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Tuesday, April 12, 2005


A Guide to the Ways of the Smear Artists, Ratcheters, Mirror Flakkers . . .

Paul de Rooij has written an excellent guide to the tactics employed by the extremely well funded David Horowitz and his cohorts which amounts to an undemining of civil society. Some excerpts (the whole story is a must read for activists so that we know what we're up against):

He calls this "pushing the envelope":

"Some right-wingers want to transform the political scene by narrowing the political spectrum, and undermining their opponents on the "left". In order to accomplish this "radical" right-wing dream, projects are promoted to push the political discourse envelope. Twenty years ago, the American public would have had no stomach for Bill O'Reilly or similar corrosive talk show hosts [16]. In the meantime, an array of increasingly extreme rightwing propaganda and media were unleashed on the US public. These projects first appeared on the margins, and then moved towards the mainstream; the right-wing radio talk show format moved into the mainstream. This process continues today and explains the purpose of the various Horowitz endeavors, that is, to push the envelope, narrow the political spectrum, and move the entire political discourse to the right. FrontPage makes FoxNews look respectable, and thus serves to legitimize media like Fox. The implication is that if there are players to the right of Fox News, then Fox can't be all that bad."

This is the "echo chamber effect":

"A message is amplified and legitimized when several players repeat it. If Campus-Watch was alone railing against critical academics, then Daniel Pipes' frothing could easily be dismissed as deranged diatribes. When several players repeat the message, then one propagandist lends legitimacy to the other; the more players, the stronger the legitimizing effect [17]. This seems to be the reason that a Campus-Watch-type clone has emerged ­ these organizations even share personnel!"

This is "smearing of critics"

"The Hasbara Manual, a 131-page propaganda manual, was distributed to US-zionist campus organizations; it lists many techniques to whitewash Israel, and to defuse the message of its critics [18]. Two of its key recommendations are to: (1) "attack the messenger and not the message", and (2) to "gain points" with the public targets by "manipulating," and diverting them from "rationality," "real examination," and "thinking critically". Well now, this is a splendid explanation for the role FrontPage and Campus-Watch play in the US today. Much of what these organizations do is smearing and undermining rational discussion of a range of issues.
Both FrontPage and Campus-Watch have targeted Prof. Juan Cole, and they seem to be particularly incensed by Prof. Cole's Informed Comment, a popular and important news analysis blog [19]. Prof. Cole is critical of the US war in Iraq, of US policy in the region in general and of US-foreign-policy subservience to Israel in particular. FrontPage devotes copious resources to smearing Cole in an attempt to discredit Informed Comment. Prof. Cole has on occasion lambasted the FP libelous attacks on him, but of more interest is his explanation for some of these activities. Cole suggests that one of the purposes behind the repeated smearing operations is to obtain what he called a "Google Smear"."


"However, how can one sue for libel if the accusations ratchet over time and are attributable to various sources? FrontPage, Campus-Watch, and New York Sun just regurgitate smears, elaborate them and compound what amounts to libel. Prof. Massad documents one case where the New York Sun misquoted him, and while he asked for a correction at the Sun, Jonathan Calt Harris (associated with Campus-Watch) wrote an article amplifying the offending smear [22]. Steven Plaut quotes Calt Harris and the pernicious cycle continues."

And this he calls the "Mirror Flak":

"Sporadically one finds leftist critiques of different news media, human right groups, NGOs and so forth. For example, one often finds critical studies of the BBC or CNN output issued by leftist groups, and this author has written several critical articles about Amnesty International (AI) [23]. Right-wing groups aim to counter or neutralize these critiques by what one could refer to as "mirror flak". While I have repeatedly criticized AI for its dubious record on reporting human rights abuses in Israel-Palestine, one suddenly encounters an article by the notorious Steven Plaut claiming the opposite [24]. That is, Plaut claims that AI is biased against Israel. So, by attacking AI, or any organization that has been criticized by the left, the effect of the original critique is neutralized. AI can claim that it is being attacked by both "left" and "right", and thus must be doing something right. The same thing happens with the critical studies of the BBC or CNN. On a regular basis, various groups will produce mirror flak, thus helping these organizations avoid having to confront accusations about their biased stance. Several articles in FrontPage fall into this category."

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