From the New York Times:
A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR AUG. 28, 2016
STOCKHOLM — With a vigorous national debate underway on whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, officials in Stockholm suddenly encountered an unsettling problem: a flood of distorted and outright false information on social media, confusing public perceptions of the issue.
The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.
After all, think about how much more peace and prosperity Sweden would have enjoyed over the last 102 years without its debilitating policy of neutrality.
They were all false, but the disinformation had begun spilling into the traditional news media, and as the defense minister, Peter Hultqvist, traveled the country to promote the pact in speeches and town hall meetings, he was repeatedly grilled about the bogus stories.
“People were not used to it, and they got scared, asking what can be believed, what should be believed?” said Marinette Nyh Radebo, Mr. Hultqvist’s spokeswoman.
As often happens in such cases, Swedish officials were never able to pin down the source of the false reports. But they, numerous analysts and experts in American and European intelligence point to Russia as the prime suspect, noting that preventing NATO expansion is a centerpiece of the foreign policy of President Vladimir V. Putin, who invaded Georgia in 2008 largely to forestall that possibility.
Speaking of disinformation, you know and I know that the NYT’s sentence about who invaded whom in 2008 is deeply misleading. This is kind of like saying
… undermining Arab nationalism was a centerpiece of the career of Ariel Sharon, who invaded Egypt nine days after Yom Kippur in 1973 largely to forestall that possibility.
But of course we’re all on Putin’s payroll, so we would think that, wouldn’t we?
What’s striking about this is that the NYT itself invested a fair amount of reporting resources in the aftermath of Georgia’s invasion of Russian protectorate South Ossetia to determine who invaded whom, and the Times‘ conclusion pointed in the opposite direction of what it now so breezily claims happened.
Perhaps, though, Putin employs a mole deep in the Times archives with the Winston Smith-like job of rewriting old Times articles to conform with the Kremlin’s current line about what actually happened way back in 2008?
Similarly, the Bush Administration (and future Obama Administration) Secretary of Defense at the time, Robert Gates, wrote in his memoirs:
On August 7, Georgia launched a massive artillery barrage and incursion to retake the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali.
But that just proves that Putin’s Hasbara operations have tentacles deep inside the NYT newsroom and the Pentagon itself.
Seriously, I don’t doubt that the Kremlin currently finances propaganda exercises aimed at the West, just as it did during the Nuclear Freeze era of 35 years ago (even though that has been largely forgotten in the West for not being a convenient part of the Narrative because Russia’s willing collaborators in the West aren’t the Official Bad Guys).
Indeed, Putin’s hasbara efforts are pretty obvious and unsophisticated.
In contrast, as this Georgia disinformation shows, NATO hasbara seems to be quite effective at manipulating the Climate of Opinion without even its agents quite noticing what’s going on.
Not even counting its NATO allies, the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s biggest employer. It’s hard to find out how much the Pentagon spends on public relations, but it appears to be a lot.
From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, the press was relatively skeptical of the military industrial complex, as shown by the hostile 1971 CBS documentary “The Selling of the Pentagon” on the DoD’s PR efforts. But since victory in the Cold War, 9/11, and especially during the Obama Administration, the once adversarial relationship between the press and the Pentagon has largely faded away.
My guess is that the military-industrial complex has gotten pretty adept at using carrots rather than sticks to help along the careers of cooperative journalists by granting them more access, while more skeptical reporters find that their emails don’t get returned until just after deadline and the like: the little stuff that adds up.
And over the last 8 years, high-level foreign and military policy has been in the hands of people with whom establishment journalists feel culturally comfortable.