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Washington Monthly | Inoculation As a Form of Propaganda

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With all of the focus on the way Fox News provides a propaganda platform for Donald Trump, national news outlets haven’t been paying as much attention to the Sinclair Broadcasting Group—which has been focused on taking over local broadcast news.

It is worth remembering that a 2018 report from Emory University found that “when Sinclair buys a local station, its news program begin to cover more national and less local politics, the coverage becomes more conservative, and viewership actually falls — suggesting that the rightward tilt isn’t enacted as a strategy to win more viewers but as part of a persuasion effort.” In other words, Sinclair has become the local right wing propaganda network.

True to form, Eric Bolling’s show on Sinclair recently featured an interview with Peter Schweizer. You might remember him as Steve Bannon’s partner who authored the book Clinton Cash, which was weaponized by the Trump campaign in 2016. More recently, Schweizer wrote Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends. His discussion with Bolling represents a form of propaganda we’re seeing quite often these days.

“The problem is the corruption is being globalized,” Schweizer said. “What that means is that foreign governments and foreign oligarchs are looking to recruit the family members of politicians because they believe by striking commercial bargains with them—helping politician families become rich—that they’re going to get favorable treatment.”

“And Joe Biden has been a major recipient of that kind of largesse from them,” Schweizer added.

As he did with Clinton Cash, all Schweizer has to back up his claims of corruption are inference and innuendo, with zero actual evidence. But what struck me was the fact that stories about “globalized corruption” in the form of allegations about countries like Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia have been rampant when it comes to Donald Trump and his family. As a matter of fact, this story broke at about the same time as Schweizer’s interview.

A real estate company part-owned by Jared Kushner has received $90m in foreign funding from an opaque offshore vehicle since he entered the White House as a senior adviser to his father-in-law Donald Trump.

Investment has flowed from overseas to the company, Cadre, while Kushner works as an international envoy for the US, according to corporate filings and interviews. The money came through a vehicle run by Goldman Sachs in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven that guarantees corporate secrecy.

Kushner, who is married to Trump’s elder daughter Ivanka, kept a stake in Cadre after joining the administration, while selling other assets. His holding is now valued at up to $50m, according to his financial disclosure documents.

When right winger’s like Schweizer level these kind of charges about the Biden’s, they are obviously forms of hypocrisy and projection. But it’s also a type of propaganda that we could call inoculation, because they introduce the disease into the body politic as a profilacric against accountability. To mitigate charges of corruption against Trump and his family, similar charges are leveled against their opponents. As we’re seeing now with Attorney General Barr’s investigation of the investigators, that ultimately leads charges being met with countercharges.

The reason that ind of propaganda works for Republicans is because low information voters—spurred by a media obsessed with bothsiderism—tend to respond by saying “they all do it,” which promotes cynicism and a disengagement from the political process. As Barack Obama once wrote:

A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

As with all forms of propaganda, this one is not easy to combat. But the first step is to recognize what’s going on. From there, taking personal responsibility for staying grounded in facts and evidence, no matter where they lead, is the only possible antidote.

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