In his book The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia British journalist Angus Roxburgh details the time he spent working as a public relations consultant for the Russian government. The problem he confronted, he writes, is that the Russians felt that negative fallout from any type of bad news, or bad behaviour, could be avoided if the news was given the appropriate media spin. He kept telling them that if they insisted on doing x or y, it would look bad regardless of how it was spun, while they insisted that as a PR guy it was up to him to make it look good nevertheless. In essence, Roxburgh says, the Russians never understood that if you put lipstick on a pig, everyone will still see that it’s a pig.
It’s a fair enough point, and I couldn’t help thinking of it when reading news this past week of a big dump of leaked documents showing how the British government has been spending millions of pounds on supporting anti-Kremlin journalists, media organizations, youtubers and other influencers both in Russia and its near abroad (especially the Baltic states).
The leaked documents consist of instructions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to companies wanting to bid for contracts to supervise the media campaign, as well as various bids drawn up by companies hoping to win the contracts. You can find some of the details in an article by Kit Klarenburg on RT as well as on the Moon of Alabama blog.
The latter goes out of its way to portray this as a campaign of British subversion targeted against Russia. Strictly speaking, nothing in the documents says that. Rather, the FCO couches its language in terms of training journalists, overcoming disinformation, improving the quality of reporting, raising journalistic ethics, and so on. Who can argue with any of that? On the surface, it’s all fine and dandy, though perhaps a bit patronising, as there’s an underlying assumption that Russians are incapable of high quality, ethically sound reporting, whereas the UK (home of the Sun, the Daily Express, and the like) knows all about that sort of thing and can teach those poor benighted Russians how to do things properly.
Dig a bit deeper, though, and it’s clear that something is not quite as innocent as the FCO would like to make it out. Particularly striking was a statement that British funds have been used to set up a network of Russian youtubers while also helping them avoid having to register themselves as ‘foreign agents’, as required by Russian law. It’s hard to see how the Brits will be able to explain that to the Russians as not constituting interference in domestic affairs and aiding and abetting people to break the law.
Likewise, it’s difficult to say how one can describe positively the news that the FCO-funded Zink Network has been working with the Latvia-based Meduza and other media outlets, holding “weekly mentoring sessions with specialists from the outlets”, “adjusting their editorial and commercial strategy accordingly” and creating “common framings of issues.” It will be interesting to see how Meduza from now on rebuffs the accusation that it’s acting as an arm of the British government (I imagine that it just won’t bother trying).
I’m not going to go into all the details – you can read them yourselves, if you want. Instead, I feel it useful to mention a couple of points which these documents raised in my mind.
The first is that what I’ve called elsewhere the ‘disinformation industry’ (i.e. the industry devoted to combatting alleged Russian disinformation) is big business. There’s millions of pounds to be made in this. And nobody’s going to get any of that money by playing down the Russian threat.
The second is that it is all utterly pointless, even counterproductive. This sort of thing has a tendency to become public knowledge – as it now has – and when it does, it looks bad. In the process, it taints all and every anti-government source of information in Russia as the agent of hostile foreign states, even when they’re not. In this way, schemes like this actually end up playing into the hands of the Kremlin, justifying its claims that Russia is under attack from the West.
Perhaps that wouldn’t matter if somehow this great media campaign convinced huge numbers of people to change their view of the world. But I don’t see any evidence that it does. One of the leaked documents has the following to say about the Baltic states:
“Especially amongst 40+ populations there is a lower level of trust in both the domestic and international media amongst Russian-speaking populations. There is the strong perception that the Baltic states’ Russian TV and radio programmes favour a Baltic perspective rather than reflect the Russian minority’s perspectives. There is also a degree of mistrust in the authorities especially around citizenship and language.“
Returning to Mr Roxburgh, the correct solution to this, it seems to me, would be to address the policies that cause the mistrust, and also to start reflecting the Russians’ perspectives in your programming. But that’s not what the FCO plan wants to do. It assumes that the current policies and perspectives are fine; they just need some decent PR to sell them better. So, keep on churning out the same old line, just train some people to do it more professionally.
In short, paint some lipstick on the pig. But as the quote above shows, the reason Russians are listening to the message isn’t because the pig is ugly, but because it’s a pig. Making it a nicely painted British pig isn’t going to help in the slightest.
39 thoughts on “Lipstick on a Pig, British-Style: Or Why the UK’s Anti-Russian Propaganda Campaign is Bound to Fail”
Re: “The latter goes out of its way to portray this as a campaign of British subversion targeted against Russia. Strictly speaking, nothing in the documents says that. Rather, the FCO couches its language in terms of training journalists, overcoming disinformation, improving the quality of reporting, raising journalistic ethics, and so on. Who can argue with any of that? On the surface, it’s all fine and dandy, though perhaps a bit patronising, as there’s an underlying assumption that Russians are incapable of high quality, ethically sound reporting, whereas the UK (home of the Sun, the Daily Express, and the like) knows all about that sort of thing and can teach those poor benighted Russians how to do things properly.”
Of late, the BBC’s Russia coverage (especially regarding Sarah Rainsford and Steve Rosenberg) doesn’t seem so far removed (if at all) from the above referenced Brit venues.
Re: “Likewise, it’s difficult to say how one can describe positively the news that the FCO-funded Zink Network has been working with the Latvia-based Meduza and other media outlets, holding ‘weekly mentoring sessions with specialists from the outlets’, ‘adjusting their editorial and commercial strategy accordingly’ and creating ‘common framings of issues.’ It will be interesting to see how Meduza from now on rebuffs the accusation that it’s acting as an arm of the British government (I imagine that it just won’t bother trying).”
Along with Mark Galeotti, Meduza is a venue promoted at this blog and JRL, in a manner much unlike the Strategic Culture Foundation and my Eurasia Review column. The latter two offering something that’s competently opposite of the slant of the former grouping.
unlike the Strategic Culture Foundation and my Eurasia Review column
Maybe you advise the publishers to add a Russia category to their focus of attention. It would be easy to connect it with different tags if necessary.
Personally I wouldn’t want to bugger any blog author on what links to add to his blog and which not. I find Paul’s list helpful, including the ones I rarely have the time to look at. Among them Meduza, maybe it’s nostalgia, since Lytt drew my attention in that context somewhere else. But tell me, why not watch the Baltic Russian expats? There are unfortunately more blogs or authors one would like to follow, but hardly has the time. American fans of Seymour Hersh had to visit the LRB too, once upon a time … 😉
Every time you mention Eurasia Review it triggers Andrew Korybko, can’t help. When I first stumbled across him, he was very, very close to my private opinion. Later he sometimes irritated me, even made me angry occasionally, but I guess that’s what geopolitics are all about. He is Russia based, but pops up here or there, for longer now. Thus, his Twitter feed is helpful.
At the time I met him word wise he was already circling around Hybrid Wars, I recall
Ah that’s, why Eurasia triggers Korybko:
Re: “Maybe you advise the publishers to add a Russia category to their focus of attention. It would be easy to connect it with different tags if necessary.”
Unz among others don’t appear to offer such. Thanks to my effort, Eurasia Review is pecked up at the Brit based News Now venue. I didn’t succeed in doing likewise with the Strategic Culture Foundation. That reality is indicative of the bias out there, when you consider some of the venues (like StopFake and Euromaidan Press), which News Now carries.
Re: “Personally I wouldn’t want to bugger any blog author on what links to add to his blog and which not. I find Paul’s list helpful, including the ones I rarely have the time to look at.”
I wasn’t the one who made an issue of not having and/or removing The Saker and Russia Insider for reasons that appear hypocritical, given how the Meduza editor has carried on. Ditto Galeotti.
I find the aforementioned list in the PC JRL court appointed Russia friendly category, which is limited from what can be qualitatively offered.
Re: “Every time you mention Eurasia Review it triggers Andrew Korybko, can’t help. When I first stumbled across him, he was very, very close to my private opinion. Later he sometimes irritated me, even made me angry occasionally, but I guess that’s what geopolitics are all about. He is Russia based, but pops up here or there, for longer now. Thus, his Twitter feed is helpful.”
Eurasia Review shouldn’t be confused with the categorized Eurasianist mindset to some of the Russian intelligentsia.
AK seems like a decent chap. Not sure if he’s still Russia based. He has US ties. AK invited me on a show he hosted at Sputnik.
Along with Mark Galeotti, Meduza is a venue promoted at this blog and JRL, in a manner much unlike the Strategic Culture Foundation and my Eurasia Review column. The latter two offering something that’s competently opposite of the slant of the former grouping.
Within my as always limited mental capacities and assuming you refer to Irrussionality, personally I only look at link lists, or let’s say, I am statistically more likely to do so, if something about the argument irritates me.
Thus, what is your core point? David Johnson does not offer the space to utter your dissent?
Look, I simply don’t understand what you are trying to tell me.
Check back at what you said. I answered in an appropriately direct way.
I consider the Strategic Culture Foundation a very, very mixed bag of goods. Thus, if I had a blog, its very, very unlikely I would link to it.
I try to read some people often like Brian Cloughley, Martin Jay, Finian Cunningham and Patrick Armstrong. But they have to pop up on the front page. If I have more time I look at earlier articles I missed. …
I save a link to Eurasia Review’s Europe section. Ok, I know that won’t help and will not stop your repeated complaint. You might though consider this, your strategy had the opposite effect on me. I am a subscriber to Johnson’s Russia list for a while now.
Everything is a mixed bag as no one person or entity is perfect. Strategic Culture Foundation better than Meduza and Galeotti. Likewise, my Eurasia Review column is at times on par and better better than the JRL court appointed Russia friendly options as well.
The manner of your spiteful end remark explains what’s wrong with the coverage. Too many people like you contradict an improved coverage.
Not to be overlooked is when Russia’s position (as in valid mainstream Russian perspectives) is misrepresented c/o slanted anti-Russian perspectives favored in Western mass media.
Nowadays, CNN’s idea of the “Russian view” is to have their Russia hand Matthew Chance give it, instead of someone actually favoring that perspective.
There’s also the typically stacked Al Jazeera-France 24 way of a 3 (2 guests and the host) against 1 pro-Russian advocate, with the latter being (at times) someone not so English language savvy.
Reminded of a recent BBC James Coomarasamy hosted segment when he gave carte blanche to some Russian “liberal” who (among other hyperbolic things) said that Putin needs to be stopped along the lines of what should’ve been done sooner with Hitler. On the other hand, Coomarasamy (in that same segment) jumped all over Sergey Markov.
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> This sort of thing has a tendency to become public knowledge – as it now has – and when it does, it looks bad.
Ha! Ask the “public” if it heard about this. Bet they haven’t. Only few close watchers like yourself or MoA read the original documents. RT’s article probably has the highest reach in this story, which is honestly not much. I can’t find any mention of it in other media. When I tried sharing the link to the original source (https://telegra.ph/OP-HMG-Trojan-Horse-Part-4-Undermining-Russia-I-02-04) on Twitter, I couldn’t. The link is identified as “harmful”, Twitter said, and post could not be made.
Interestingly, I’m barely seeing anything in Russian either. Colonel Cassad made a post with MoA’s article traslation, and that’s pretty much it. Hey, “Kremlin propagandists”, do your job properly please XD
In short – even if it looks bad, so what if nobody’s looking?
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P.S. My comment seems to have went to the spam filter due to the link in it. Can you check please?
Comment is now up.
#me too, I couldn’t help but had to babble.
Great article Paul worth to read twice. 😉
Bottom line is that some people will continue to believe whatever they want to concerning Russia – no matter the warpedness. An example is this chap, who has a recent book release claiming the Russian government has kompromat on Trump:
Eh, Baltic “states”. How quickly would they last. What is the speed of T-72. For our British partners we have Bulava. For this planet to survive some “eyes” will have to go. Completely. Kapich?
Surely, it’ll have some effect. At least on those who’re already inclined (in various degrees) to accept the framing they produce.
Plus, it’s useful for the domestic Western propaganda, quoting Russian ‘human rights advocates’ who conform to the standard western narrative.
Plus, it can be used for provoking a reaction, creating ‘victims of the regime’. Protests can be organized at the right moments, and managed. Etc.
All in all, seems like a normal psy-op.
Somewhat on par with when the Soviets utilized the likes of Gus Hall and Angela Davis for American perspectives.
Agree with Mao. Westies would not bother to spend money on these psy-ops campaigns if they were totally ineffective. In other words, they are effective, to a certain degree.
Yeah, and they would have got away with it too if it weren’t for those pesky leakers. (Bravo, Leakers! Julian Assange may be in prison, but other truth-tellers shall arise to take his place…)
P.S. Lipstick may not be enough to make a pig beautiful, but some mascara as well, and damned if she ain’t gorgeous:
“Yeah, and they would have got away with it too if it weren’t for those pesky leakers.”
Psy-ops don’t have to be covert. Think, for example, of dropping leaflets on enemy territory, urging surrender. Standard procedure, practiced, I’m sure, since the beginning of WWI. No pretense, no secrecy, and those who do it are not embarrassed by it.
I imagine that they have no hard data to prove that any of this ‘works’, but they feel that they ought to ‘do something’. So they’re trying it out. Besides, there’s money and jobs in it – it’s sort of like the military industrial complex. It doesn’t need to ‘work’, in the sense of producing positive results in terms of promoting national interests, It just needs to keep key interests happy.
Likewise, all the hundreds of millions that Russia pours into RT, Sputnik, etc. What effect is that having? Are Western populations becoming more pro-Russian as a result? Not in the slightest. Gigantic waste of money, imho – at least if the purpose is somehow to swing the populations of the West to a pro-Russian line.
What do you suggest? That no counter be offered? RT could and should be better.
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You’ve managed to solicit a very sensible chuckle from me, Professor. It’s as if you think your commentariat here possess a memory storage capacity of the proverbial golden fishes and already forgot simple and undeniable fact, that you in the years of your happy “yoof” was Her Majesty’s intelligencer in training.
OTOH, credulous and all-too-willing deserve to be fed feces in the form of blatant barefaced lies and distortions.
Meanwhile in the real of the modern Twillight Struggle (c):
Just because you, Professor, think something “not a big deal” (from the vaunted position of the ivory tower Academia halls) doesn’t mean that: a) It’s legal. b) It should be tolerated and accepted.
In fact, your insistence on a “no biggie” interpretation *is* a form of propaganda and information warfare. Old school tricks never die, amiright? 🙂
Because some things have to be said – agitation and propaganda are essential in any struggle. No, they ain’t a “kinetic force” to change something quick and very visibly. At times, they are more akin to the water drop by drop eroding a foundation. Most of the time, they are, instead, the very air you breath and have no second thoughts about throughout the day.
P.S. Hey, commenter-person Grisha Matyunin! You should totally apply for the job – you are already a “Russian liberal” ™ living in the UK, ready to go an extra mile to voice a message of “tolerance” and “nuance”, which, as the good FCO people put it, “will send up certain aspects of the Euro-Atlantic proposition” (c). Come quick, before dem Shumerian gastarbeiters take up all the jobs for a cheap!
I imagine that they have no hard data to prove that any of this ‘works’, but they feel that they ought to ‘do something
There are a multitude of approaches to controlling and evaluation in PR, I was a bit critical of the specific examples I encountered, no idea which one may fit here. But the central question is to what extent it is part of the deal. And what exactly they want to be evaluated.
Journalists are highly desired in the PR trade, they are quite familiar with it from the other side too, depending on their department more or less: Maybe?
Angus Roxburgh reminded me of this.
A prof. quoting an earlier publication he co-published, a handbook, under the header of definitions, one among others.
In a constructivist approach, in particular that reality can be determined by fictions as well as by facts, Merten / Westerbarkey define public relations as a “process for the construction of desirable reality” (Mertens / Westerbarkey (1994:210)
Criticism: This definition does not explicitly identify communication as the instrumental basis of all PR: the term “desirable reality” is not explained enough. (Mertens, 2000)
I think you are being too kind. Integrity Initiative and it’s related activities, as anyone who has read 1984 or I imagine lived in the Soviet Union would know, is clearly about delivering and maintaining an overtly false narrative, not simply spinning current facts slightly.
It is also clearly deeply integrated with not just the FCO, but CIA, MI6 and Nato in a concerted attempt to distort reality to Western populations, not Russian or even Baltic ones.
michaeldroy, David Habbakuk* once linked to a NATO ( PR?) program, headed, to the extent I recall correctly, by an earlier journalist colleague of his (BBC?). Unfortunately I didn’t save the link. OK, maybe with a little patience I would find it. Without any doubt it was horrible.
David, rarely, but occasionally pops up here.
I find this confusing. Evidence has been revealed that the UK government funds anti-Russian propaganda. This is the material point. Prof Robinson is fixating on how to make it better.
“Likewise, it’s difficult to say how one can describe positively the news that the FCO-funded Zink Network has been working with the Latvia-based Meduza…”
[Sarcasm Modulator: Engaged]
What-what-WHAT?! An outlet created by vapid pro-Maidan former workers at the cesspit edgy liberast Fronde aka Lenta.ru, who, in their first year of existence had a mutually beneficient arrangement with Mordekhai Borukhovich Khodorkovsky…
[… and who employ a person formerly know as “The Good Treaty” (lets not use names here, shall we? ;)), who then “went to the other side” and worked for Geogre Soros’ Open Media…]
…could POSSIBLY, even PROBABLY and HIGHLY LIKELY ™ taking Her Majesty’s shilling ™ in order to shill for the Forces of Good and Democracy? I mean, yeah, sure. What they are doing right now in Navalny’s case is something out of kink/fetish/submission porn territory. Dunno what are the rates in the “industry”, but Meduzas had to refurbished adequately. Or at least promised from the British an especial writ, proclaiming them (honorary) white and equal to Her Majesty’s loyal subjects.
[Sarcasm Modulator: Off]
Also of interest, I think, is a report on a site called ‘NiemanLab’, which is apparently a Harvard University enterprise, also – supposedly – intended to improve standards of journalism.
Its headline – ‘Stories about Russia “are so hot right now” — so BuzzFeed is partnering with Meduza for more substantive Russia reporting’ – is ‘glossed’ as follows:
‘“Audience-wise, I think Russia stories are so hot right now, and there isn’t a huge amount of reporting coming out of there,” Miriam Elder, BuzzFeed’s world editor, said. Elder had been the Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief before joining BuzzFeed. “On our side, there’s an enormous interest in Russia we really haven’t seen since the Cold War.”’
(See https://www.niemanlab.org/2017/08/stories-about-russia-are-so-hot-right-now-so-buzzfeed-is-partnering-with-meduza-for-more-substantive-russia-reporting/ )
It is not however impossible that the interest in collaborating with ‘Meduza’, on the part of Ms. Elder and her colleagues may have had some relation to the ‘From Russia With Blood’ series, which a team headed by the then ‘UK Investigations Editor’ of ‘BuzzFeed’, Heidi Blake, formerly with the ‘Insight Team’ of the (London) ‘Sunday Times’, had produced that June.
This was expanded into the book ‘From Russia with Blood: Putin’s Ruthless Killing Campaign and Secret War on the West’, which Ms. Blake, who by then had become ‘Global Investigations Editor’, published in November 2019.
(See https://www.buzzfeed.com/heidiblake/from-russia-with-blood-14-suspected-hits-on-british-soil ; https://www.amazon.co.uk/Russia-Blood-Ruthless-Killing-Campaign/dp/0008300054 .)
The articles paint a gripping portrait of the British authorities persistently turning a ‘blind eye’, faced with the – supposedly – damning evidence produced by U.S. intelligence agencies, as Putin and his ‘siloviki’ associates systematically assassinated their way through the group of heroic ‘dissidents’ gathered around the late Boris Berezovsky (LOL!).
The book adds much more detail, together with an account of how these these veteran assassins tried to kill Sergei and Yulia Skripal with the – hypertoxic – ‘Novichok’, but didn’t quite manage it.
(More recently, as we know, they have made an even more chaotically unsuccessful attempt against another famous ‘dissident’, Alexei Navalny – ‘Keystone Cops killers’, these Russians, clearly.)
Part of the point of both articles and book, it seems likely, has been to help extricate both ‘BuzzFeed’ and the former head of ‘Russia Desk’ at MI6, Christopher Steele, from the problems they had got into as a result of the publication of the ‘dossier’ attributed to that figure shortly before Donald Trump took office.
It seems not inconceivable that the collaboration with ‘Meduza’ was also related to this.
For many months, the kind of journalists who are being held up as models for their Russian counterparts in the materials released by ‘Anonymous’ insisted that the lurid claims about the incoming President published by ‘BuzzFeed’ really did come from Steele’s top level contacts in the Kremlin, and elsewhere.
See, for example, this extract published in November 2017, headlined ‘How Trump walked into Putin’s web’, from the then forthcoming book ‘Collusion’ by Miriam Elder’s erstwhile ‘Guardian’ colleague, Luke Harding, at
Although the ‘Collusion’ book was a ‘#1 New York Times Bestseller’, the ‘narrative’ Harding and so many other disseminated has now vanished down the ‘memory hole.’
According to the new ‘general line’, Steele did really have any contacts at all, but simply sent an alcoholic sometime associate of Fiona Hill at Brookings, Igor Danchenko – aka ‘The Primary Sub-source’ [‘PSS’] – to pick up ‘tittle tattle’, who then employed an – apparently also distinctly boozy – old schoolfriend called Olga Galkina to pick up more ‘tittle tattle.’
Seemingly, she had worked for Aleksej Gubarev’s companies in Cyprus, been fired, and had a grudge to repay. Hence memo 2016/166.
Actually, both versions – Steele as the ‘superspy’ and him as the ‘Keystone Cops spook’ – are fundamentally called into question by the most thorough and rigorous treatment of the dossier of which I am aware, the March 2018 analysis by Yaacov Apelbaum entitled ‘The Mechanics of Deception.’
(See https://apelbaum.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/the-mechanics-of-deception/ .)
This provides, I think, strong reason to believe that the actual role of the supposed author of the ‘dossier’ was to give a veneer of ‘intelligence credibility’ to what was in essence a ‘camel produced by a committee’, in Washington, not London, and disguise its actual sources (insofar as there were any, rather than what needed to be disguised being invention pure and simple.)
While, as is the case with all of us, some of Apelbaum’s judgements can be questioned, I have yet to see any coherent refutation of his central arguments, and indeed, those who want to claim that the ‘evidence’ which has been released subsequently refutes them need to provide a coherent explanation of why we can discount the possibility of forgery.
If the account given in the ‘Mechanics of Deception’ piece is correct, it follows as a simple point of logic that the documentation supposed to establish that the ‘PSS’ was Danchenko, and a great deal of related material, which has been uncritically accepted by almost everyone, is likely to have been fabricated.
Among further reasons for thinking to be so as the – Orwellian – changes in the claims about the credibility of the dossier have been accompanied by very rapidly changing ‘pointers’ to the identity of the – supposed – ‘PSS’.
These were charted in great detail in a March 2020 analysis by Stephen McIntyre and his colleagues, who at that point were disposed to conclude that there was a real figure in question, and that it was likely to be Yuri Shvets – who features as a ‘primary source’ in the reworking of the narrative of Harding’s ‘Collusion’ book in the study by Craig Unger linked to in an earlier comment.
(See https://www.scribd.com/document/452403558/Primary-Sub-Source )
In the light of the subsequent discovery of the ‘evidence’ supposed establishing that the ‘PSS’ was Danchenko, however, an obvious alternative possibility needs to be considered.
It could well be that it took some time to decide who should ‘play the role’ of ‘PSS’, and indeed that Shvets was an obvious candidate, but there was then a ‘change of plan’, quite possibly resulting from the fact that there is ample publicly-available material on his central role in the ‘information operations’ group surrounding Berezovsky.
Also in March last year, Christopher Steele was cross-examined by Hugh Tomlinson QC, on behalf of Mssrs Aven, Fridman, and Khan, in the High Court in London, in relation to the claims about supposed links between them and Putin, through Oleg Govorun, in memo 2016/112 in the dossier.
(See https://www.scribd.com/document/458992503/Steele-deposition .)
Although here the supposed author pays ‘lip service’ to the conventional ‘narrative’, a closer reading of the rather curious claims he made suggests that Steele was implying that there has been a coordinated attempt to make him the ‘patsy’ in relation to the dossier. And, in my view, the ‘small print’ of what he says actually fits with rather well with Apelbaum’s account.
Unfortunately, those Russian discussions of the ‘Primary Sub-source’ I have seen seem quite as little disposed to consider the questions raised by Apelbaum as Western ones.
Perhaps some journalists working for the Russian media, be they Russians or otherwise, could usefully attempt to set an example of the kind of standards of ‘ethics, impartiality and accuracy’ that ‘BBC Media Action’ profess to be able to teach them, but, for journalists like Elder, Harding, Blake and so many others, seem to be ‘more honoured in the breach than the observance.’
The Apelbaum files are fascinating, thanks for the link. It’s very interesting seeing all those ‘incestuous’ connections and how they all fit together.
The fanatical US/UK antipathy towards Russia still puzzles me, though. Do they need an ‘enemy’ to keep the military industrial complex trough stocked with cash and to give NATO a raison d’être, is it because they want Eurasia’s natural resources or is there another reason?
All countries have interests and sometimes these conflict and clash but there seems to be something in the western/Anglo-American DNA that makes these countries think they have a natural right to rule the entire world. The west is downright obsessed with forcing its political and economic system and social norms onto other countries and can’t stand it when a country doesn’t roll over and let itself be dominated.
Western apologists, when speaking candidly, often say “well, if we don’t rule the world some another power will, so better us than them” but I think this kind of paranoid zero-sum thinking is uniquely Euro-American. Sure, other powerful countries have spheres of influence but I don’t see Russia, China or Iran, the three main western bugbears, scheming and plotting to project their influence to the four corners of the globe. And certainly not weaker countries, like Syria or North Korea, that the west wishes to destroy or subjugate.
Back in the days of the British Empire it was rationalized as ‘civilizing’ the backwards natives and today it’s all about bringing ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ to the suffering citizens of ‘illiberal’ countries that are run by freedom-hating mononymous cartoon villains. It’s propaganda and self-serving nonsense of course but plenty of westerners genuinely do believe that the west’s foreign policy is benign and altruistic.
It’s a very curious situation. The US and its poodle the UK in particular are obsessed with dominating Russia even though this is a fool’s errand that could well end in catastrophe for all parties involved. It is ironic that the countries promoting this aggression pride themselves on their supposedly enlightened and rational approach.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall when western policy makers and leaders meet to discuss their policies towards Russia. How do they rationalize their foreign policy amongst themselves? How do the people Apelbaum linked together see themselves and their work? Are they paranoid zero-summers who think in terms of power and domination, cynics who are in it for personal gain or fantasists who cast themselves as heroes freeing the oppressed etc.?
I mentioned you above, David. Hopefully I got matters vaguely right.
continuing, I think, a conversation in which your name changes – continually:
What I was discussing, in my ‘SST’ comments, was rather more than a ‘NATO (PR?) program’.
The LinkedIn entry of the sometime BBC colleague to whom I referred, Mark Laity, brings out his rather significant role in the development of the ‘strategic communications’ which is a central focus of the documents released by ‘Anonymous.’
(See https://be.linkedin.com/public-profile/in/mark-laity-b6b86b6?challengeId=AQE42rCtbGU8QQAAAXfI-FIP70RhVQCZVv0dyOvLNzhq0gOm68XUL_sL94QNJjnVJPStTgM85Ot9Q1B_lPZUZS0OhMVnkEIW-A&submissionId=29758cfd-4e06-6616-af1e-e4a4db21b50e .)
In it, Laity tells us that:
‘Within NATO he was a leading driver for the development of StratCom within the Alliance, often nicknamed “Mr StratCom”.
‘Until 31 December 2020 he was the first Director of the Communications Division at SHAPE, and was largely responsible for the creation of the new division that, along with the new military policy of which he was a primary author, represented a step change in the military handling of StratCom in the security environment.
‘Previously, from 2007 until 2017 he was the Chief Strategic Communications (StratCom) at SHAPE, the first holder of the post, created in response to the growing importance of information campaigns in military operations. His office led in the creation of NATO’s first military StratCom policy & as Director of the Communications Division oversaw its implementation.’
The two presentations to which I linked on SST were both made at a meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, in October 2014, which was obviously in the shadow of events in Ukraine earlier in the year. They can be accessed if one puts their titles, together with ‘Mark Laity’, into Google.
These, which I think sum up rather well the inanity of so much ‘strategic communications’, are: ‘Perception becomes Reality’, and ‘Behavioural approaches to Perception management.’
Reading the former, against the background of what I know about the history of the years since I first encountered Mark, which was at the time of his appointment as BBC Radio Defence Correspondent, back in January 1989, makes me even more convinced that both he in particular, and ‘strategic communications’ in general, have been disastrous.
Back in 1986, I had stumbled into arguments about Soviet military, and in particular nuclear, strategy, which pitted two intelligence analysts turned academics, Commander Michael MccGwire, RN, and Ambassador Raymond Garthoff, to give them their official titles, both then at Brookings, against a tradition of interpretation of which the Harvard historian Richard Pipes was a particularly influential champion.
The fact that, in one way or another, not only Sir Richard Dearlove, but Stefan Halper, Fiona Hill, and many others involved with ‘Russiagate’, are linked to this tradition, gives this history particular relevance now.
The different interpretations of Cold War history led MccGwire and Garthoff to radically different interpretations of the so-called ‘New Thinking’ introduced into Soviet security policy following the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU in 1985.
A key transition is graphically apparent in two articles by MccGwire in the ‘Brookings Review’, which can still be accessed through the ‘Unz Review’ site.
The first, from Spring 1987, is entitled ‘Why the Soviets are Serious About Arms Control.’ By the time of the second, published a year later, and entitled ‘Rethinking War: The Soviets and European Security’ – the two men had come to believe that a far more radical liquidation of the existing Soviet security posture than they earlier anticipated was possible.
(See https://www.unz.com/print/author/MccGwireMichaelK/ .)
The enthusiasm for the ‘purchaser/provider split’ of the Thatcher years had led the burgeoing of the ‘independent production sector’ in television, causing a good few of us to ‘jump ship’ from large companies, in the hope of being able to make programmes on matters that interested us.
I had come across MccGwire’s work when ‘cutting my teeth’ on security matters with a special 90-minute programme on European security for ‘Channel 4’, in 1986, but been unable to explore it.
In late 1987, I started working on proposals for programmes in which we would interview some of the leading ‘new thinkers’, and then get a cross-section of people in the West to provide their responses, which I sent out to anyone whom I thought might be interested.
However, although people with whom or for whom I had worked at ‘London Weekend Television’ were now running ‘current affairs’, not just there, but at the BBC, nobody in television was prepared to contemplate this kind of challenge to the ‘conventional wisdom.’
(As soon as Thatcher ‘cracked the whip’, most of those sometime ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies ‘radicals’ fell ‘into line.’)
However, I did find interest at a BBC Radio programme called ‘Analysis’, at a time when there was a vacancy, arising from the appointment of one of their producers – Mark Laity – to be BBC Radio’s Defence Correspondent.
Accordingly, in February-March 1989, we did a round trip, to Moscow, Washington, and then back to London, and produced two documentaries.
About these, Mark was not at all happy: he complained about the ‘whiff of neutralism’ coming from the ‘Analysis’ office.
What I began to realise, at the time, was a peculiar complexity about the ‘new thinking.’
On the one hand, part of its roots derived from the fact that leading figures in it – not just people of a younger generation whom we interviewed, like Andrei Kokoshin and Alexei Arbatov, but the latter’s father, Georgiy Arbatov – could understand how Soviet policy had fuelled Western ‘threat perceptions.’
This, however, led the elder Arbatov to what turned out to be a rather serious mistake. He believed that it was within the power of a Russian leadership, by jettisoning the ‘baggage’ inherited from the Stalin era, and in some ways indeed before, to undercut the political forces which were inherently and vitriolically anti-Soviet, and anti-Russian.
This, I must admit, was a delusion I shared. For this, there were two reasons. One related to a failure to grasp how ready former ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies ‘radicals’, like Tony Blair, would be to accept a ‘Pauline conversion’, to ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘neoconservatism.’
Another, for which I can claim more excuse, was that I anticipated, wrongly as it turned out, that, in a situation where it was clear that Russian armies were withdrawing from Eastern Europe and not coming back, Germans would become restive at a ‘vassal’ status.
Whether I was unequivocally wrong about this, or simply assuming that ‘inhibitions’ deriving from the catastrophic history of your country in the last century would disappear more rapidly than they have, still seems to me an open question.
What we were quite good on – myself and the producer, Stuart Simon – in those ‘Analysis’ programmes was the way that technical arguments about military strategy had become intertwined with the more general collapse of belief in Marxist-Leninist ideology.
There were, however, quite radically different views as to the appropriate response to the new opportunities, and dangers, that resulted from the implosion of the Soviet Union.
This is too large a subject to go into here.
However, in brief,
On this, I find myself in a peculiar position.
It seems to me clear that ‘strategic communications’ is part of a system of ‘propaganda’ which has had what might be called a ‘dual focus.’
As a system designed to rally opinion in favour of the vision of the appropriate response to the retreat and collapse of Soviet power was an indefinite unilateral American hegemony, with we in Britain as ‘junior partners’, in marginalising dissent in the ‘Atlantic Community’, it seems to me to have been remarkably successful.
In making others – in particular, not just the leaderships but also in particular the ‘deplorables’ in Russia, and probably also China – accept that the ‘Pax Americana’ ought to be preserved, I think it shows every sign of having been a total failure.
That view, obviously, leads towards an interpretation of the documents published by ‘Anonymous’ rather different from that adopted by the – few – who want to discuss them.
continuing, I think, a conversation in which your name changes – continually:
Yes, I noticed David, I am a whole female Spanish troll brigade, plus the as usual misspelled LeAnder, as well as TTG’s earlier co-author CP /confused ponderer, according to the master of military intelligence. What do you think, could confusedponderer’s heavily deteriorated English be a symptom of TDS? An especially vicious German variant of TDS?
Confused Ponderer is an especially funny idea, considering he once ordered me to check if he had died, giving me a precise German location where he supposedly had lived and a “helpfully” quite frequent name: Norbert Schulz, plus when I asked, the supposedly dead man’s email address. You remember his blog entry, asking is Confused Ponderer dead? … NO?
People play games, intelligence officers a very, very strange variant for entertainment of his blog audience sometimes. Fleeing to iceland out of fear of censorship. My ass. Started to turn into a running gag, thus better he acted finally,
Over here I am moon for longer now, and yes, I had a short exchange with you under exactly the same aka not that long ago concerning the Colonel too. You can go back and check.
Thanks for the response.
What I was discussing, in my ‘SST’ comments, was rather more than a ‘NATO (PR?) program’.
It depends heavily on the structure of the organization and its organigram, that is where public relations is situated and the higher up the more likely it is called communication. In public institutions in cannot ever be degraded into a minor subcategory of marketing anyway. …
I cited the late prof. Klaus Mertens above, who in 2006 created an uproar in the field of public relations over here, which considering reality was a little amusing. He had written an article with a title not verbatim: Only someone that can lie, can communicate.
Mertens was also a specialist in impact research (Wirkungsforschung) or the test of the effectiveness of a given communication strategy/PR campaign. In Merten’s universe PR is a tool within the marketing mix. They are the people that are sent to the front door to tell the public a nice little story, and ideally they aren’t informed well either, otherwise there is the risk they misspeak.
Not quite so nice a little story, your earlier colleague, Mr StratCom told us. With a little time I’ll check it again.
Thanks again, David,
I liked this quote best:
The term “strategic communications” has become popular over the last two decades. It means infusing communications efforts with an agenda and a master plan. Typically, that master plan involves promoting the brand of an organization, urging people to do specific actions, or advocating particular legislation.
It can refer to both a process, and to a specific job title.
Why strategic communications?
The field of ‘communications’ is broad, encompassing professionals who create news or want to push information to the public (public relations, public information, marketing), people who deliver news and media to the public (journalists, audio and video producers, public speakers, educators), and people who study the interplay of media and society (researchers).
Strategic communications fuses the “pushing” and the “delivering.” According to Shayna Englin, who teaches public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown, “being strategic means communicating the best message, through the right channels, measured against well-considered organizational and communications-specific goals. It’s the difference between doing communications stuff, and doing the right communications stuff.”
I like this a lot David, excuse my initial “Pavlov-dog-responses”.
After all these years I surely know one needs time and patience to peruse your comments. Meaning, I saved the link for more time. Although it feels your BBC experience has been never so well into context and easy to grasp before. We circled around it a lot.
Your reference to assumed inhibitions made me smile. Yes, it no doubt is a heavy burden, but don’t assume that the Germans you feel might be in need of your protective gesture really are. It obviously was a long internal struggle and is still ongoing. Not getting easier than in the 60s. There was much symbolism too, from early on.
I would be pleased if you are occasionally around.
Yes, some people or institutions draw our attention again and again:
>> Gigantic waste of money, imho – at least if the purpose is somehow to swing the populations of the West to a pro-Russian line >>
The goal of RT isn’t that. It is to provide an info-space for those who already disagree with western MSM. And that goal RT fulfills beautifully – as does this blog btw. So thank you very much once again.
To Aule’s point, above, seems like Russian press is slowly picking up the story. (They probably had to mull it over for a day or two, maybe do some fact-checking, whatever…)
This morning I saw this piece in VZGLIAD by Alina Nazarova.
Maria Zakharova comments that the leaked documents proved a “London machine of propaganda” bent on destabilizing Russia for the benefit of NATO and the U.S.
No shit, Sherlock!
“The problem he confronted, he writes, is that the Russians felt that negative fallout from any type of bad news, or bad behaviour, could be avoided if the news was given the appropriate media spin. He kept telling them that if they insisted on doing x or y, it would look bad regardless of how it was spun, while they insisted that as a PR guy it was up to him to make it look good nevertheless.”
That’s funny, their strategy is exactly the same as the Democrats. Just look at Cuomo, he’s one of their national leaders.