Distraction and Diversion are no Longer Working

President Donald Trump is having a nasty surprise. on Sunday night he posted in all caps a nastygram directed at Iran. As usual, most of the media took the bait, since they have to report. But something else is happening. He wagged the tail to try to change the subject from Helsinki and that disastrous meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And for the first time it did not work as advertised. At least on CNN something fantastic happened. Reporters across three shows noted what he did, and chiefly why. They kept the conversation going on what happened in Helsinki, or rather what did not happen. Nor did his authoritarian enemies list from the intelligence community fully work to stop the conversation.

The list of matters before the American people that he was trying to distract is long. Among them are as follows:

  • Helsinki
  • Family Separation
  • The upcoming Paul Manafort trial
  • The effects of the trade war on farmers and other Americans
  • The Cohen tapes

This list is hardly exhaustive, However, the president does not wish for you to speak about any of this. So he is doing all he can to distract. So what is going on? To be brutal President Trump uses his Twitter feed to distract from real issues and to set the news cycle. For the first time I am watching analysts on major media explain this mechanism to the audience. They are also calling it what it is: Propaganda. There is more. For the first time they continue to tell us that we do not know what Trump and Vladimir Putin talked about. Incidentally, the Russians are saying they are implementing the agreements. Never mind we have no idea what they are.

Until now the president was able to set that news cycle. Mostly reporters and commenters allowed it. Whether they played along hoping that somehow the president would understand norms, or they did because they had no idea how to deal with this will be for historians to argue.. The reality is that Trump is a unique event in American history. His tactics to distract and divert are not new on the world stage, but they are to the country. Then we heard something else from Michael D’Antonio during the Don Lemmon show. He described what Trump is dong as a “Soviet technique.” He then explained it. It is the use of conspiracies, at times opposing each other to disorient his victims. In this case the American people. It is also used to discredit the news media, which he needs to do since they have yet to stop calling him out.

This is something that Vladimir Putin learned while in the KGB, and has been using since he took power. It is effective and anybody familiar with Russian, or developing democracies is familiar with it. It is hardly unique to the Soviets, but it is an accurate description.

We might have reached a critical moment in this rolling crisis. At least some on CNN are finally taking some command of the situation. They are educating the viewer on the techniques at play. They are not repeating the tweets without full explanation. It is time for major media to take the next step. It is an easy one. They took the hard one last night. They need to stop magnifying the tweets. As long as we see those tweets on their air, the president will continue to win in his fight against reality.

Let’s stop pretending. Donald Trump not only admires strong men like Vladimir Putin, and Al Sissi. He wants to be one. He also came from the media system that relied heavily on marketing. Marketing techniques and propaganda techniques are not that far from each other. This is why he has excelled at controlling the story lines. Why media needs to realize they are being played. (And I think they have, and now told us such.)

Strong men, like Trump and Putin, rely on propaganda. They also depend, strongly mind you, on a supine press. The press in the United States is not showing any signs of becoming that, save the partisan right wing elements such as Fox News and outlets right, some of which are hardly news, but open propaganda. Fox is acting precisely like a captured press does. It is hardly independent. It is hardly meant to educate. It repeats whatever the talking points are for the day. They magnify the messages from the White House, and are hardly there to serve their audience.

So the Iran threat did not fully work. Predictably we come to the raising of the stakes. When Press Secretary Sara Sanders announced an enemies list to the news media, she made major, needs to be covered now news. And the media went into the paroxysm of breaking news. However, by the evening that story line was described as another effort to distort, distract and divert from what ails Trump. And it was not even done with any kind of research, since two of the people did not have clearances anymore already. But it was great as a base event, an attack on the invisible deep state. This incidentally is a Soviet frame.

There is more, the public enemies list takes us to Nixonian territory. It is quite frankly beyond Nixon. After all, Nixon had the god given sense to keep both his rants and his enemies lists private. Both emerged years later in his tapes, the same tapes he tried to keep private. These were the tapes he kept due to his own deep sense of paranoia. In this case, the president is questioning the loyalty of men who are loyal to the United States, not him. This loyalty to the dictator, the strong man, is also something not familiar to Americans, but very much so abroad.

Some analysts on major media pointed out this happens often in developing world countries. They are correct. After a coup, your enemies go to prison. The same happens after a sham election. Remember, Trump has threatened to throw Hillary Clinton in jail. This is common in places with strong men, who Trump happens to admire. Whether you like Secretary Clinton or not, this threat violates democratic norms.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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