebounded and the people displaced by Katrina have rebuilt their lives from scratch with almost no federal assistance, Cheney and I can meet up again in the Rose Garden and reminisce over the good old days, when it seemed like there was no part of this great country we couldn't ruin forever.

What am I going to do once I'm no longer president? I've gotten so used to waking up every day, playing fetch with the dogs on the White House lawn, and then spending a lazy afternoon shredding every last bit of our good will abroad in a mind-boggling display of diplomatic incompetence.

The worst part about leaving is knowing I can never screw up anything this big again. Don't get me wrong, I'm only 62. I could still bankrupt an oil company, or become the next MLB commissioner and ruin baseball. But I'll never get the opportunity to fuck up on this massive of a scale again. Even if you put me back in charge for another term, I could only take the U.S. from a rapidly declining world power to not a world power at all. I don't mean to gloat, but I think it's safe to say that no one can ever unseat the American empire like I unseated the American empire.

Still, I have to admit, sometimes I think I could've dismantled so much more. The very fact that the environment still exists, that a mere 4,000 troops have died in Iraq, that there is still the slightest glimmer of hope for the future left in this nation—it's easy to feel like maybe I didn't do my job. But no, no, there's no use having any regret. I fucked everything up the best I could and that's good enough for me.

You know, I've got a few weeks left. I could still illegally fire some U.S. attorneys for political reasons, or finally get rid of that pesky separation between church and state. Or maybe I could just bomb a place. Like Russia. But this time, I would really savor it.

As long as I live, America, I'll never forget irreparably ruining you. Unless we all die in a nuclear war or calamitous environmental disaster brought on by my neglect. Either way, I'll see you all in heaven!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stumbleupon: More like Stumble Loop?

Rigged! Rig-diculous! Bullshit!
So, like the legions of new bloggers, I've turned to the "social bookmarking" and other new technological services in the ATTENTION ECONOMY. Unless you just swoon at the sound of your own voice (or the sight of your own words, er blog), then you're doing this to address people. Good thing there are all these helping tech-hands for you.

I am really disappointed in Stumbleupon. I've read that it is essential for those attention-deficients like us. Yet when I spent about an hour on it this morning, filling out profile stuff, and then stumbling, I noticed that the order of stumble appearance is rigged. I clicked stumble and then ran into the first ridiculous site "When I was little I thought I had the power to change stop lights," and then the next was simply a page advertising all the different social bookmarking services. This was followed by "How to tick people off." I was amazed that none of these sites seemed to clearly correspond to the interests I had checked, which were supposed to streamline my "stumbles" on to particular sites. The only reason for this, I hypothesize, is that some of these sites create hundreds (thousands?) of stumbleupon entries as new identities and/or they build a massive "friends" network to favorably review them, which builds their appearance power. Strange algorithms for stumbling. What is worse is that these same three sites appeared again and again, when I'd hit "stumble." These same sites appeared twice out of 12 clicks, half of the clicks took me back to these same sites.

So I tried my other stumble ID, for my other blog (as far as I can tell, one can have but one blog per stumble identity). Lo and behold the same experience as before! I give stumble a big thumbs down, or perhaps more fitting: an erect middle finger!

This is the age we live in. The blog is a fantastic new technology, potentially democratic, which reverses older media relationships of production and consumption. But the fact that one produce something, regardless of quality of product, hardly guarantees any attention at all. This dynamic, unfortunately, is much more like older media and the "free market" outside. Attention to products and sales have very little if anything to do with quality of the product. It has everything to do with advertising, at which bigger companies with bigger budgets (time included) have a colossal advantage.

True, the internet attention economy is not just about having an advertising budget. But the point is that the product has little to do with the attention it gets. All of the networking, "friends", multiple profiles with the same blog listed on many of these new attention-getting services--what kind of culture is it promoting? Who are we caught up in this, as we tweet from our cell phones, "I am just leaving the office. God did that blow!" ? Reality TV and voyeurism? The fetish of being the object of a voyueur? Tabloidization of the internet?
Oh, I know, you'll just tell me I have sour grapes for having a couple of hundred registered followers on my blog, the majority probably cool hunters and other bloggers trying to leave comments to direct my readers to their blog...
Your thoughts?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama 2.0 Continued: Feeling Accessible

Obama's team has built an excitingly accessible transition site: change.gov.
Access. This site symbolizes democratic access and community.

First it is simple, a two column structure with nine tabs line the header:home, newsroom, blog, learn, agenda, America Moment, America Serves, Jobs, About. On the home/arrival page, you find yourself staring at and being stared at by Obama, who is poised to address you thanks to Youtube. The newsroom, or press releases from Obama, actually appears on the home page, below the video.

The blog encourages you to "Watch Your Weekly Address now," and true to the participatory genre and thus expectations of blogs, it asks the visitor to "then send us your questions or ideas about how to fix the economy." It sounds right, except you can't post comments. And cynics who have tried to write legislators in the past, will be wary of the sincerity of the suggestion. It will probably be considered like focus group and survey information in order to craft more scientifically messages to mass and niche markets--I mean, uh, voters.

By clicking "Learn" you can get a slick biography of Obama and Biden, the information about the transition, information about the administration and the inauguration.

Next is "Agenda," which gives the new administration's statements on issues from civil rights to Veterans affairs. It seems surprisingly extensive.

Agenda is followed by "America Moment." This one has two "drop-down" menu links to "sharing your story" and "sharing your vision." When you click on "sharing your story," you get "We're counting on citizens from every walk of life to get involved. Share your experiences and your ideas -- tell us what you'd like the Obama-Biden administration to do and where you'd like the country to go." You are then prompted to complete an information form, where your email and zip code are obligatory. Access or surveillance and data-mining to make you feel participatory and active while you're being studied to have your opinion managed. The "share your vision" option is similar. The prompt is "Start right now. Share your vision for what America can be, where President-Elect Obama should lead this country. Where should we start together?"

"America Serves" continues the theme of getting citizens involved. Apparently, the new administration plans to start several "service organizations" that will offer tax breaks for service. Is this more Reaganesque "voluntarism" and cousin to "faith-based initiatives," or is this a brand new world. Here are some listed:
  • a Classroom Corps to help underserved schools
  • a Health Corps to serve in the nation's clinics and hospitals
  • a Clean Energy Corps to achieve the goal of energy independence
  • a Veterans Corps to support the Americans who serve by standing in harm's way
A "Jobs" tag invites applications to work in the new administration. Strangely, you enter a lot of information for being contacted, but there's no option to upload a CV or describe your competences. Instead, they ask you to list your current position and employer, in addition to commonly mandatory personal information.

Under the last top line tag, you find "About" where they give you a form to "contact" them. They also have an "Accesibilty" link that encompasses many of the points I"m making here: "Commitment to Accessibility: The Obama Administration has a comprehensive agenda to empower individuals with disabilities in order to equalize opportunities for all Americans."

A "Privacy Policy" swears that the administration will not share your information with anyone beyond its staff. That's good to hear. At least they won't be selling the information to other people who want to manage our opinions. (Okay, I'm joking about being cynical. Actually I can't wait to see whether this goes in a more accesible form that produces results other than feelings of participation)

There are also three main categories in the center area, and a sidebar with links to events and the agenda. In the center area, three tabs appear as a menu: "Your weekly Adddress," "Inside the Transition," and "How to Help."

The first tab is groundbreaking in itself, the announcement of a tech upgrade of the old weekly radio president's address. The second helps acquaint the public with the transition team and Obama's goals, via youtube videos of the team in action. It's important that Obama's team calls itself a "team." It's more cooperative as a metaphor, and less bureaucratic than "committee" or "group." "Team work" is a widely used phrase for cooperation and the individual working with others for a good that transcends each person. Of course, other connotations of "team" also suggests there could be a fierce competition, and the browser is invited to identify with this winning team.

"How to help" partly signifies what an inauguration tries to enact, a dedication of cooperative effort between elective executive and the people he represents: "Yes we can." It also signifies a political tactic especially in wide use among political campaign strategists of both major parties:you want to make voters feel like they matter, like they can do something that matters. Very important in a society where very few people feel like they have any effect on government--alienation. During the campaign, parties shifted from trying to use sites to convey information about candidates and the option to donate to giving them information that would equip them to mobilize voters. Now it gives options help with problems such as the California fires. At the bottom left, "It’s Your America: Share Your Ideas The story of the campaign and this historic moment has been your story. Share your story and your ideas, and be part of bringing positive lasting change to this country."
Similar messages stressing your agency and your consubstantiation with government appear on pages such as the "Agenda" page of issues (see left).

How accessible Obama and his team really is another question. The key for belief effects is to create the form of access. Practice will be the judge, provided that one has access to the evaluation of the accessibility! These are some new developments mixed with old uses. Compare, for example, this Obama site with the current whitehouse.gov. Like a lot of sites that really don't want to deal with a lot of email from visitors, they place a tiny "contact" link in the page's footer. There are a fair number of photos, but no videos (at least as I'm looking at it now). It will be interesting to see how, if at all, the whitehouse.gov page changes after the inauguration.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama 2.0: weekly Prez address to be on YOUTUBE, plus Obama's senate resignation letter

Holy Shit! This guy is at least revolutionizing the presidency for the "new media" generation. Here is the 21st Century vesion of FDR's fireside chat. Just announced, Obie will be issuing weekly Prez. addresses on Youtube.

Lots of talk also about how the White House will use email with the public, even if Obama's communication must be channeled through surrogates, as Federal law demands!? See story here.

Finally, this just in, Obama's letter to the people of Illinois, announcing his resignation and thanking them:

Text of letter from Obama in Illinois newspapers

Text of President-elect Barack Obama's letter published in Illinois newspapers Sunday, when he officially resigned from the Senate:

Today, I am ending one journey to begin another. After serving the people of Illinois in the United States Senate — one of the highest honors and privileges of my life — I am stepping down as senator to prepare for the responsibilities I will assume as our nation's next president. But I will never forget, and will forever be grateful, to the men and women of this great state who made my life in public service possible.

More than two decades ago, I arrived in Illinois as a young man eager to do my part in building a better America. On the South Side of Chicago, I worked with families who had lost jobs and lost hope when the local steel plant closed. It wasn't easy, but we slowly rebuilt those neighborhoods one block at a time, and in the process I received the best education I ever had. It's an education that led me to organize a voter registration project in Chicago, stand up for the rights of Illinois families as an attorney and eventually run for the Illinois state Senate.

It was in Springfield, in the heartland of America, where I saw all that is America converge — farmers and teachers, businessmen and laborers, all of them with a story to tell, all of them seeking a seat at the table, all of them clamoring to be heard. It was there that I learned to disagree without being disagreeable; to seek compromise while holding fast to those principles that can never be compromised, and to always assume the best in people instead of the worst. Later, when I made the decision to run for the United States Senate, the core decency and generosity of the American people is exactly what I saw as I traveled across our great state — from Chicago to Cairo; from Decatur to Quincy.

I still remember the young woman in East St. Louis who had the grades, the drive and the will but not the money to go to college. I remember the young men and women I met at VFW halls across the state who serve our nation bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I will never forget the workers in Galesburg who faced the closing of a plant they had given their lives to, who wondered how they would provide health care to their sick children with no job and little savings.

Stories like these are why I came to Illinois all those years ago, and they will stay with me when I go to the White House in January. The challenges we face as a nation are now more numerous and difficult than when I first arrived in Chicago, but I have no doubt that we can meet them. For throughout my years in Illinois, I have heard hope as often as I have heard heartache. Where I have seen struggle, I have seen great strength. And in a state as broad and diverse in background and belief as any in our nation, I have found a spirit of unity and purpose that can steer us through the most troubled waters.

It was long ago that another son of Illinois left for Washington. A greater man who spoke to a nation far more divided, Abraham Lincoln, said of his home, "To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything." Today, I feel the same, and like Lincoln, I ask for your support, your prayers, and for us to "confidently hope that all will yet be well."

With your help, along with the service and sacrifice of Americans across the nation who are hungry for change and ready to bring it about, I have faith that all will in fact be well. And it is with that faith, and the high hopes I have for the enduring power of the American idea, that I offer the people of my beloved home a very affectionate thanks.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bailout Spin:On Government, Economy and Freedom

My Yahoo headlines are infected. Every time I look at them, there's the term "bailout" somehow working its viral way into yet another banner. The latest: "Senate to take up auto bailout on Monday"

Turns out Bush is asking Congress for $25 billion more. I get the feeling that I'm watching an Austin Powers film (if only this were as funny).
Austin Powers - 100 Billion Dollars

This came a little over a month after Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson asked Congress for $700 billion to bailout the banks.

Even so, the day before an international summit on the financial crisis, Bush delivered his party's time-honored harangue about the evils of "big government" and the wonderful virtues of the free market and "growth"in a speech at the Manhattan Institute. It sounds slightly contradictory and hypocritical. Or maybe the man and his party likenesses live in parallel universes, from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day. No big government to bailout the poor, the sick, or to guarantee equal educational opportunity; or to protect the environment and insure the existence of a planet for our children. Just big government for giant corporations and banks. What we need, Bush said, is not more government, but "smarter government." Mr. President, the people have spoken: pack your bags.


But these are the marketing-cognitive traps his communications wizards have set for us, and they may trap us well after Bush has retired to his ranch. More government (i.e. laws and oversight)=stupid government. Of course the rhetorically savvy respond, "But sometimes we may need more AND smarter government," at which time the Bush team robot burns a fuse and smoke plumes rise from his ears. The talking points culture has been served the notice: giving billions of government (i.e. taxpayers') dollars to banks and corporations is simply smart government, while giving billions to to social problems puts the social in "socialist."

Compare these bailout numbers to what goes to citizens with their own troubles. In 2007, the budget for welfare and unemployment was $294 billion; for education $89.9 billion; $243 billion went to interest on the federal debt; Medicaid $246 billion; while the Iraq war 2003-present has cost over $3 trillion! Here we see the odd priorities of the outgoing administration, quite happy to spend lots of money, run up lots of debt on some matters and people deemed worthier than others.

What the outgoing administration and their supporters are most afraid of now is that these contradictions will result in a considerable shift in mainstream political discourse, spending priorities, and political economic structure--imposing more regulations on business than the country has seen in a long time. They should be scared, since while the current crises (plural) do not prove the complete bankruptcy of market economies, they show the bankruptcy of simplistic anti-government, pro-free market rhetoric. They want to scare vulnerable Americans into accepting a manichean dichotomy about government and economy a bit like Bush's simplisitic post-9/11 foreign policy: with us or against us. You can have "Big Government," a clever rhetorical evocation of "Big Brother," and totalitarianism, where the government steps in and controls every last detail of your life; or you can have the "free market," supposedly free of dangerous government meddling with and control of your work, buying, and exchanging of goods (though there's an implication that the meddling will be on multiple or all levels of life).

There is no such thing as the "free market," and never has been, if by which one means all production, distribution, and consumption is outside the government purview and all economic acts are by rational self-interested individuals. Big businesses depend on government (federal, state and local in the U.S.) to give them tax breaks, protect contracts, set work hours and safety standards, and not force them to give benefits to their employees,etc. Thus, they spend billions of dollars each year with professional lobbyists maneuvering to keep laws that favor them and prevent new ones from disfavoring them.

The problem is the age-old glitteringly ambiguous but emotionally powerful term"free." If market exchange were really free of third party mediation in the name of common laws applied to all (that is to civilized life), we would have the economic life of Locke's mythical state of nature, a war of all against all, where the strongest prevails, with no other restraint in the name of community. Government through law and enforcement can shape what kind of economy we practice, so that small businesses, for example, are privileged and rewarded while big ones are penalized and taxxed more, or vice-versa. Either way, government allows some behavior and discourages other kinds. 'Twas ever thus. And 'twill ever be.

The question is what kind of freedom do people want, what are the potential threats to it, and who benefits from persuading people that another form of freedom/security favors one party less or more than another? Since political debate in the U.S. rarely gets that deep, we get slogans repeated over and over, which are associated with parties, politicians, and people. Big Government! Socialist!

Franklin Roosevelt, dealing with a nasty bunch of money lenders and speculators of his own day, negotiated the situation by talking of different kinds of freedom (freedom from want, from fear, of speech, and of religion), and to the socialist slurs of his day, he responded that the only thing Americans had to fear was fear itself. Freedom of speech and religion are easily and traditionally understood as having the greatest potential threat in overbearing government. But freedom from want and fear, can be more easily understood in the caprices of modern economic cycles and the values of powerful players in the economy. The people as sovereign can save themselves from the dangers of excessive government controls of all individuals. But who would save the people from the economy, completely unelected and by nature full of power imbalances that can ruin a person's life in every other sense. "Necessitous men are not free men," FDR contended. The ousted Bush alliance will suggest any regulation in the name of freedom and security in the form of a false dilemma: either evil all-controlling socialist state or the individual-freedom-loving market.




The Reagan Revolution shrewdly read the FDR complication of freedom and power as a threat to their own pro-big business ideology, so they declared rhetorical war on it and won. They already had the help of The Cold War association of government control with Communism and Socialism (which were the same thing in everyday media culture). Their rhetoric, like Coolidge and Hoover's in the roaring 1920s, was honeysuckle until economic bad times hit. The problem is they have done a disservice to Americans who are trying to understand the complexities of POWER in a globalized world, which will in turn affect their understandings of freedom.

"I hope we shall crush... in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare
already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the
laws of our country," founding father Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to George Logan in 1816. As much as I like Jefferson's staunch rejection of the perilously un-free condition of citizens in a "manufacturing economy" opting instead for a quaint agrarian economy where every (politically free) citizen was also economically free, his vision lost out. But some have revived his language about freedom and minimal government, while taking it out of its historical context of an agrarian economy (unlike the post-industrial mess we live in today).

Jefferson's concerns with government and freedom were/are valid. But the new structures of power (largely unelected) in a very different economy create new obstacles for comprehending threats to freedom. Anti-government but pro-individual freedom visions can not account for the changes in society that have created huge corporate bureaucracies and made millions of people dependent on inscrutable market dynamics invisibly shaped by actors who care very little about their fellow citizen's security in the end.  Government should respond in a sociologically informed way to the historically changing threats to freedom in different forms, about which there should be serious and careful public discussion before government takes action (though crises put constraints on deliberation).

Now, with the historic economic woes in the U.S., people are looking for answers, and that means some of them will pay attention to the way causes of the crisis are framed, too. Some individuals and groups stand to lose a lot with economic reforms, and so it is not surprising their well-paid spokespeople are trying to transfer their own fear of Obama onto less powerful citizens with totally different objective economic interests. They have much less "freedom" in the "free" market, and more oversight/less freedom of the banks and major corporations can equal more freedom economically and otherwise for them. But their belief is the object of a fiercely fought PR war. Look for the "Obama is a socialist" rumor bombs to be dropped onto more and more media targets in the near future. Will he build more rumor bomb shelters? Will he be able to counterattack, and by what means in this debate-deprived political culture?

"The selfish spirit of commerce knows no country, and feels no
passion or principle but that of gain." --Thomas Jefferson to
Larkin Smith, 1809.

[If you found this worth reading, please take the time to yahoobuzz, digg, and or reddit it]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama and Democracy 2.0


Obama's shrewd exploitation of "new media" continues. After effectively using test messages, websites, meetups, video games,etc. in the campaign, now he intends to connect with supporters and construct public opinion (or listen to the people, depending on how you see it) using the web for governing. This is a new media version of what political communication scholars have called "going public," where presidents bypass legislatures that propose and make laws and instead go directly to "the people" to influence them, produce public opinion about issues that are in fact first of all the president's agenda (which he wants the people to accept). In turn, the president wants the Congress to accept his issues because supposedly the people (represented by public opinion) want it. But then, perhaps Obie is not so cynical. Maybe he really is trying to break down barriers between citizens and their representatives. This will be very, very interesting to watch.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

5 reasons why Obama is Human (Not Zeus, Jesus, or Mohammad)

This last week has been full of reflections on and theories of why Obama won. The economy (linked to Bush linked to McCain). The Palin factor. Increased voting registration. Organizing. Media bias. Or the great man theory about Obama the demigod. Few are actually nuanced, rounded treatments that can help us understand how campaigns work these days and what to expect in the future.

Shakespeare famously wrote that some men are born into greatness; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon them. Political Communication scholars would add that some have communications teams that spend great time and money in constructing greatness.
Barack Obama is a great man, with excellent communication talents, but that is not enough to have won this election alone. Consider these five reasons, and a caveat.


1. The political economy of campaigning
Square one in U.S. presidential (to say nothing of other) campaigns. It pays for the campaign's enormous industry, everything from food for staff and volunteers, to ad production and space/distribution, travel, polling, focus groups, etc. In 2000 and 2004, Republicans and their surrogate attack groups outspent and out-financed the Democrats, especially in the crucial final push of the last two months. Obama built on the insights of Howard Dean, whose net-fundraising astounded in the last presidential election and continued in his role as Chairman of the party. Obama outspent McCain 4 to 1 the first half of October and by 3 to 1 on TV ads the final week of the campaign.

Obama's record shattering fundraising in August and September helped him expand the field of competitive states, putting pressure on McCain in places where he had hoped to coast without investing more money. The "Great Man" outspent by his opposition is at much greater risk to lose. But now one should consider the shrewd and novel use of that record fundraising.

2. Communication strategies
Contrary to some claims, Obama hardly skipped through a media lovefest. He was forced to respond to his associations with the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the attacks of which were considerably weakened after Obama delivered a powerful speech on race, a polarizing subject he struggled to keep off the media agenda (as he more or less did with gay marriage). Rumors that his wife used the derogative "Whitey" stalked him throughout. As late as September, a Yahoo-AP poll revealed some important information about the race issue. When asked "how much discrimination against blacks" exists, 10 percent of whites said "a lot" and 45 percent said "some." In contrast, among blacks, 57 percent said "a lot" and all but a fraction of the rest said "some."

Obama was able to preempt his opposition from baiting him with issues like affirmative action. Instead of completely opposing it, he called for expanding it to poor whites, while denying it to privileged blacks like his own two daughters. Instead of falling into the trap of exclusive language, he went inclusive. This may be part of the reason why he was more popular than Kerry with white male voters, even though they still favored McCain, a point his team carefully considered. Therein lay the paradox that race didn't play much of a role in this election. It didn't play an overtly big role, it played a covertly big role, erupting on the media agenda inconsistently, partly due to Obama's astute maneuvering.

Nonetheless, race haunted him with religion rumor bombs on the Internet. Viral emails and comments on blogs claimed he was a Muslim and an Arab, often with appeals to the supposed evidence of his name, which was ruthlessly exploited in turns such as "Obama Bin Laden," and Barack HUSSEIN Obama. He was said to have been raised in Muslim schools, and was not even born in the U.S. These rumor bombs laid the ground for later ones that claimed he was a terrorist, their circulation aided by Palin's innuendos up to election day. He "pal-ed around" with former Weather Underground "terrorist" Bill Ayers, she said. Videotaped excerpts of McCain-Palin rallies demonstrate a widespread repetition of this tripartite rumor bomb, never mind the obvious contradiction with the earlier attacks on Obama for his association with Christian minister Jeremiah Wright.

Obama dealt with these latter attacks astutely. Careful not to reproduce the rumor bombs himself, he benefited from important character testimonials, the most powerful of which may have been the endorsement by Colin Powell in the last month of the election (even while pundits like Sean Hannity accused him of simple race favoritism). He spoke of his great capitalist friend Warren Buffet, which allowed him to partly defuse rumor bombs that he was a socialist. He spent money on well-crafted ads (and before that, a book/recording) that told how his very life was a version of the American Dream. Unlike some past candidates, he was hardly privileged, even though his achievements took him to the top of his class at Harvard law school, and beyond.

One could also consider the well-wrought, competitive cliches that formed Obama's brand, which were influenced by recent research into the effects of particular words on the brain and its emotional responses. Not more government, but better leadership. Not more taxes, but a break for the middle-class, the middle-class, the middle-class. Change. Hope. McCain was linked with Bush, stasis, depression, dishonesty, as much as McCain tried vainly to emphasize his "maverick" record and life testament to patriotism.

All of these skillful messages and responses should be considered within the context of his fundraising. He and his team not only responded well in message; they also diffused them strategically and widely, which cost money.

3. Negotiation of Media Convergence
Obama's communication strategies also must be viewed not just in terms of their content but also their groundbreaking genres and forms, again a product more of his organization than of him as a man of superior abilities. His campaign negotiated convergence culture, the contemporary collision of old and new forms of media, from newspapers, radio, and TV, to satellite, Internet, text messages, and video games. Some of the most groundbreaking included buying "stealth" ads embedded within the sets of X-system video games; and a satellite Obama channel with 24-7 ads. His team was incredibly up-to-date with especially young adults' complex media consumption habits.

If the Internet was full of dangerous potentially persuasive rumor bombs dropped on vulnerable undecideds, his campaign would update the WWII version of the anti-propaganda “rumor clinic." Instead of relying on factcheck.org, snopes.com, etc. the Obama campaign started their own: Fightthesmears.com

Furthermore, the Obama campaign was hip to the fact that studies show Internet users don't just get their political information from the Internet; they blend it with traditional news sources. Thus, TV and radio ads, and an ultimate ½ hour slot on Oct. 30 (last used by Ross Perot) were complemented by SMS, emails, and viral video (the latter with which the McCain campaign had scored, comparing Obama's allegedly hollow celebrity status to Paris Hilton). Again, these strategies were brilliant but could not have been executed as effectively without powerful financial backing and labor. And yet, despite all these factors that exceed the man himself and on which his successful candidature was necessarily dependent, one can not deny that he is a man of extraordinary talent.

4. Obama’s own communication skills
McCain face Pictures, Images and PhotosObama was calm, respectful, affable (not too stiff, not too loose), more gaffe-proof than his opposition. As James Fallows reminded us in a keen preview of the debates, image is everything; it is the argument. "As with trial testimony, job interviews, and blind dates, seeing people interact is the only way to understand what is going on," Fallows wrote. "We don’t watch debates to learn what someone thinks about Social Security. We watch to see how the contenders look next to their opponents, how they react when challenged, how well or poorly they come up with the words we later see in print." Thus, McCain was seen as condescending, not deigning to look directly at Obama. He was parodied as senile, wandering around the stage, looking for his dog Mr. Puddles, as John Stewart joked. Or he was racist, said some pundits when during the last debate McCain referred to Obama as "That one!" Obama, on the other hand, remained cool, showing human warmth from time to time with moderate laughs, and grins. His performances were free of eye-rolling, frustrated sighs, and cheesily memorable phrases of recent predecessors.

One should not forget that Obama also responded eloquently on the spot during key events. When McCain sought to construct himself as the heroic statesman willing to drop his campaign until he could broker a senate package for the financial crisis, calling for the postponement of the second debate, Obama quipped, "Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time; it is not necessary for us to think we can do only one thing and suspend everything else." Similarly, when Palin's terrorist-crony accusations were at a high pitch and he was asked about his relationship to Bill Ayers, Obama was able to turn the ethical question back on the McCain-Palin campaign. “This is someone who committed despicable acts 40 years ago when I was only eight,” Obama insisted, leaving his audience to infer that the association was an illogical, dishonest smear. One could go on with the examples, perhaps revisiting his struggle with Hillary Clinton. But the fact stands: despite Obama's considerable oratorical prudence, it is unclear his own qualities and message could’ve carried the day without all the other confluence of factors in his favor, which brings us to media coverage.

5. The media coverage: agenda, distribution of attention, and bias charges
Recent studies have shown that Obama received more coverage/attention overall than did McCain, while Sara Palin received more than Joe Biden. Likewise, Obama received more "positive" coverage than McCain, while Palin received more negative coverage than Biden.
But there are other inferences besides bias that can be drawn from this data. For many Americans Obama was an obscure public figure in national public life when this campaign began. McCain and Biden have had considerably longer careers in national public life, McCain especially after having been Bush's major challenger for the nomination in 2000. Palin was perhaps even less known than Obama. One could interpret this data as evidence that the media was serving an important democratic function, giving the public important information it needed to make a serious electoral decision.

Additionally, consider the abilities of the candidates again and the material they provided to reporters and unofficial newscasters, such as John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno and Saturday Night Live. There were not really the risible pseudo-events that the French John Kerry provided, riding a motorcycle into the Tonight Show, or going hunting, both to reassure voters of his masculinity attacked by Swiftboaters and French-callers. On the other hand, McCain, as has already been mentioned, provided plenty of visual joke fodder. But it was nothing compared to Palin's airheaded interview with Katie Couric, and comments about not really knowing what the vice-president does, as well as spying Russia from Alaska as somehow training her for foreign policy work. It was not necessarily that the media favored one over the other, though I'm sure some reporters were as horrified as other citizens by the base populism Palin peddled to cover up her appalling ignorance.

Besides, the Obama-as-celebrity phenomenon fit nicely with contemporary news values which love celebrity in general. It's difficult to put it any more precisely than conservative CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck, who observed (CNN.com, 7/24/08), ‘The Media’ aren’t around for their health, they’re around to make money, and if Obama drives sales or ratings, then I can’t really blame them for continuing to tap that well until it runs dry.” Besides, the celebrity treatment was hardly all backrubs. The rumor bombs about race, religion, and terrorism belong to the widespread culture of infotainment.

The Caveat
In conclusion, a candidate, even a great one, is the product of a complex economic and symbolic process that certainly transcends his or her own personal abilities. And in addition, there is always the factor of historical specificity. The issue agenda partly responded to events beyond the control of the candidates. Immigration issues faded into the Iraq war, which faded into the economy, which was abruptly overtaken by the more specific financial crisis. Gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, immigration--past Republican wedge issues--did not play well on the mainstream agenda, even if Obama had the difficult choice of largely ignoring them. Obama was making history, just as history was making him.

Just as Carter was severely weakened by a hostage situation beyond his control and a sluggish economy in 1980, McCain was the party brand associated with a disastrous war in Iraq and the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. No matter how much he cried "maverick," he was still the bearer of a discredited brand, a man who though a great patriot lacked rhetorical skills to tame history, evidenced by his visual and verbal gaffes. Obama had to take advantage of this situation or lose it. Obama performed outstandingly, and 40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, he has made history while all the world looks on at his indisputable greatness.
[If you found this worthwhile reading, please promote it by digg-ing, reddit-ing, or yahoobuzz-ing it with the help of icons below]

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

5 Reasons Why Obama is Human (not Jesus, or Mohammed)



Shakespeare famously wrote that some men are born into greatness; some achieve greatness; and others have greatness thrust upon them. Political Communication scholars would add that some have communications teams that spend great time and money in constructing greatness.
Barack Obama is a great man, with excellent communication talents, but that is not enough to have won this election alone. Consider these five reasons, and a caveat....
Stayed tuned for this post in its entirety appearing on a bigger site.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rumor Bomb Shelter, Election '08: Congratulation, Survivors


As in the last American presidential election's Swiftboating and name-calling "French!", rumoresque communication was a staple of election 2008. The most widespread of these rumors claims that Barack Obama is a Muslim, an Arab, and a terrorist (by association), though another extreme form appeared the last week of October when a woman told police she was attacked by a black man for being a McCain supporter. This species of political rumor deserves its own name, which I call the Rumor Bomb. The pervasiveness of rumor bombs demonstrates a new kind of disorientation and volatility in American political media, even if political rumors themselves are timeless.


What exactly is a rumor bomb? A rumor bomb (RB) is a public statement whose truth is in question (classic definition of rumor). Did John Kerry lie about his military record? Did George W. Bush lie about his National Guard service? Does Obama have ties to terrorists? Did Saddam Hussein have WMD's and/or ties to Al Qaeda? A public issue is made of the claim's uncertain truth status. And in many cases the status is deliberately ambiguous for innuendo's sake, which leads to its transformation from claim to question.


Second, a RB is a rumor dropped in a context of public anxiety or uncertainty about a political group, figure, or cause, which the rumor bomb overcomes or transfers onto an opponent. The U.S. is in the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s, is fighting two wars that have been marketed as a war on "terror" or terrorism, and its president hasn't had a plus 50% approval rating in years. That's public uncertainty and anxiety about a country's leadership and its future. Enter rumor the tri-partite rumor. Similar to John Kerry is "French" in the context of freedom fries and images of supposedly mass protests against French "treason" by Americans pouring out their $14 bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau.


Third, a RB has a clearly partisan even if an anonymous source (eg. "an unnamed advisor to the president"), which seeks to profit politically from the rumor bomb's diffusion. Witness Jerome R. Corsi, the man who in 2004 joined forces with The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by publishing the best-selling rumor bomb "Unfit for Command," which of course attacked John Kerry's war decorations, courage, and leadership. In August he publishedObama Nation. It entered the NY Times bestseller list at #1 and has been widely quoted in the rumors' multi-media tours. Or the Clinton campaign volunteer who happily circulated the viral e-rumor. Also like the "unnamed White House official" who during the 2003 declarations of Democratic presidential candidacy told the New York Times John Kerry was "French-looking."


Lastly, RB's appear and circulate in a culture of rapid electronic diffusion. The rapid diffusion is partly technologically motivated: the inter-media influences of the internet, TV, cable, radio, print, cell phones and digital cameras/video. It's partly business motivated: dwindling resources for journalistic fact-checking, incentives to accept PR press releases, in an information culture that supposedly demands constant updates and entertaining stories. It's also partly due to the professionalization of politics, where communications experts study what the news wants in business terms and tries to control it with staged events and highly scripted addresses and interviews. All of these characteristics together form the contemporary uniqueness of RB's, making it different than political rumors of the past. And there are signs that we will only see more of them.


The latest RB was dropped October 26 in Pittsburgh by 20-year-old college student and McCain campaign volunteer Ashley Todd, who faked an assault and robbery report to Pittsburgh police in hopes to benefit some anti-Obama media publicity. In her report to police, she claimed it was a politically motivated attack by a black man who, after seeing she had a McCain sticker, pinned her to the ground and scratched a "B" for "Barack Obama" into her face. It took only one day between the report and the debunking. However, the influential Drudge Report quickly announced it as news, and other media outlets followed suit. Something quite similar happened in France in July 2004, which led then-President Jacques Chirac to address the nation over racial tolerance, after which the hoax was revealed. The ability of both amateur and professional political communicators to set mainstream news agendas speaks volumes to the disorientation, danger, and paradoxical democratic nature of their production.


A testament to the acknowledged seriousness of this form of political speech lay in the reaction of the Obama team, which chose to fight back with more than interviews with journalists. If the Internet was full of dangerous potentially persuasive rumor bombs dropped on vulnerable undecideds, his campaign would update the WWII version of the anti-propaganda “rumor clinic." Instead of relying on factcheck.org, snopes.com, etc. the Obama campaign started their own: Fightthesmears.com


If there have always been unverified claims printed in "professionalized" journalism (before that turn, of course, rumor was a news staple), the degree to which they are sliding in and also swirling about both new and old media forms we consume suggests we are in a very new kind of convergence culture, even if the damage their users' inflict can not guarantee an election triumph. In fact, when they're discredited too quickly they may backfire on the political brand they hoped to benefit. Political Communication has never been so volatile.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

So Much for Republican Free Marketeers and the War on Terror

From the Washington Post
"Historic Market Bailout Set in Motion
Sat, Sep 20, 2008 6:00 AM
The Bush administration yesterday proposed a historic $500 billion bailout of financial firms that would let the government rather than the cold judgment of the marketplace decide the winners and losers from the crisis that has shaken the U.S. economy for the past year."

Another article notes that the bailout would be more than the budget for the Pentagon! Compare that $500 billion to the Federal budget on Education and Training: $89.9 billion last year.

These are the same bunch who have been blathering about how Big Government and "oppressive" taxes kill the economy/market, which just needs to be free of that same Big Government. What kind of social programs, to say nothing of levees and roads repaired, could be paid for with that 500 billion? And the billions on the war to make us save from terrorism?
And do these hypocrites sleep easy? Dark, dark times.


Just below that WP headline was this one: "A Modernized Taliban Thrives in Afghanistan
Sat, Sep 20, 2008 6:00 AM
KABUL, Sept. 19 -- Just one year ago, the Taliban insurgency was a furtive, loosely organized guerrilla force that carried out hit-and-run ambushes, burned empty schools, left warning letters at night and concentrated attacks in the southern rural regions of its ethnic and religious heartland."
The most expensive, supposedly well-equipped and -trained military force in the world can't seem to break this bunch of ragtag guerillas. Modern understandings of warfare must be undergoing a serious revolution. As are global bragging rights...
New world, same old tired rhetoric from this inept bunch.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rumor Bombs in Presidential Campaign 2008

Almost four years ago I started a scholarly research project I call The Rumor Bomb. I was struck by what seemed the increasingly large number of unverifiable claims that were being circulated during the Bush first term, some of which turned out to be false, or deliberately misleading (WMD's, Iraq-Al Qaeda links)

Last Saturday a high-level Bush administration official was quoted as saying the American military had an important new weapon technology. The context was a story in the French daily Liberation, which was discussing the issue of Pakistan's sovereignty faced with recent illegal American military raids inside its borders, and also discussing the number of civilians killed as the result of these raids. The war technology claim came as a kind of threat rumor, a kind of time honored war rumor which occassionally turns out to be true. It is very old rumor strategy indeed, for Genghis Khan is said to have made more willing victims of his enemies by sending PR agents ahead of his armies, spinning tales of their ferocity (sometimes true, sometimes invented). With the U.S. government and its military, of course one never knows whether it's true or not; whether it's the next atomic bomb or not. It's not as if they don't have a budget to produce such new technologies--which is precisely the power of rumor in that case.

The rumor bombs have been dropping sans cesse. One of the most damaging at the moment for Obama is the RB that he is a muslim. Is is the case with any rumor bomb, it was launched by a political opponent (read here). This is a strategy similar to those used in the last election to discredit John Kerry. He was accused by the Swift Boaters to have been illegitimately decorated for war heroism. But the RB that most resembles the RB Obama is a Muslim is the RB that John Kerry was French. In both cases, it is not clear exactly what the statement is claiming. That is the power of the RB. Kerry grew up spending summers in Bretagne. He has a cousin there today. He speaks fluent French. Do these characteristics make him French? What does it mean to be French? A French citizen? Someone with stereotypically French cultural traits? The sign "French" was often associated with Kerry's alleged "haughtiness," cowardice, and perhaps worse, "socialistic" policy ambitions. But it would not have had any power had it not been for the context in which it was dropped. That context was the media frenzy over France's opposition to the American invasion of Iraq, which was met with wild images of Americans pouring bottles of fine French wine into sewers, slogans of "freedom fries," and calls by Bill O'Reilly et al. for an American boycott of French products until French president Chirac apologized for his "betrayal."

Similarly, the Obama rumor is based on little more than the fact that Obama's father grew up in a family of muslim faith, even though by college he was an avowed atheist (see here). Obama is a muslim? Like John Kerry is French (which continues even today in the self-described conservative chambers of discourse)

The exploding viral pieces of these bombs are difficult to contain. Giving them any attention assists in their viral expansion. On the one hand, they are often absurd claims that one is disgusted to give any response. And yet, they travel and address audiences, claim believers. As cognitive psychologists have argued, people's perceptions are framed by prior references. If one has heard a host of negative stereotypes (stereotypes can occasionally be beneficial to their referent, no?) about the French prior to the statement that frames John Kerry is French, and probably coming from the media blitz about the French opposition to the U.S. invading Iraq, it is not hard to understand one accepts the claim when it comes from one's trusted news source. And so it is with Obama. Never a practicing muslim, Obama is rumor-bombed as having been (or even secretly still being) such. Illogical associations, such as having attended a public school in Jakarta (where Islam is quite widespread in daily life) with no religious affiliation whatsoever are circulated near and far, as CNN tried to debunk last January.

Does it matter? Well, consider some of these soundbites major news organizations have circulated. Before Obama's May trip to Florida, the NY Times interviewed several Jews there.

"

Mr. Obama is Arab, Jack Stern’s friends told him in Aventura. (He’s not.)

He is a part of Chicago’s large Palestinian community, suspects Mindy Chotiner of Delray. (Wrong again.)

Mr. Wright is the godfather of Mr. Obama’s children, asserted Violet Darling in Boca Raton. (No, he’s not.)

Al Qaeda is backing him, said Helena Lefkowicz of Fort Lauderdale (Incorrect.)

Michelle Obama has proven so hostile and argumentative that the campaign is keeping her silent, said Joyce Rozen of Pompano Beach. (Mrs. Obama campaigns frequently, drawing crowds in her own right.)

Mr. Obama might fill his administration with followers of Louis Farrakhan, worried Sherry Ziegler. (Extremely unlikely, given his denunciation of Mr. Farrakhan.)"

These rumor bombs may not be enough to sink Obama, but they sure do make for an even more unpredictably dangerous journey.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Rumor Bomb: A Convergence Theory of New and Old Trends in American Mediated Politics

Pdf Here
It originally appeared here:
Harsin, Jayson. The Rumour Bomb: Theorising the Convergence of New and Old Trends in Mediated US Politics [online]. Southern Review: Communication, Politics & Culture; Volume 39, Issue 1; 2006; 84-110
Was reprinted, in abbreviated version here: Michael Ryan (ed.). 2008. Cultural Studies: An Anthology. London: Blackwell.
The theory has been significantly changed (forthcoming) and is previewed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumor
JH

THE RUMOUR BOMB
THEORISING THE CONVERGENCE OF NEW AND
OLD TRENDS IN MEDIATED US POLITICS)
Jayson Harsin
Abstract
III
.
This paper examines several key transformations in mediated
American politics that both encourage the use of rumour as a
privileged communication strategy and promise its efficacy.
Changing institutional news values, communication technologies,
and political public relations (PR) strategies have
converged to produce a profoundly vexing relationship
between rumour and verification, which is exploited by
politicians with anti-deliberative aims of managing belief.
Further, the paper argues that these developments are usefully
viewed through Paul Virilio's theory of Pure War, in
which rumour can be seen as part of a larger propaganda
strategy to eliminate deliberative politics and manage a population
for the purposes of consumerism and war.
NOTE: The major distinguishing characteristics of the "rumor bomb" have recently been revised as such:
1. A crisis of verification. A crisis of verification is perhaps the most salient and politically dangerous aspect of rumour. Berenson (1952) defines rumour as a kind of persuasive message involving a proposition that lacks 'secure standards of evidence' (Pendleton 1998).\
2. A context of public uncertainty or anxiety about a political group, figure, or cause, which the rumor bomb overcomes or transfers onto an opponent.
3. A clearly partisan even if an anonymous source (eg. "an unnamed advisor to the president"), which seeks to profit politically from the rumor bomb’s diffusion.
4. A rapid diffusion via highly developed electronically mediated societies where news travels fast.



,.....
Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and
continuing ties to terrorist networks.. .Iraq has sent
bomb-making and document forgery experts to work
with al Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al Qaeda with
chemical and biological weapons training.
American president George W. Bush made this well-circulated statement
on 8 February 2003. Over a year later, in June 2004, Chief
Weapons Inspector David Kay stated, 'We simply didn't find any evidence
of extensive links with al Qaeda, or for that matter any real links
at all' (Kranish & Bender 2004). Yet the Bush administration continued
to launch and the news media continued to circulate softer variations
on Bush's original strong claim of 'longstanding, direct and continuing
ties'. As recently as March 2005, polls showed that over half of all
Americans still believed Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass
Destruction (WMD) before the US invasion of Iraq, while 60 per cent
still believed Hussein played a role in aiding al Qaeda with 9/11
(http://abcnews.go.com/Politics I PollVaultl story?id=582744&page=2).
Regardless of the veracity of claims, belief persists. The relationship
between tenuous claims, their circulation, and the appearance
and persistence of belief points to a common strategy in contemporary
American political practice-the rumour bomb. In this paper I will
84 Southem Review 39.1 (2006)
.. -" ", -
The Rumour Bomb 85
examine several key transformations in mediated American political
discourse that encourage the use of rumour as a privileged communication
strategy and that promise its efficacy. The paper argues that
changing institutional news values, communication technologies, and
political public relations (PR) strategies have converged to produce a
profoundly vexing relationship between rumour and verification,
which is exploited by politicians with anti-deliberative aims of managing
belief.
The strategic use and (sometimes) careless circulation of rumour
characterises the current climate of American media and politics.2
These reasons are often discussed in passing in literature on the beleaguered
American public sphere, new market pressures and changing
news values in news media, and the banality of rumour's success in
war situations. But these phenomena must be viewed together in a
theory of convergence if we are to better explain the turn to rumour
from the position of production, mediation, circulation, and reception,
where it may reinforce already held beliefs, produce new ones, or
simply reinforce a paralysing cynicism about a mediated democratic
spectacle.
While war communication, especially in the form of propaganda,
has traditionally had clear goals of producing belief, consent and
behaviour, it is usually assumed to be categorically different from
peacetime democratic political communication practices. The paper
challenges common assumptions that wartime mediated politics is significantly
different from peacetime mediated politics. For example, in
Don't Believe It! HowLiesBecomeNews, Alexandra Kitty writes,
Wartime is a different reality than peacetime: chaos and the
drive for mere survival taints the way people see the world
around them. Lawlessness isn't just present on the battlefield,
but also in the way people communicate with one another. If it
takes lying to defeat the enemy, then so be it (2005, p. 140).
I argue that this distinction has imploded in significant ways illustrated
throughout this paper. The style and institutional conditions for
war and peace mediated politics are very much the same today,
though they refer to different phenomena in the world. Key here is
deliberative democracy.
At least since Periclean Athens, democracy has been theorised as a
political form characterised by open political debate. Deliberate distortions,
intimidation, exclusion, and discourse reduced to emotional
appeals resulting in paranoia have been regarded as destabilising if
not destructive to the political culture of democracy itself.3 Pure War,
however, creates an overarching culture structured by indefinite
potential exterior threat(s). For 50 years this was the Cold War. Today
the Bush administration's agenda in the War on Terror (from communication
to policy initiatives such as the Patriot Act)4 has been deterritorialised
as an information war directed at US citizens as well as
Iraqis, Arab nations, and global citizens (Bolton 2006; Shehata 2002;
r
---
86 SouthernReview39.1 (2006)
Kurtz 2003;Marshall 2003).In this fight the Bushadministration uses
a rhetorical device common in any war-rumour. Yet they use it as a
form of propaganda for domestic as well as war issues. Such communication
practice is the most exaggerated form of a kind of anti-politics
wInhearecliwmaarteanwdhepreeacveteirmifeicactioomnmiusniicnatciorinsis parnacdticdeissorhiaevnetatiiomnplodisedth.se
structure of feeling due to the 'information superhighway' and virtual
reality, information accidents can happen (Virilio 2000). But some
information bombs are not accidents. Rumour becomes useful and
dangerous.
What is a Rumour?
Rumour is deployed strategically when one or more of the following
characteristics exist: 1) a crisis of verification; 2) the need to eliminate
public uncertainty and restore social stability; 3) a condition of political
anxiety, used to transfer anxiety and uncertainty onto an opponent;
and while it may include interpersonal communication, it is (4)
most characteristic of highly developed electronically mediated societies
where news travels fast. Rumour mongering then requires a definition
of rumour. The concept, however, is wide open. However,
verification is central to an understanding.
Rumour as crisis of verification
A crisis of verification is perhaps the most salient and politically dangerous
aspect of rumour. Berenson (1952) defines rumour as a kind of
persuasive message involving a proposition that lacks 'secure standards
of evidence' (Pendleton 1998). Something mayor may not be the
case. An official source or a leak asserts something is the case. The
reporter must verify the claim, through direct observation or through
other reliable sources, in accordance with professional rules of
reporting and codes of ethics (Mencher 2000, pp. 42~5, 755-57). And
while rumour has been distinguished from gossip by some scholars
who emphasise that rumour is about issues of public importance circulated
through mass media, and gossip is interpersonal and about
trivial matters, changes in news values and personalisation of politics
have made such a distinction problematic. Bordia and Difonzo (2004,
p. 33) claim that rumour is different from news, but their claim is not
empirically sustainable as this paper illustrates.
Global news today is in crisis, for it is increasingly difficult to
define 'news' in an age of new inter-media news agenda setting
marked by the decline of institutional authority to socially construct
'news' (Della Carpini & Williams 2(01), and by changes in editing and
story acceptance due to new news market pressures and the dominance
of speed. In fact, news and rumour are increasingly blurred for
a convergence of reasons outlined in this paper. Moreover, it could be
/,,~~'L
The Rumour Bomb 87
argued that rumour's power to hail subjects is more politically important
and pervasive in a society heavily mediated by PR.
What, then, is the difference between a rumour and a lie? Lies are
untrue statements, whether the speaker knows it or not.
Rumour seeks to reduce/augment anxiety
As I am using the term, rumour 'relates to a situation about which
there is some uncertainty and a felt need to reduce that uncertainty'
(Pendleton 1998, p. 71). However, when rumour is launched, it does
not eliminate anxiety and uncertainty through logical refutations and
consoling presentations of evidence. It simply eliminates the feeling of
anxiety and uncertainty by transferring it to a new object (often a
scapegoat), or by using strategically ambiguous language that may
dupe uncritical audiences with the appearance of certainty and reliability.
In a country like the US, it is politically impossible for a president
to start an open war without providing the public with
arguments to support such a grave decision. Reasons must supposedly
be given for a public to evaluate.6 However, in the present conjuncture
unverifiable claims are reported; they are even used to launch wars, as
was the case with unverified asserted links between al Qaeda and
Saddam Hussein and Hussein's alleged possession of WMD.
Rhetoricians may object that 'the art of rhetoric' has as its subject
matter contingent issues that must be acted upon, such as war, but
which are ideally subjected to careful deliberative scrutiny. Yet there is
evidence that the very claims from which such reasoning currently
takes place are often deliberately false, unverifiable, or purely fallacious
(such as emotional appeals and non sequiturs).
In many cases such as that of WMD or the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship,
it is difficult to argue these claims are outright lies. Moreover, if
conflicting sources are revealed later, versions of such rumours may
enter a new stage of strategic ambiguity where obfuscatory termsspin-
serve as damage control against accusations of lying? This is as
true in Clinton's claim that he did not have 'sexual relations with that
woman' as with Bush's claim that there were longstanding 'ties'
between Hussein and al Qaeda.
sRoucmieotiuers is charaderised by speed and electronically mediated
While rumour is not a novel political strategy, its ability to spread
rapidly has accelerated its reach and use. Rumour in the nineteenth
century existed but lacked widespread accessible technologies to circulate
quickly and broadly. Today the uncertainty caused by a crisis in
gatekeeping, itself stemming from market pressures to entertain and
to report quickly for scoops, gives rumour a unique circulatory power
and thus opportunity to be exploited by political PR.
--
11'
88 Soutl,em Review 39.1 (2006)
Prelude to the ConveRrugmenocuer TBhoemorbys: Some Examples of
!II
.
While it is difficult to measure the degree to which rumour is
exploding in contemporary American mediated politics, what is clear
is thousands of rumours, hoaxes and urban legends circulate on the
Internet, in printed pamphlets, newspapers, TV, and by word of
mouth (often originating in one of these forms and then proliferated
by the others). These rumours come to demand the political and personal
energy and attention of significant numbers of politicians, journalists,
commentators, and citizens ensnared by their unavoidable
public address. New institutions and organisations for dealing with
this phenomenon, and wide-ranging alarm thereabout, have made a
widespread appearance. Websites have sprung up with the avowed
duty of dispelling hoaxes and confirming or debunking rumours. A
few of the most popular are www.snopes.com.truthorfiction.com. and
factcheck.org
Some of the rumours are even constructed in visual or audiovisual
forms. Doctored photos circulated in 2004 attempted to radicalise and
discredit John Kerry by placing him in a photo with 'Hanoi Jane'
Fcoomndea inat taheVifeotrnmamofanwtih-watar threallAy.mVeriiscuaanl ahnidstoaruiadnio-vDisaunaiell rBuomoorustrisn
called pseudo-events. In his 1961 book The Image, Boorstin was already
describing a US politics and news media marked by PR attempts to
plan and execute 'happenings' (pseudo-events) as if they were spontaneously
occurring. Perhaps the greatest news media pseudo-event in
recent memory is the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch during the
American invasion of Iraq. Reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere
told of her mistreatment by Iraqis in a hospital and her heroic
rescue by American soldiers risking their lives for a comrade in arms.
Lynch later publicly condemned the Bush administration for
exploiting her in an overdramatised partly false story (Kampfner
2003). One could also add the dramatisation of Saddam Hussein's
statue being toppled (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/
0703-02.htm).
In US politics, it is rarely the executive himself who launches the
rumour, though WMD and the alleged Iraq-al Qaeda 'link' are significant
exceptions. Several commentators have observed a political
strategy where front groups, surrogate public officials, or anonymous
sources (leaks) launch the rumour, which allows the executive (or
other political figure) to profit from the rumour while appearing to be
morally above the rumour-mongering himself (Kurtz 2003). It has
been reported that this strategy has been practised ruthlessly by
Bush's primary strategist Karl Rove for many years. Rove's rumour
bombs are well known to his opponents, especially his repeated use of
homosexual rumours, including those that haunted former Texas governor
Anne Richards, an Alabama Federal judge, and, less promi-
The Rumour Bomb 89
nently and directly, John Kerry (Grimm 2005; Kaiser 2005; Moore 2004;
Green 2004; on the Kerry rumour see Harsin forthcoming, and Rich
2004). As will be discussed shortly, rumour from anonymous leaks has
been especially exploited by the Bush administration under a climate
of secrecy, a state of exception.
Three Convergent Factors Explaining Rumour Bombs
Three major phenomena have converged into a highly formative conjuncture
for political communication and the use of rumour: 1)
changing news values and newsgathering practices influenced by new
communication technologies and increasing concentration of news
organisation ownership; 2) increasing influence of PR on political communication,
especially executive branch information and news management;
and 3) the influence of war communication strategies on
so-called democratic political communication, resulting in an antideliberative
politics or a spectacle of democratic politics.
News media market and newsgathering practices
Changes in news media market and institutional codes of newsgathering
can be divided into four subgroups: concentration, values,
speed, and secrecy.
First, corporate mergers have increased the pressures toward
speed and expanding viewer- and readerships, and the demand for
ever increasing profit. The phenomena of horizontal and vertical
media convergences and strategies of synergy have helped blur the
boundaries between news and entertainment. Entertainment and
tabloid reporting have long been characterised by rumours. Thus, the
traditional codes of ethics and standards of newsgathering are more
frequently bowing to the dictates of profit in a market where 'serious'
and 'soft' news categories are less clearly demarcated. Briefly, I will
note some major reasons why contemporary media market pressures
produce conditions of news gathering and presentation practices
favourable to rumour.
The first important explanation of rumour explosion in news today
can be attributed to cuts in staff and financial resources for investigation
and editing. As Lance Bennett has noted, market forces encourage
a growing acceptance of PR material (including that produced by governments)
in the news: 'As news organisations reduce staff, shrink
rbeulraetiaouns, eavnedntsbecaonmd enemwosre rceolenassceisoubsecoofmbuesdgemtso,rethaettsraucptpivlye oafspnuebwlics
material' (2003, p. 175). In fact, 'routine placement of PR messages as
news is likely to accelerate as corporate mergers combine more media
companies under common ownership' (Bennett 2003, p. 175). I will
return to this trend later when I note the importance of political PR in
rumour launching and circulation illustrated by recent stories about the
J .,~,'."_~.'r _ _ _
90 Southern Review 39.1 (2006)
Bush administration's use of 'fake news' video releases, staged press
conference questions, and the use of 'fake reporters'.
Secondly, this cost-cutting is combined with the market drive for
speed in a news world operating in real time. The explosion of digital
cable, satellite, and the Internet in the late 1980s and early 1990s produced
a more fiercely competitive news market, in which events could
be covered as they happened. Pressures of speed and real-time
reporting sometimes end up in unattributed sources, speculations, and
rumour circulation (Thussu 2003, p. 121). Philip Seib adds, 'news
organisations are more susceptible to such manipulation when desire
for speed outweighs concern about verification' (2004, p. 14). The
Internet's production of information renewed each second has created
strong competition for traditional news organisations, which respond
by trying to continually update stories and headlines on their sites or
emailing headlines to interested netizens. Thus the Internet's acceleration
of information renewal has pressured traditional news media to
follow suit or be left behind. According to David Bohrman, CNN
White House Bureau Chief, 'The media is doing the fact-checking it
can.. .[but] more sources seem to be stepping up to speak who haven't
spoken in the past, and the (news) cycle on cable news is so fast, it's
immediate' (quoted in Deggans 2004). Bohrman calls this under-factchecked
new journalism the 'journalism of assertion', in which 'some
media outlets simply report charges and let the audiences sort it all
out' (quoted in Deggans 2004.). Yet the effect of the Internet is not just
a faster traditional news media with laxer editing standards and gatemkeeedpiian'sg.
neTwhes. Internet is also increasingly the source of traditional
If the Internet is a factor contributing to dwindling audiences for
traditional news media (press and network TV) (see The Pew Research
Centre, 2004, pt. 2), it is also increasingly playing an agenda-setting
role for traditional news media. Some political communication
scholars trace the trend to the influence of Matt Drudge's blog-like
DrudgeReport,which broke the Clinton-Lewinsky affairbefore traditional
elite news media followed suit (Paletz 2002, p. 78; Bennett 2003,
p. 8). Biogs and email have played an increasingly powerful agendasetting
role (sometimes as an alternative agenda to that of the mainstream
news organisations and sometimes as an inter-media agenda
setting) vis-a-vis traditional news organisations. Their influence is
attributed to their speed and low cost, both of which the traditional
news organisations imitate. As a recent article on the phenomenon put
it, 'The comparative advantage of blogs in political discourse, as compared
to traditional media, is their low cost of real-time publication'
(Drezner & Farrell 2004). The same is true of email and electronic discussion
boards. Examples of this new network of influence abound.
But this inter-media agenda setting has also favoured the circulation
of rumour. As Todd Gitlin (2004) has recently pointed out, this
phenomenon has resulted in an increase in rumour circulation in the
-- - -
The Rumour Bomb 91
elite traditional news media because the Internet is, among other
things, a bottomless archive of rumours and lies. Gitlin demonstrates
this phenomenon with the example of a rumour circulated in early
February 2004 that alleged John Kerry, while married, had an affair
with an intern in her twenties. Further alleged was that Kerry
sequestered her in Africa to suppress the circulation of the story, and
that her parents found Kerry 'sleazy' (Gitlin 2004). It happened that
the Drudge Report, then Rupert Murdoch's London-based Sun and The
Times, had posted on their websites a claim that Kerry had had an
affair with an intern. Soon the Wall Street Journal website had followed
suit. While other major newspapers had avoided the story, on
February 13 CNN featured a discussion on what the media should do
about the accusations. In that discussion, commentator Jeff Greenfield
claimed that it didn't matter whether the mainstream traditional
media tried to play gatekeeper, because the internet age had dissolved
such gates: 'in this brave new world of instant communications, literally
tens of millions of people will know about the story no matter
what the networks and top tier newspapers do', Greenfield declared
(quoted in Gitlin 2004). The problem, Gitlin notes, is that there was no
evidence that anything in the story was true. 'Three days later, the
woman in question issued this statement: "I have never had a relationship
with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely
false'" (Gitlin 2004). But the problem with this, as well as the
rumours about al Qaeda and Sad dam Hussein, WMD, and WMD
moved to Syria and so forth, is that they demonstrate the greatest
truism of rumour in the contemporary global media network environment:
it is much easier to launch a rumour than to retrieve or
defuse it. One by no means finds shelter from the rumour bomb by
heading to the Internet. On the contrary, it appears to be a major force
minediniaf.luencing the circulation of rumour in more traditional news
In addition, numerous incidents of plagiarism and the conflation
of fact and fiction in American journalism serve as further evidence of
a crisis of verification and a news culture that is an easy target for
rumour bombs. In 2003 New York Timesreporter Jayson Blair was
found to have plagiarised significant parts of several stories and faked
quotes in others. A year later, USA Today reporter Jack Kelly was discovered
to have significantly fabricated parts of many stories over a
ten-year period (Morrison 2004). These examples combined with
rumour infiltrations of the media agenda create a gnawing sense of
uncertainty for consumers of information on websites, in em ails, on
TV, on the radio and in newspapers and magazines. They are a
product of the collapsing authority for agenda-setting and gatekeeping
displaced into the Internet, an information culture characterised
above all by speed and change.8
The Project for Excellence in American Journalism's annual report
for 2005, The Stateof the News Media, emphasises that a major new
~.I
92 Southern Review 39.1 (2006)
trend in 'models of journalism' is 'toward those that are faster, looser,
and cheaper':
[T]he journalism of verification-is one in which journalists
are concerned first with trying to substantiate the facts. It has
ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new journalism
of assertion, where information is offered with little
time and little attempt to independently verify its veracity. The
blogosphere, while adding the richness of citizen voices,
expands this culture of assertion exponentially, and brings to it
an affirmative philosophy: publish anything, especially points
of view, and the reporting and verification will occur afterward
in the response of fellow bloggers. The result is sometimes true
and sometimes false (Project for Excellence in Journalism 2005,
overview).
The American news media is in crisis, as a vast exhibit of resignations,
firings, apologies and scandals attests. To name a few, Jeff
Gannon and Karen Ryan were exposed as fake reporters; Chief News
Executive Eason Jordan resigned from CNN; and The New York Times
and Washington Post apologised for cheerleading the war in Iraq, and
Times reporter Laura Miller's role in particular in that cheerleading.
The issue of the inter-news media agenda-setting here-what
people find interesting or newsworthy on the Internet-also raises the
issue of how entertainment values have become increasingly important
in the news business. As briefly mentioned above, trends of tabloidisation
and infotainment have crept into traditional news media as a way
to retain viewers and deliver them to lucrative advertisers. Tabloid and
entertainment trends have been growing in mainstream American
news throughout the late twentieth century (after an attempt to professionalise
journalism and turn it away from tabloidism in the 1920s), but
most recently with the fragmentation of a mass audience due to the
explosion of cable, the Internet, and less and less interest in traditional
news generally, such organisations' content has been driven closer to
other entertainment genres. As noted ten years ago, MBAs are ruling
the newsrooms with a different set of values and institutional goals
than before (Underwood 1995).9 Some editors and publishers are
openly declaring a market crisis for newspapers and a desire to simply
give customers 1readers whatever they want. In a recent interview with
the Online Journalism Review, former San FranciscoChronicle Vice-president
Bob Cauthorn blamed the financial hardships of newspapers on
the reporters and editors whom, he believes, 'insulate themselves from
the public', are not 'aligned' with their readers, and instead believe
their readers aren't smart enough to determine what sort of news
product they want. Speaking of trends toward celebrity news and
'trash', Cauthorn proclaims, 'If that's what readers want, great. Serve
the reader' (quoted in La Fontaine 2005). Such views are also represented
in journalism's most prestigious professional training grounds.
In a recent lecture, Assistant Dean and Director of Northwestern
~ .<'"!; ~»~~h~ ,~';- The Rumour Bomb 93 University's Medill School of Journalism Janice Castro spoke on the sea change in journalism practices due to the Internet. Castro began by registering the familiar market crisis for print journalism, and then uncritically announced her profit-only considerations of successful journalism. 'We're trying to figure out what people want: she said. 'We want to give them what they want' (Castro 2005). Not only does the uni-dimensional reduction of journalism to marketing raise serious questions for journalism's relationship to democracy, it also suggests how news values of entertainment and profit are a breeding ground for rumour. As BillKovachand TomRosenstielnote in WarpSpeed: It is a newly diversified mass media in which the cultures of entertainment, infotainment, argument, analysis, tabloid, and mainstream press not only work side by side but intermingle and merge...[T]he classic function of journalism to sort out a true and reliable account of the day's events is being undermined. It is being displaced by the continuous news cycle, the growing power of sources over reporters, varying standards of journalism, and a fascination with inexpensive, polarizing argument. The press is also increasingly fixated on finding the 'big story' that will temporarily reassemble the now-fragmented mass audience (1999/2005). To embrace tabloid news values is already to embrace and encourage rumour and scandal in general. Tabloid news doesn't aspire to fact-based journalism and values of objectivity. It seeks to be entertaining. It is no surprise then that with tabloid market trends one should find an accompanying pervasiveness of rumour (Bennett 2003, p. 33; Kovach & RosenstieI1999/2oo5). But in addition to new market and inter-media pressures is it possible to see the problem of rumour as rooted more deeply in the very foundations of journalistic professional culture-in its dependence on official sources. An overdependence on official, possibly manipulative sources is certainly a problem that critics of American professional journalism have long noted (Bennett 2003, p. 125) and plays a role in the convergence of forces that have produced the rumour bomb. The dependence on official sources goes hand in hand with news management and growing PR strategies in political communication over the long twentieth century, which will be addressed shortly, while recently the unquestioning use of 'fake news' video releases, which are actually PR fakes originating in the Executive branch, by mainstream news is telling (see www.prwatch.org/tazonomy/term/120/9). These concerns with belief and news market trends have brought us inevitably to the domain of politics and PR. Thus, while a consideration of new market pressures and journalistic norms helps explain the proliferation of rumour, especially in American news media today, it needs to be viewed in relation to at least two other major factors with iwshPicRh. it importantly converges. The second factor in this convergence 94 Soutllern Review 39.1 (2006) Increasing influence of PR on political communication ~I ~ ~ The technocratisation of American mediated politics is encouraged by long-term media market trends discussed above, which converged with a new kind of managerial rhetoric or the PR-ification of political discourse in the late twentieth century US. A managerial political communication style has been developing since the early twentieth century, and more specific PR-managed politics have emerged since the Eisenhower years (Maarek 1995,p. 11). With the rise of mass electronic media in the twentieth century, and an elite need to direct a national political agenda, came an increasing executive dependence on ever larger White House staffs for communication management purposes (Perloff 1998, pp. 28-30).10The need for strategic communication on the model of PR corresponds to the twentieth century growth of executive power, a phenomenon described as 'the rhetorical presidency' and 'going public' (Kernell 1997; Tulis 1987). Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, presidents increasingly played a more powerful role in setting a policy agenda by going around Congress, directly to the American people through planned public events and careful management of the news media. They hoped to influence public opinion which in turn would pressure the legislative branch to respond to public opinion accordingly. Ironically, the persuasive power of the executive branch increased as democracy was being expanded to African-Americans, women, and the poor. The response to the anxiety of democracy was, in political communication, PRoThe urge to control and manage the belief of a mass citizenry really started to develop as a serious project in the years directly after World War I, based on the success of the government propaganda apparatus the Committee on Public Information. Returning from war propagandising, founding father of PR Edward Bernays wrote that propaganda was a new power and form of government: The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power. We are governed, our minds moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of...It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind (1928, p. 47). In 1927, looking back at the period since World War I, the young scholar of propaganda Harold Lasswell wrote that attempts to manage popular belief through the manipulation of "'significant symbols, or...by stories, rumours, reports, pictures and other forms of social communication" had become routine' (quoted in Ewen 1996, p. 174). The 'social and political implications of this development were profound'. Lasswell further observed that 'widespread "discussion about the ways and means of controlling public opinion...testifies to the collapse of the traditional species of democratic romanticism and to the --- The Rumour Bomb 95 rise of the dictatorial habit of mind'" (Ewen 1996, p. 174). From this moment we note the increasing colonisation of American politics by war-conceived PR/propaganda practices in league with the executive branch, and we also note the ongoing lamentations about the decline of public debate and rise of public apathy toward public affairs. While the White House increasingly tried to produce a kind of PR staff to help manage the media and set the public agenda, it was only in the 19505that presidents and their opponents regularly began to use PR firms to sell their agendas (Maarek 1995, p. 11).This trend increased through the 19605.By the time Carter took the presidency in 1976, his strategist Pat Caddell wrote a memo that argued, 'In devising a strategy for the Administration, it is important to recognize we cannot successfully separate politics and government...It is my thesis that governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign' (Grann 2004). However this trend of news management and PR choroeography has reached its apex with the Bush II administration. 'By 2000', David Grann wrote in The New Yorker, 'the strategists who had once advised a candidate solely during a campaign had moved into the White House' (2004). As George Stephanopolous commented with regard to the changes between Clinton and Bush II, 'Everyone said that our campaign war room in 1991 was the fastest. Now it would be considered Paleolithic' (Grann 2004). Not only are campaign tactics normalised for governing but the communication tactics are themselves institutionally influenced by the twenty-four hour cable and internet news cycle. The welcoming news environment for fakes and propaganda was recently emphasised in the flap over the Bush administration's use of PR firms whose fake news in video news releases were sent to television stations who aired them as if they were stories by independent journalists (http://www.prwatch.org/node/3790). There is ever greater pressure to set news and public agendas and respond to and spin actually existing agendas. Furthermore, the Bush II administration's ability to launch rumours has especially been strengthened by an astute reading of the post-9/11 conjuncture that enables a cultural project of secrecy and unaccountability / mystery. Two major methods of news management in combination with other PR tactics (slogans, pseudo events, obfuscation, spin, polling) are leaks and secrecy. As mentioned earlier, leaks can be strategic on the part of the government's disciplined communication apparatus, which may farm out rumour launching to front groups, or they may leak out of the communication apparatus due to dissent within the ranks. Tabloidesque 'leaks' such as the 2003 claim that John Kerry was 'French-looking' and the more recent Valerie Plame leak were engineered by high ranking members of the administration as kinds of Information Bombs, designed to channel public attention, attack opponents, and control the media and public agenda. Secrecy, sometimes discussed as control of source access, has long been a method of managing the press and perceptions of politics. 1I I 96 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) The Rumour Bomb 97 Indeed, as mentioned earlier, it is at the core of ongoing critiques of twentieth-century fact-based, objective journalism, suggesting that journalists, especially in corporate profit-driven news, can not attain independence from sources. The control of access has been perfected by each succeeding executive administration and other areas of the government and business (Robertson 2005). In an article on the Bush administration's news control in American Journalism Review online, Lori Robertson wrote: A rigid approach to staying on message and a clampdown on accessforreporters and the public have been increasinglyused by the executive branch, a trend that began to take shape during the Reagan administration, if not earlier. The current Bush administration has shown that the method can be perfected, with little to no downside for the White House (2005). Such a disciplined propaganda apparatus has major implications for mediated democratic politics. The latter becomes a carefully choreographed spectacle, all the more successful under the aegis of security. Secrecy, as journalist Bill Moyers recently insisted, threatens a 'selfimmolation' of democracy (2005).Intelligenceexperts view the Bush administration's level of secrecy to be unprecedented (Powers 2004, 2006). [George W. Bush has] held few press conferences and rarely submitted to open questioning, so that even the White House press corps was rife with complaints about being shut out. Secretive and disciplined to begin with, the administration was also adept at using the threat of denied access as another means of bringing to heel reporters who evinced too much challenging independence. And for reporters, especially those covering the White House, no access means no one-on one interviews, no special tips or leaks, exclusion from select events and important trips, and being passed over during question-and-answer periods at those few press conferences that do get held' (Schell 2004, pp. vi-vii). Such a controlled relationship between news mediation and elected government encourages rumour circulation and reception based on trust or faith, thereby jeopardising deliberative democracy. As Thomas Powers notes, applying this state of affairs to the non-deliberation about war with Iraq, 'There was nobody in the public who had the capacity to seriously question the CIA's evidence and arguments. We just had to take it on trust' (2004). In the 'new political universe of faith-based truth...true salvation lies in becoming true believers' (Schell 2004, p. x). One need not be nostalgic for a time when an unbridled watchdog press and a full participatory democracy existed (of course they have not) to note clear differences in the way US political discourse has been practised and covered by news media from the nineteenth century to the present. Indeed, the great irony may be that with the increasing enfranchisement of more parts of the population (the poor, African- Americans, women), the more exclusive, irrational, trivial, emotional aanndd cviirscuualal timone.diated public discourse has become in its production What have been the results of increasing political PR in mediated American political discourse combined with changing news market pressures and values? I will briefly rehearse some of these well known qualities of a structurally dilapidated American mediated political discourse. According to Kathleen Jamieson's widely read account (1988), contemporary public address is perhaps most characterised by its mediated time compression. Today news media select and present soundbites, cropping larger discourses and arguments. Likewise, politicians have adapted their mode of address to the technology that mediates, transforms, and circulates it. In the past people were allowed to consider speeches and arguments in their entirety. Speeches were also reprinted in newspapers and aired on early radio in their entirety. Today politicians produce slogans in hopes of getting them picked up as soundbites for news. From 1968-1988, the average TV news soundbite afforded presidential candidates dropped from 42 seconds to 10 seconds. Even lower in 2000 (Paletz 2002, p. 223; Jamieson 1988, p. 8 ). A similar story of time-compression applies to the recent history of political ads. In 1948 one-half hour radio blocks were the norm; in 1956, five minutes on TV; by the 1970s, one minute on TV. Today, the norm is 15-30 seconds on TV (Jamieson 1988, pp. 9-10; Paletz 2002, p. 229). There have been corresponding changes in the overall style of political communication. Politicians used to go through the history of an issue, addressing proposed alternatives. Such attention to history aanndd aedngvaogcaetmesentusewdithtooupspeodsirnagmavtiiseawtisonis raanred. eFmurotthioernmomreo,re ptooliaticccioamnspany rational argumentation; today audiences of political speech often get little else but dramatisation, assertions, and strategic, branded visual associations. In the past, key terms used to be defined (such as 'weapons of mass destruction' or freedom). Today, glittering generalities dominate. Playing into the new media values for drama and scandal, name-calling (ad hominem) is more common than addressing an opponent's arguments. Thus, says Jamieson, audiences are often left with the likelihood of simply embracing positions that are already theirs, or they may embrace a politician and his/her claims out of blind partisan loyalty (1988, pp. 10-12; Swanson 2004, pp. 50--1). Many of these developments that Jamieson outlines are the result of advocates and politicians adapting to new media business values, structures, and news gathering practices on which the circulation of public address depends. To better ensure news will publicise well crafted messages, political actors have increasingly depended on PR professionals to design speech strategy. ~ I 98 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) These trends help explain both the news coverage of the rum ours discussed above and why the Bush administration would use them, which also explains how many Bush voters and viewers of Fox News were left to blindly follow their party's suggestions or to choose what awreeretresnimdspleinrAeimteeraritcioanns noefwtshemiredoiwanabsealiebfuss,injuesstsifieadndoirnnaout.diBenuct etshesien American culture that have been complicit if not wholly active in the process and in the way American politics has responded to them. Scholars like Ewen (1996) have identified the rise of a 'dictatorial habit of mind' in the PR-politics nexus of the 1920s and J. Michael Sproule has referred to the same phenomenon as characterising a turn from individual political rhetoric aimed at influencing reflective publics to the new 'managerial rhetoric' that continues today, where speakers are symbols for larger institutions whose goal is to shape and control public opinion and behaviour (1983, 1997). But this was not simply a business phenomenon and we would be missing some of the factors producing the convergence of rumour and belief if we didn't turn to the influence of military communication agendas. Militarisation of political communication practices The style of political communication that has become dominant in the last ten years in the US is most closely modelled on traditional war propaganda style and information management, which as Lasswell observed, developed out of World War I (Sproule 1997, p. 33; Cook 1998, p. 52; Cutlip et al. 2000, pp. 123--4). The present-day control of source access, the use of press and video releases, surrogate speakers, dramatisation and message coordination, as well as coercion, all form a sophisticated media management apparatus that mirrors war communications apparatuses such as the US World War I Committee on Public Information (CPI).l1 The CPI bombarded local media markets with official press releases that 'stayed on message' (Ewen 1996, p. 111).They launched releases by mail and telegraph 24 hours a day. Trying to cater to news values, they also syndicated their own human interest stories to appeal to a range of news and entertainment readers. Just as the CPI tried to manage the unpredictable immigrant populations by making contacts with over 600 foreign langHuoaugsee nOewffiscpeapoefrsCoamnmd upnuicbaltiisohninsg siennd1s9 slaantegluliategesin, tetrovdieawy stheto Wnihcihtee media markets. While the CPI used newsreels and Hollywood talent to boost support for the war, contemporary White House and Defense Department PR uses video releases and issue ads (to say nothing of the Defense Department's ongoing relationship with Hollywood and the video game industry). In the CPI, Director George Creel noted that 'people do not live by bread alone; they live mostly by catch phrases' (Ewen 1996, p. 112);today Communications staff labour to provide the news with catchy slogans that will be repeated ad nauseam. Ewen notes - ---- The Rumour Bomb 99 the CPI abandoned 'fact-oriented journalism' for a type of political persuasion more akin to advertising, relying on emotional appeals and a 'language of images' (Ewen 1998, p. 113); Jamieson (1988) notes that political discourse today is characterised by hyper-dramatisation, hyper-visualisation, 'hit and run' name-calling and assertions without support. Would we be remiss to begin thinking about mediated US public discourse from the perspective of war and government techniques of population control as much as from the perspectives of market logics and consumer tastes? These trends appear to have started after World War I and, with the convergence of factors described above, have reached their closest state of similarity in the present. It is here that we see recent uses of rumour for what they are-information control strategies, aimed at producing consent, belief in or cynical paralysis towards larger policies positioned in a state of Pure War. By viewing these characteristics of war communication in convergence with US cultural and political developments in governmentality, we can start to see a general anti-democratic tendency of US government communication practices in the service of technocratic population control. This means that it is in error to consider contemporary American politics as mainly about debating issues that will set an agenda for public policy. Equally, it is in error to conduct analyses of American news media and their treatment of politics as if they were somehow detached observers and/ or watchdogs critical to the debate and vigilance necessary for robust democracy. Rather, the militarisation of communication practices, in league with technological and market change, has resulted in the erosion of these journalistic aspirations that were once considered necessary for robust democracy. In their absence, rumour bombs are effectively planted in news networks, exploding into ever wider rings of circulation. Rumour, Branding and Postmodem Belief What is the relationship of these converging factors in news, political PR, and military communication style to belief and consent? While all of these forces explain how contemporary politics are ripe for rumour proodnuectioshnoualndd haodwd ntheawts rmumedoiuar arine emspaeicnisatlrleyamripetrfaodritriuomnaolurnecwircsulmateiodnia, tends to go through a process of launching, circulation, and then correction (Sterne 2003). Correction may not at all interrupt durable attachments to belief; nor does it necessarily issue from the rumour's original source. Often this process can take many years. In the 1991 Gulf War the irnucmuobuartorsthatanIdraqliefstoltdhieemrs hstardewrnippaebdouKt uwthaeitifloboabr ielsikeouftiroefwhooosdp,itaals President Bush Sr. said several times, was only revealed to be a PR stunt after the war (Jowett 1993,p. 286).The same is true ofWMD and Iraq/al Qaeda links. The problem, again, in terms of public belief is that once the rumour is launched many people appear to become quite attached to it ~ I 100 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) and resistant to corrections, or it may reinforce already existing desires, beliefs, and fantasies. Evidence for this comes from a recent study (the PIPA study) that was conducted one month prior to the 2004 American presidential election (University of Maryland 2004).12 According to the study, 75 per cent of Bush supporters had the impression Iraq had direct involvement in or gave substantial support to al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks. In contrast, only 8 per cent of Kerry supporters had the impression there was direct involvement by Iraq, and only 22 per cent had the impression that there was 'substantial ssiumppiloarrt' ongtihveenisstuoe aolf QWaMedDa.. The differences in misperception are Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72 per cent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47 per cent) or a major programme for developing them (25 per cent). Fifty-six per cent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57 per cent also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD programme. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points. While there was a difference between Bush and Kerry supporters on what they believed, the two groups had a very similar understanding of what they were meant to believe. That is, the data seem to suggest not polysemy as an explanation for the differences in belief but polyvalence (see Condit 1989). Value, not meaning, is the difference: Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63 percent) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19 percent). Likewise, 75 percent say that the Bush administration is saying Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. Equally large majorities of Kerry supporters hear the Bush administration expressing these views-73 percent say the Bush administration is saying Iraq had WMD (11 per cent a major program) and 74 percent that Iraq was substantially supporting al Qaeda (University of Maryland 2004) How do we explain or theorise this phenomenon involving rumour, belief, and news media consumption? The fairly new phenomenon of branding theory may have explanatory value, but it should be connected to new cultural sensibilities produced by new technological conditions, market trends and news values already discussed above, and the colonisation of mediated politics by PR and war-inspired news management. The impact of speed and new media technologies on practices of democratic public deliberation has not gone unnoticed. Several scholars note that speed in news media, whether televisual or constantly changing internet forms, collapses a space for citizen reflexivity in the climate of time-space compression (Barber et al. 1997; Gaonkar 2005; Virilio 1999, p. 87). The much discussed CNN Effect (Gilboa :1 " The Rumour Bomb 101 2005) whereby real-time news has accelerated governments' time for deliberation before responding to international events may be applied to individual citizens as well. Following insights by Harvey (1989) and others, Gaonkar (2005) suggests that old paradigms of media analysis based on concepts of representation, encoding and decoding assume a time-space component for reflexivity. His claim is that for many audiences the structure of TV (cable or traditional) creates a context of time-space compression. Information is offered and quickly followed by other information and images, leaving a sense of depthlessness in time and argument.!3 Ironically in this era of reporting, politics and pseudo-deliberation marked by its speed, the decoding experience of news audiences may mirror the encoding experience of news organisations (i.e. the lack of time for reflexivity, characterised by editing and fact-checking in the greatly accelerated market climate of 24/7 news). Indeed, the time decoding implies may make it conceptually obsolete. Gaonkar then suggests that these conditions encourage a relationship of viewer to text (slogan, soundbite, fragment) which is essentially fiduciary, based on trust, not critical understanding (1995). Belief based on trust is more akin to Plato's designation of opinion (without his metaphysics) as opposed to knowledge seen as informed opinion (see, for example, Plato's Meno, 97e-98b). Gaonkar's emphasis on trust may also be understood through contemporary branding theory, which has come to engulf the market and politics (see Corner 2000 and Twitchell 2(04). Branding theory, which rose to the forefront of management theory in the 1980s, stresses that image of products is more important than the product's functional quality. Branding is a 'short cut' to a purchase I decision (Vincente 2(04). In some cases in actuality, the brand image may precede the appearance of a product, giving it a Baudrillardean postmodern aura where the 'map precedes the territory' (Baudrillard 1988, p. 166). "'[T]he current object of our political campaigns," writes Berkeley's Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism Orville Schell, "is not to inform or illuminate the public, but to sell a political position much the same way a corporation seeks to market a product'" (Vincente 2004, p. xv). Branding functions on speed and impulse, not time-consuming deliberation. TIme-space for reflexivity is central to democratic deliberation, and its absence is traditional in fascistic propaganda: "'Propaganda must be made directly by words and images, not by writing," states Goebbels, who was himself a great promoter of audiovisuals in Germany. Reading implies time for reflection...' (Virilio 1986, p. 5). So does deliberation. Again, Virilio, thinking across political theory of democracy, deterministic aspects of technology, and political economy of entertainment has made these connections better than anyone else: The tyranny of real time is not very different from classical tyranny, because it tends to destroy the reflection of the citizen in favor of a reflex action...Now, real time and the world ~ I rI 102 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) present demand a kind of manipulation. The tyranny of real time is tantamount to a subjugation of the television viewer. The temporality of democracy is threatened, because the expectation of a judgment tends to be eliminated. Democracy is the expectation of a decision made collectively. Live democracy, or automatic democracy, eliminates this reflection and replaces it with a reflex. Ratings replace elections, and the microchip card replaces deliberation (1999, p. 87). Political communication today is heir to the technocratic opinion management of Bernays and Lippman in the 19205 and Goebbels in the 1930s and 40s (themselves heirs to Plato's philosopher king and his noble lie). Today the idea of political PR and anti-deliberative news management in a media culture of warp speed is to produce a virtual dromomaniacal citizen subject; the mind can not stop to evaluate evidence because the parade of images and emotional appeals will not give it time or space. Its aim is to move. This style of communication contains its own anti-deliberative motive. In this context where news implodes with entertainment and propaganda and deliberative citizenship fades as a distant memory, a new consumerist citizenship unfolds as a spectacle of deliberative democracy. While the PIPA study of beliefs does not prove that rumours directly produced belief, it can be seen as partial evidence for the rumours' effectivity. Since both Bush and Kerry voters had no doubts about the meaning of Bush's claims-they just disagreed over their veracity and value, an issue of polyvalence, not polysemy (Condit 1989)-it appears that the rumours of Iraq/al Qaeda links and WMD were struggled over on the level of belief, trust, and brand loyalty instead of rational argumentation and evidence. The brand and its connotations are the evidence. Such branding functions on ethos and desire. Whether one is consuming Fox News or blogs, news and politics for many Americans are best understood as branding practices. A headline in a recent Time magazine article sums up the rumourfriendly convergence of infotainment, speed, and branding: 'Why are more and more people getting their news from amateur websites called blogs? Because they're fast, fwmy and totally biased' (Grossman 2(04) (emphasis added). Fundamental changes in political communication practice as branding find a public-relations-driven politics poised to use rumour as the contemporary weapon of choice for tapping emotions and constructing short-lived attachments. Paul Virilio's (1997) theory of Pure War further contextualises these convergences. Conclusion: Pure War, Anti-Deliberation, and the Politicisation of Speed Virilio's typology of three types of war in Western history helps us see that US mediated political discourse has existed within a condition of ~i'" The Rumour Bomb 103 Pure War since World War II. Furthermore, it helps us understand that institutional norms of political communication generally (orchestrated by PR), and especially executive branch communication strategies, aim to annihilate debate and public deliberation by discursive and extra-discursive means, through control of access to sources, leaking of false or unverifiable information, produced in a climate of secrecy and authorised by appeals to public security. These conditions produce a spectacle of deliberative democracy.14 According to Virilio's typology of war (1997), war was once a tactical activity that took place outside the city walls or moats, where armies fought it out, but in which civilian life went about its business without becoming completely subordinate to belligerent activities. This period gave way to a period of Total War, characterised by a new subordination of all social life during wartime. Economic and industrial activities were subordinated to war efforts and civilians were enlisted to supply its logistical demands. However, the advent of the arms race and nuclear weapons from World War II onwards initiates a new period of constant preparation for war and actual war-making, sometimes distant and covert. Here the major differences between peacetime culture and wartime culture implode. And perhaps most importantly, Pure War is marked by information war and population control once exclusively directed at a foreign enemy and now also redirected back onto the domestic population. It is the domestic populoaftiPounrenoWwarthwaht imchusdtemfirasntdbse cthoanttrhoullmedanisn odredveortetothpeeirrpelitvueastetotthhee setactoenomic and moral initiatives of the war at the expense of investment in social welfare and public goods. Unsurprisingly, the turn to Pure War does not bode well for democratic public life and its requisite communication practices. Virilio begins to speak pessimistically of a 'transpolitics', the end of politics. Indeed, the dominance of speed in market-driven news coverage, political communication and its effects in anti-deliberation aims to make politics, like war, automated. Thus, Virilio writes, Behind the libertarian propaganda for a direct (live) democracy, capable of renovating party-based representative democracy, the ideology of an automatic democracy is being put in place, in which the absence of deliberation would be compensated by a social automatism similar to that found in opinion polls or the measurement of TV audience ratings (2000, p. 109). Virilio's practical response is that those who witness this tyranny of speed must politicise it. Though Virilio's Pure War has a conspiratorial ring to it (the very existence of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) would seem to free Virilio from X-files comparisons), the communication aspects of Pure War have indeed become institutionalised in American politics and government. In many ways, from the Committee on Public Information to the vision of technocratic democracy, we may 104 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) The Rumour Bomb 105 see resonances of Virilio's thinking. With the Cold War's culture of Pure War, its propaganda apparatus, and its disastrous effects for a more open public discourse (see Whitfield 1990), one can see evidence of the kind of endocolonisation of which Virilio speaks. Now with the War on Terror, democratic public life appears more jeopardised than ever. Pure War and information bombs (of which the rumour bomb is a type) create a confused, anxious citizenry. Rumour, one of the distinguishing features of contemporary American mediated politics, is a theoretical portal into new thinking about new political and social relations. The recent pervasiveness of rumour in mediated American public discourse is at the vexing convergence of new news market logics and resultant news gathering values and practices; and a century old process of technocratising American public life, which itself is closely tied up with techniques and initiatives of total and Pure War. In Pure War, enemies are deterritorialised, including Iraqis and Americans. In a culture of Pure War that produces local rumours and global tremors, it isn't only the 28,000-31,000 Iraqi civilians that have died since the US-led coalition invaded Iraq in the name of freedom; many Americans are captivated, over 16,600 are wounded, and over 2,300 of them are now dead...Or so it is rumoured.'s The author wishes to thank Meagan Zimbeck, Jonathon Sterne, Adrienne Russell, and Waddick Doyle for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay. While the political use of rumour has not been well studied in the present (most attention going to its close relative, spin), the singular catalysts that have been identified as productive of rumour-speed, entertainment news values, and political PR-have been identified as international news and politics trends the most advanced forms of which are American (Swanson 2004, pp. 50-3; Thussu 2003; Seib 2004; BIumler and Gurevich 1995). However, none so far has proposed or demonstrated how rumour use and circulation is facilitated by this convergence of factors. I am referring especially to the speech of Diodotus in Thucydides section 'the Mytilenean Debate' (1954). Discussion of the type of discourse that is necessary for functional democracy is broad. See Kellner (no date); Benhabib (1996); Gans (2003). Uniting and Strellgthenillg America by Providillg Appropriate Toots Required to Inte4rcept alld Obstruct Terrorism Act of 20Ot. As Virilio says, information bombs have become the supreme accident of the present. Real-time interaction is to information today what radioactivity was to energy in the epoch marked by the atomic bomb and its deterrence. Orson Welles'Warofthe Worldsis an exemplary information bomb. See Campbell & Jamieson (1990, p. 105) for the traditional generic requirements of presidential declarations of war. Spin is a generic term for strategic political communication that attempts to frame or re-frame an event or a statement in a way that is politically profitable for one side and detrimental to another, though at its core it may simply be a red herring (Bennett 2003, p. 130). The gatekeeping anxiety is pervasive. Columbia Joumalism Review's managing editor Steve Lovelady reiterates, 'We've said it before and we'll say it again: The great thing about the Internet is that anyone can start a blogand the terrible thing about the Internet is that anyone can start a blog' (Welch 2003). For a critique of this commercialisation of news and some of its institutional values from the position of democratic theory, see Gans (2003). 10 Tebbel and Watts (1985) suggest that Theodore Roosevelt (TR) was the first to use the news media to manage public opinion in aggressive new ways. TR expanded the White House press room, gave reporters phones, and talked openly with them. But perhaps more importantly, he controlled access by dividing the White House press into two groups, those who gave him favourable press and those who didn't. The first were lavished with attention and the second never got access to the president. He also gave the first group information with the proviso that they never revealed where they got it, thus starting the modern presidency off in a shroud of official source mystery (pp. 330-5). II This comparison is not meant to be exhaustive. There are a potentially huge number of comparisons and influences one could make by looking at case studies of war and news (Knightley 2004), but for economy's sake, I am focusing here on the CPI in World War I. 12 All further references to this study correspond to the following website: hhtttmp:I//www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Pres_Election_04/html/ new _10_21_04. 13 On the time-space component in news coverage, see Seib (2004, pp. 11-12); on time-space compression's negative effect on deliberative democracy, see Barber et al. (1997); on lack of context in stories about wars such as Iraq, see Ahmad (2003) and Philo & Gilmour (2004). 14 Virilio speaks about the intentions of such 'politics' and its strategies of communication/control. But I would stress how much more easily this is accomplished with the cultural sensibilities encouraged by speedy new media technologies and the difficulty of finding/forging space-time for deliberation. Thus, politicians who are rhetorically savvy, in classical rhetorical fashion, assess the situation and often respond to it successfully with the arme de choix,rumour. IS Figures from October 2005 (http://icasualties.org/oif!, http://www.iraqbodycount.net/). Notes References Ahmad, Aijaz (2003), 'Contextualizing conflict-the US War on Terrorism', in Daya K. Thussu and Des Freedman (eds) War alld the Media, London, Sage, pp. 15-27. Barber, Benjamin, Mattson, Kevin & Peterson, John (1997), The State of Electrollically Enhallced Democracy: A Reportof the Waif WllitmanCenter, November, http://wwc.rutgers.edu/markle.htm. viewed 4 October 2004. Baudrillard, Jean, (1988), 'Simulacra and Simulations', in Jean Baudrillard, SelectedWritillgs,edited by M. Poster,Stanford, Stanford University Press. I 1 106 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) I I Benhabib,Seyla (ed.)(1996),Democracyalld Differellce,Princeton, NJ,Princeton University Press. Bennett, Lance(2003),News:Tilefuture ofalll1lusiou, New York,Longman. Berenson, Bernard (1952), Rumour alld Reflectioll, New York, Simon & Schuster. Bernays, Edward, (1928), Propagallda,New York, Horace Liveright, Inc. -1955O,klahomaT. ile Ellgilleerillg of COllsellt, Norman, Oklahoma, University of Blumler, Jay & Gurevitch, Michael (1995), Tile Crisis ill Public COllllmmicatioll, London, Routledge. Bolton, Alexander (2006), 'Senate GOP plans Iraq PR blitz', 9 January, http://thehill.com/ thehill I export/TheHiII INewsl Frontpage 1010406 I iraq.html, viewed 5 January 2006. Bordia, Prashant & Difonzo, Nicholas (2004), 'Problem solving in social interactions on the Internet: rumour as cognition', SocialPsychologyQuarterly, vol. 67, no. 1, pp. 33-49. Campbell, Karlyn & Jamieson, Kathleen Hall (1990),Deeds DOlle ill Words, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Castro, Janice (2005), International Perspectives and the One-Minute News Cycle. Public lecture at the American University of Paris, 19 September. Condit, Celeste, (1989),'The rhetorical limits of polysemy', Critical Studies ill Mass Commlmicatioll, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 103-22. Cook, Timothy (1998), Govemillg With the News, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Corner, John (2000),'Medieval Persona and political culture', EuropeallJoumal of Cultural Studies,vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 386-402. Cutlip, Scott, Carter, Allen & Broom, Glen (2000), EffectivePublic Relatiolls,8th edn, Upper Saddle River, NJ, Prentice-Hall. Deggans, Eric (2004),The truth is out there, St PetersburgTimes,19September, http://www.sptimes.com. viewed 1 October 2005. De Vincente, Jorge (2004 unpublished), State branding in the 21st Century, Master's thesis, Tufts University, http://fletcher.tufts.edu/research/ 2004/DeVincente-Jorge.pdf, viewed 14 December 2005. Della Carpini, Michael & Williams, Bruce (2001), 'Let us infotain you', in L. Bennett & R. Entman (eds) Mediated Politics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Drezner, Daniel W.& Farrell, Henry (2004), ForeigllPolicy,November-December, http://webl.inform.galegroup.com. viewed 27 November 2005. Ewen, Stuart (1996), PR:A SocialHistory of Spill, New York, Basic Books. Foucault, Michel (1991), 'Governmentality', in Graham Burchell (ed.) 17le Foucault Effect,Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 87-104. Gans, Herbert J.(2003),Democracy alld the News, New York & London, Oxford University Press. Gaonkar, Dilip, (2005), Circulation, representation, and the networks of belief, paper presented at the Conference on Media and Belief, American University of Paris, 4 March. L _,.f':"'",-- The Rumour Bomb 107 Gilboa, Eytan (2005), 'The CNN effect: the search for an international relations theory of communication', Political Commllllicatioll, vol. 1, no. 22, pp. 24-7. Gitlin, Todd (2004), 'Lying about Kerry', FreeDemocracy, www.freedemocracy.com. viewed 21 February 2005. Grann, David (2004), 'Mark Halperin and the transformation of the Washington establishment', Tile New Yorker, 18 October,. online version, http://www.newyorker.com/fact/ content/?041025fa_fact, viewed 10 May 2005. Green, Joshua (2004), 'Karl Rove in a Corner', Allt/alltic MOlltlrly, November, www.atlantic.com. viewed 9 May 2005. Greenwald, Robert (2004), Outfoxed, The Disinformation Company. Grimm, Fred (2005), 'Perfect Project': Rove deserves a Rove Makeover, Miniherald.com, viewed 19 July 2005. Grossman, Lev (2004), 'Meet Joe Blog', Time, 21 June. Harsin, Jayson (forthcoming), 'The rumour "John Kerry is French", i.e. haughty, foppish, elitist, socialist, cowardly and gay-anti-American'. Harvey, David (1989), The COllditioll of PostmodemityN,ew York, Cambridge University Press. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall (1988), Eloquellce ill the Electrollic Age, New York, Oxford University Press. Jowett, Garth (1993),'Propaganda and the gulf war', Critical Studies ill Mass Commlmicatioll, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 286--301. Kaiser, Charles, (2005), 'Master of bashing', Advocate, 27 September, http://web23.epnet.com (Academic Search Premier), viewed 5 October 2005. Kampfner, John (2003), Saving Private Lynch story 'flawed', BBC News, 15 May, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/correspondent/ 3028585.stm, viewed 6 October 2005. Kellner, Douglas (no date), 'Habermas, the public sphere, and democracy: a critical intervention', http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/papers/habermas.htm. viewed 9 January 2006. Kernell, Samuel (1997), Goillg Public: New Strategiesill Presidelltial Leadersllip, Washington, DC, CQ Press. Kitty, Alexandra (2005),DOII't Believe It! How Lies BecomeNews, New York, Disinformation. Knightley,Philip (2004),Tile First Casualty, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins. Kovach, Bill & Rosenstiel, Tom (1999/2005), WarpSpeed:America ill tile Age of Mixed Media, chapter one, hOtctpto:/b/werww20.n0y5t.imes.com/books/first/k/kovach-warp.html. viewed 25 Kranish, Michael & Bender, Bryan (2004), Bush backs Cheney on assertion linking Hussein, AI Qaeda, Bostoll Globe,16 June, http://www.boston.com/news I na tion I washi ngton I articles I 2004 I 06 116 I bush_backs_cheney _on_assertion_linking_hussein_a I_qaeda I, viewed 2 March 2005. I Ii , II I I~ 108 Southern Review 39.1 (2006) I Kurtz, Howard (2003), For the news leak, a long if not honorable history, Washington Post, 6 October, lexisnexis.com, viewed 10 April 2004. La Fontaine, David (2005), Old-school community journalism shows: It's a wonderful 'Light', 25 August, http://www.ojr.org/ojrlstories/050825lafontaine/, viewed 6 October 2005. Lippman, Walter (1922/1963), 'Public opinion', The Esswtial Lippman, New York, Random House, pp. 102-4. Maarek, Phillip (1995), Political Marketing, London, John Libbey. Maltese, John (1992), Spin Control, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina. Marshall, Joshua Micah (2003), The postmodern president', Washington Monthly, vol. 35, no. 9, www.epnet.com (Academic Search Premier), viewed 5 November 2003. Mencher, Melvin (2000), News Reporting and Writing, Boston, McGraw-HilI. Miller, Laura (2004), 'The 2004 falsies awards', Altemet, 30 December, http://www.alternet.org, viewed 6 January 2005. Moore, James (2004), 'Smear Artist', Salon.com, 28 August, http://archive.salon.com/ news I feature 12004/08/28 I moore]ove_swift _boat/print.html, viewed 20 October 2005. Morrison, Blake (2004), Ex-USA Today reporter faked major stories, USA Today, 19 March, http://www.usatoday.com/news/2004-03-18-2004-03- 18_kelleymain_x.htm, viewed 2 February 2004. Moyers, Bill (2004), 'Journalism under fire', 17 September, http://www.tompaine.com/articles/journalism_ under_fire.php, viewed 22 October 2005. Paletz, David L. (2002), TheMedia in AmericanPolitics,New York,Longman. Pendleton, S.c. (1998), 'Rumour research revisited and expanded', Language& Communication, vol. 1. no. 18, pp. 69--86. Perloff, Richard (1998), Political Communication, Mahweh, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2004), Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe, A Survey Conducted in Association with Pew Internet and American Life Project, News Release, http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP ]oliticallnfo- Jan04.pdfPart 2, viewed 16 January 2005. Philo, Greg & Gilmour, Maureen (2004), 'Black holes of history', in David Miller (ed.) Tellmelies, London, Pluto Press, pp. 232-40. Plato (1961), Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns, Princeton, Princeton University Press, pp. 353--84. Powers, Thomas (2004), A temporary coup. Interview conducted by Mark Follman, Salon.com, 14 July, www.salon.com. viewed 8 December 2005. -(2006), 'Secret intelligence and the "War on Terror"', New York Reviewof Books, vol. 51, no. 20, online version, www.nybooks.com. viewed 18 December 2004. Project for Excellence in Journalism (2005), Five major trends, http://www.stateofthemedia.org, viewed 28 September 2005. L ~~L The Rumour Bomb 109 Rich, Frank (2004), How Kerry became a girlie man, The New York Times, 5 September 2, http://www.nytimes.com. viewed 14 September 2005. Robertson, Lori (2005), 'In Control', American Journalism Review, February I March, www.ajr.com. viewed 1 December 2005. Schell, Orville (2005), Introduction to Michael Massing, Now Tiley Tell Us,New York, New York Review of Books. Seib, Philip (2004), Beyondthe Front Lines:How the NewsMedia Covera World Simpedby War,New York,Palgrave. Shehata, Samer (2002),Why Bush's Middle East propaganda campaign won't work, Salon.com,12July, http://www.salon.com/news/ feature 12002/07 1121 propaganda I index_ np.html, viewed 2 February 2005. Sproule, J. Michael (1983),The new managerial rhetoric', Quarterly Joumal of Speech,vol. 74, no. 4, pp. 468--86. -(1997), Propagandaand Democracy,New York, Cambridge University Press. Sterne, Jonathon (2003), 'Notes toward the next media war', Bad Subjects,issue 26040, 5h.ttp://bad.eserver.org/issues/2oo3/64/sterne.html, viewed 3 January Swanson, David (2004), 'Transnational trends in political communication: conventional views and new realities', in Frank Esser & Barbara Pfetsch (eds) Comparing Political Communication, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 45-63. Tebbel, J.W. & Watts, S.M. (1985),Tile Pressand the Presidency,New York, Oxford University Press. ThucCydlaidsseiscs. (1954), History of the PeloponnesianWar, New York, Penguin Thussu, Daya (2003), 'War, infotainment and 24/7 news', in Daya K. Thussu & Des Freedman (eds) War and tile Media, London, Sage, pp. 117-32. Tulis, Jeffrey (1987), TheRhetoricalPresidency,Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press. Twitchell, James (2004), BrandedNation, New York,Simon &Schuster. Underwood, Doug (1995), Whm MBAs Rule the Newsroom, New York, Columbia University Press. University of Maryland, Program on International Attitudes/Knowledge Newwork (2004), The SeparateRealities of Bush and Kerry Supporters, http:// www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Pres_Election_04/html/ new _10_ 21_04.html, viewed 15 January 2005. Virilio, Paul (1986), Speedand Politics, New York, Semiotexte. --(1997), Pure War, New York, Semiotexte. --(1999), TIle Politicsof the Very Worst,New York, Semiotexte. --{2OOO), TIleInformation Bomb,London, Verso. Welch, Matt (2003), 'Blogworld', The Columbia Journalism Review, issue 5, September IOctober, http://cjr.org/issues/2003/5/blog-welch.asp, viewed 25 October 2005. Whitfield, Stephen J. (1990), The Culture of the Cold War, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. -r 110 Sout/lern Review 39.1 (2006) Additional websites http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/PoIIVault 1story?id=5827 44&page=2 http://icasualties.org/oif/ http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0703-02.htm http://www.iraqbodycount.net 1 http://www.prwatch.org/node/3790 www.prwatch.org/tazonomy 1terml 12019 www.snopes.com.truthorfiction.com. and factcheck.org