In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.
Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters.
The history of the CIA’s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception.
– From Carl Bernstein’s 1977 article: The CIA and the Media
What is art, when the artist is working with the host government to promote a particular message?
It is propaganda, and just because it’s your government doing it with the help of your friends and neighbors, doesn’t make it any less so. Even if you agree with the message, it is still propaganda. No wonder so many movies suck.
Today, we learn that both HBO and Snapchat are actively working with the U.S. State Department to push an anti-ISIS message. Again, even if the message is a good one, make no mistake about it, it is still propaganda. This is a very slippery slope, and something that Americans shouldn’t tolerate.
The State Department is seeking a counter-narrative to the propaganda being spread by ISIS, and it is reportedly turning to some of America’s preeminent storytellers for help. According to The Daily Beast, executives from both HBO and Snapchat are part of a team of filmmakers and social media specialists that’s brainstorming how to hamper the effectiveness of ISIL’s messaging.
Notice that when ISIS does it, it’s propaganda, but when the U.S. government does it, it’s a “counter-narrative.”
Citing unnamed industry and government sources, The Daily Beast reports that HBO and Snapchat representatives were invited to Sunnylands, a California retreat known for hosting important government figures, in June to meet with State officials on how best to counter the ISIS narrative, which has lured young men from the Middle East, Europe, and even the United States, to join its violent ranks. Mark Boal, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Zero Dark Thirty, is reportedly part of the team assisting the State Department.
Ah, Zero Dark Thirty. Where have we hear about that before? Oh yeah…
Now back to the National Journal:
Neither HBO nor Snapchat have responded to requests for comment. The State Department, in a statement to Quartz, neither confirmed nor denied the Daily Beastreport but noted that film “is an especially powerful medium for building crosscultural understanding” of world issues. It also said:
Through film, music, and the visual and performing arts, cultural diplomacy helps us make global connections with audiences that are traditionally harder to reach. By supporting creative expression, we help the development of civil society, promote positive role models, and amplify alternative voices. ”
Reread that paragraph from the State Department. Now read it again. I don’t think I could come up with a better definition of government propaganda if I tried.
According to The Daily Beast, the U.S. now wants to connect “influential Hollywood figures” with Middle Eastern filmmakers, to promote powerful stories of young people in the Middle East who have rejected ISIS’s reign of terror and are actively working to make the region a better place to live.
Here’s a better suggestion for the U.S. State Department: Stop creating terrorist groups in the first place. And yes, the U.S. government is largely responsible for creating ISIS, as we learned in the following post:
Thanks for playing.