Mar 16

Putin-style propaganda now defines Trump’s GOP

Fog of Unknowability

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Eric Boehlert
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Russian president Vladimir Putin stands as one of the most hated world figures in recent history, with a barely-there favorable rating of 4 percent among Americans. Yet his influence within MAGA America grows. The dictator’s unique brand of propaganda and disinformation — dubbed the “Fog of Unknowability” — has been embraced by the Republican Party, Trump and Fox News.

It’s a stunning collective that’s become more pronounced during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  The evidence of that alliance was on display when Kremlin forces teamed up with Fox News and GOP players to push the obvious distraction about Ukraine being the home of secret, U.S.-funded bioweapons that target certain ethnicities, thereby producing some sort of justification for Russia’s land war.

It’s shocking to watch an American media outlet such as Fox routinely suggest the U.S. provoked the Ukraine invasion, side with Russia over America, and smear Ukrainians as being unworthy of U.S. support. Still, the anti-democratic, authoritarian bonds are becoming tighter as the Trump movement now turns to the Kremlin for its messaging cues. The overlap is undeniable, and the implications are grave.

Look at how the Washington Post recently described Putin-era propaganda: “Russian disinformation often begins with a speck of fact, which is then twisted into a full-blown conspiracy theory. The technique makes it easier to spread and take root among the country’s supporters.” Sound familiar? They’re describing the foundation of Fox News’ daily programming.

For some reason though, the D.C. media which so easily identifies Russian propaganda, refuse to apply the same term when the GOP engages in the exact same behavior.

Note that the Post piece suggested Fox News’ Tucker Carlson had “fallen” for Russian disinformation about a bioweapons program in Ukraine. Trust me, nobody at Fox News, in the right-wing media, or inside the GOP has “fallen” for the bioweapons story — no one got duped. They have knowingly embraced the campaign of lies. That’s why state-run Russia TV is encouraged to air clips of Carlson. The two validate each other.

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What makes Putin’s brand of propaganda unique is that it’s not designed to win over converts; it’s not built to ‘prove’ a point. The goal is to create confusion and raise doubts, often through a stream of contradictions and lies. Using the Kremlin’s firehouse approach, so much confusion is created so often via a multitude of media platforms, it becomes impossible to navigate the deliberate fog. Putin has buried Russia in that misinformation morass for more than two decades.

This isn’t traditional Beltway spin, where partisan players tease out and extend the facts in order to make a preferred point. It’s a sophisticated, KGB-influenced brand of postmodern propaganda that deftly mixes facts with fiction, with constantly shifting storylines, to the point where it’s not possible for most Russian news consumers to discern the truth. They stop even trying. Collective passivity is the goal.

“At the heart of this mind-set is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth or even facts, because everything is spun or disguised to reflect advantageously on one group or another,” Vanity Fair noted in a seminal piece from 2017 about Trump’s early embrace of Putin’s propaganda playbook. “This dark internal logic allows for the Kremlin propaganda machine's single greatest achievement: to rub out all distinctions between truth and lies, so that facts, conspiracies, reality, and fabrications are all pulled down into the same indistinguishable muck.”

The result? The dense fog of unknowability. “Once you've successfully swamped truth, you're no longer accountable for your actions,” wrote Vanity Fair’s Mike Mariani.

Authoritarian Trump immediately adopted the Putin strategy as president. Three quick examples from early 2017:

• When the White House announced it was abandoning the Paris climate accord, the administrating claimed it was because of a “slush fund” that the U.S. was flushing billions of dollars each year into and letting other countries spend — but the “slush fund” doesn’t exist. It was a choreographed lie.

• That May in 2017, the White House trumpeted the news that it had brokered a $110 billion arms sale to a Middle East power. But the deal never existed. It was fabricated.

• One month later, after Trump announced plans to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system, he and Republican members of Congress then staged a fake bill-signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House. There, supportive politicians gathered around the seated president, who signed nothing more than a letter to Congress stating his support for the proposal. The entire event was Kabuki theater.

In four years, the D.C. press never adjusted to Trump’s lies and contradictions. The media was soon enveloped in the Fog, in part by refusing to begin each news cycle with the assumption that Trump lied without pause. Instead, the press became distracted by each morsel of disinformation, overwhelmed by the spectacle of constant chaos.

Putin-style propaganda has been a political win for American conservatives. Now they’re repaying the Kremlin by running interference for its invasion.

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🇷🇺 GOOD STUFF:

More from that must-read, 2017 Vanity Fair piece, “Is Trump’s Chaos Tornado a Move From the Kremlin’s Playbook?”:

What if all the Trumpian chaos that the “mainstream media” have come to take for granted as pugilism and vanity was part of a more cunning plan? What if Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon were actually drawing from a sophisticated postmodern propaganda model developed by none other than Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov, and their political technologists at the Kremlin? While Trump may not have state-controlled media at his disposal, as Putin does, to serve as 24-7 propaganda organs both domestically and abroad, his team is finding ways to shrewdly approximate Putin’s capacity to shape narratives and create alternative realities.

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🚂 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Dolly Parton, “Blue Smoke”

The queen of country music made headlines this week when she asked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to remove her name from the list of eligible nominees this year because she said she hadn’t earned the right to be inducted.

Parton continues to be a beacon of good will in so many important ways, and an American icon.

“Blue Smoke” is from a decade ago and it’s my favorite Parton song ever. Give it a listen, it will change your day for the better.

I packed my suitcase full of heartaches
Headin' to the train depot
And I bought a one-way ticket
On that train they call Blue Smoke
I left the station straight-up midnight
Feelin' lonely, lost and blue
In a trail of blue smoke with my heart broke
Said good-bye to you

🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via Apple Music.