In 1922, when a reporter warned Jews to ‘Get out of Germany’ he was ignored. The more things change..
No one was listening then. Is anyone listening now?
The role of propaganda is nothing new in politics. Anyone trying to get the public’s attention understands well enough the power of shock and distraction. And the best move is to get the cameras and papers to show only that which helps that cause. The string pullers don’t even try to hide this anymore. In the words of Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
“Langston: TV scares me. It makes everything seem credible.
Hemmings: Why is that so bad?
Langston: If everything seems credible then nothing seems credible. You know, TV puts everybody in those boxes, side-by-side. On one side, there’s this certifiable lunatic who says the Holocaust never happened. And next to him is this noted, honored historian who knows all about the Holocaust. And now, there they sit, side-by-side, they look like equals! Everything they say seems to be credible. And so, as it goes on, nothing seems credible anymore! We just stopped listening!”
-A scene from the movie, ‘Man of the year’.
“We just stopped listening”. That line is damning in so many ways. Whether it be Nazi Germany or present-day India, human beings constantly exhibit a frightening ability to be easily misled.
By giving the historian and a Holocaust denier the same platform, the media bestowed legitimacy on the latter’s view. The same applies when a TV “debate” gives screen time to both an eminent Indian historian and a rabid “Ram-Mandir” fanatic. The optics of trying to look “fair” can distort the viewer’s idea of reality itself, not to say anything about history. And this is assuming that monetary incentives weren’t guiding the act, to begin with.
This is exactly what the Nazi propaganda machine did when it stoked fears of a pending “Communist uprising”. A blatant lie fabricated with the intent to use public anxieties to erode civil liberties and subvert democracy. Within weeks of coming to power in 1933, the German people gladly let Hitler do what they were convinced needed doing. Soon, the paramilitary forces of the SA (storm troopers) and SS brutalized political opponents, broke into rival political party offices and destroyed printing presses.
However, Hitler wasn’t entirely averse to the press, recognizing the power granted by a favourable public image. The 1936 Olympics were a good example. In its lead up, the international press was left in awe of how Germany was looking vibrant. What visitors did not realize is that all hateful signs and slogans and any evidence of the now rampant anti-semitism were covered up. A quiet police “clean up” operation also swept Gypsies off the streets, interning them in a camp on the outskirts of Berlin. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels exerted strict censorship over the German press, radio, film, and publishing. Anyone brave or foolish enough to state anything negative was dealt with swiftly.
While Hitler was mesmerizing the world, there were reporters such as Karl von Wiegand, (a Hearst correspondent) who could see the warning signs as early as 1922. Reporters like Edgar Mowrer, (Chicago Daily News) risked all to get their stories out. But such was the level of disbelief that when he warned the Jewish community to “Get out of Germany!” he was ignored. People were craftily distracted by the dazzle surrounding the Olympics and the “personality” of Hitler. The zone had been successfully filled with shit. We all know what happened next.
The world has since evolved. Now, the propaganda machine need not rely on thuggish tactics alone to achieve its aims. It now wields a more potent weapon. Economics. When Cobrapost first broke its Operation 136 story,(so named after India’s rank in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index), the revelations struck many as unbelievable. Months later when the second part of the story came to light, the ones expressing concern were still the minority. Like the movie said, “We just stopped listening.”
That the media is easily swayed by the promise of monetary gain is no surprise. What is most disturbing is how much of the upper echelons of the media secretly harbour pro-Sangh views.
Take for instance the view of Richa Mahajan, manager of the media house’s Fever 104 radio station, who proudly proclaimed to be “a staunch RSS believer” and had no qualms in stating that what happened in Gujarat (mass murder of at least 2,000 Muslims in 2002) “is right”. That is just the tip of the faecal iceberg.
The “embedding” of sympathetic voices within popular media is a tactic not limited to fascist regimes alone. What is though, is allowing only sympathetic voices to be heard. The process of “Aryanizing” the press was something Goebbels undertook with gusto. Liberal papers were shut down and Jewish owned publishing houses (such as Ullstein and Mosse) were taken over. As for the “Aryan” journalists that were allowed to practise, they now had two choices, flee the country or get in line and work with the regime. Many chose the latter and turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities in order to enhance their careers.
Much like how prominent Indian media houses now clearly take their orders directly from the PMO today, editors and journalists in Germany were expected to follow the mandates and instructions handed down by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Where Indira used muscle and miscalculated, Modi used money and succeeded.
It is telling that in the wake of Cobrapost’ exposes and the murder of journalists, the voices that first coined the phrase “presstitutes” (a term that has been shamelessly used to erode the validity of the press in India), are now strangely silent. Apparently, the press is only a problem when it runs a message that runs counter to the BJP/Sangh narrative. Anyone willing to vilify Indira Gandhi is now an enlightened soul whilst anyone daring to expose the duplicity of the BJP and their Hindutva agenda is clearly a brainwashed “libtard”. Anyone hating Nehru is a “true patriot” while anyone daring to criticize Modi is obviously a traitor.
It took 40 days and national hysteria for the man to even acknowledge the Kathua hate crime. Yet he somehow found the time to let a camera crew film him on yoga day. But then again, what more can be expected of someone whose only regret during Godhara was “not managing the media better”?
India now stands as Asia’s deadliest country for media personnel, ahead of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. No amount of yoga or Indira bashing can excuse that. The social fabric of the country lies in tatters. And the BJP is hellbent on accelerating the slide. ‘Smoke out the traitors’ they say. Time to burn away the rot with a saffron flame. Only its not just the rats they will be burning but the entire barn. We may be under attack. But for fighting this enemy, it is not a sword we need, but a mirror. Besides, the pen may be mightier than the sword but it certainly can’t hold a candle to the coin that pays for the blade.
“We just stopped listening”. And now the only thing cheaper than ink is blood.