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. 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