Robert Parry at Consortiumnews.com (originally published September 24, 2008) gives us a short history of Republican and neocon efforts to "manipulate the media narrative," as Scott McClellan quaintly calls it:
As the United States begins to assess how the nation got into its trillion-dollar bailout mess, a true understanding must go back three decades or so when Reagan deployed his well-honed communications skills and the Republican Right mastered the dark arts of propaganda to get the American people to shed the annoying strictures of rationality.
In the 1970s, there had been stumbling efforts by three presidents – Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter – to begin confronting stubborn structural problems, such as a growing dependence on foreign oil, environmental damage, and excessive military spending which had sapped resources away from a productive economy.
Nixon helped create the Environmental Protection Agency; he imposed energy-conservation measures; he opened the diplomatic door to communist China; and he initiated “détente” with the Soviet Union. But his presidency foundered on the rocks of his political paranoia that led to the Watergate scandal.
President Ford tried to continue many of Nixon’s policies, particularly winding down the Cold War with Moscow and slimming down the bloated Pentagon budget, which had fed what President Dwight Eisenhower dubbed the “military-industrial complex.”
However, confronting a rebellion from Reagan’s Republican Right in 1976, Ford abandoned “détente”; he let hard-line Cold Warriors (and a first wave of young intellectuals called neoconservatives) pressure the CIA’s analytical division; and he brought in a new generation of tough-minded operatives, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
After winning in 1976, President Carter injected more respect for human rights into U.S. foreign policy, a move some scholars believe put an important nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union, leaving it hard-pressed to justify its repressive internal practices.
At home, Carter proposed a comprehensive energy policy and warned Americans that their growing dependence on foreign oil represented a national security threat of the first order, what he called “the moral equivalent of war.”
However, powerful vested interests managed to exploit the shortcomings of all three of these presidents to sabotage any sustained progress. For instance, Carter’s prescient energy address was widely mocked as the “MEOW speech.”
Soon, the American people were persuaded to turn away from their real-world challenges and enter a land of make-believe. Don’t worry, they were told. Be happy.
Reagan as Piper
The lead piper in this parade away from America’s tough choices was Ronald Reagan who insisted in his First Inaugural Address in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
As President, Reagan attacked the federal regulatory system and cut taxes so recklessly that his budget director, David Stockman, foresaw red ink “as far as the eye can see.” Reagan also justified fattening the Pentagon’s budget by citing dire warnings that the Soviet Union was on the rise (despite CIA analysis at the time that it was in sharp decline).
To marginalize dissent, Reagan and his subordinates stoked anger toward anyone who challenged the era’s feel-good optimism. Skeptics were not just honorable critics, they were un-American defeatists or – in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable attack line – they would “blame America first.”
Under Reagan, a right-wing infrastructure also took shape, linking new media outlets (magazines, newspapers, books, etc.) with well-financed think tanks that churned out endless op-eds. Plus, there were attack groups that went after mainstream journalists who dared disclose information that poked holes in Reagan’s propaganda themes.
Significantly, too, Reagan credentialed a new generation of neocon intellectuals, who pioneered a concept called “perception management,” the shaping of how Americans saw, understood – and were frightened by – threats from abroad.
Many honest reporters saw their careers damaged when they resisted the lies and distortions of the Reagan administration. Likewise, U.S. intelligence analysts were purged when they refused to bend to the propaganda demands from above. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]In effect, Reagan’s team created a faux reality for the American public.
[Full article at Consortiumnews.com]