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Rand Report: Russian Propaganda Significant Threat to the US

Alleged documentation of the 'remarkable evolution' of Russian propaganda

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

In a report titled "The Russian 'Firehose of Falsehood' Propaganda Model," authors Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews present their case:

"Since its 2008 incursion into Georgia (if not before), there has been a remarkable evolution in Russia's approach to propaganda. This new approach was in full display during the country's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula. It continues to be demonstrated in support of ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Syria and in pursuit of nefarious and long term goals in Russia's 'near abroad' and against NATO allies."

The report offers detailed criticism of today's Russian propaganda and likens it to the techniques of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The authors cite that the contemporary Russian propaganda "entrains, confuses, and overwhelms the audience." They say that Russia has enjoyed some success with this by "engaging in obfuscation, confusion, and the disruption or diminution of truthful reporting and messaging."

The Rand Report offers the following possible explanations for the effectiveness of "Russia's firehose of falsehood."

- Russian Propaganda is High-Volume and Multichannel

- Russian Propaganda is Rapid, Continuous, and Repetitive

- Russian Propaganda Makes No Commitment to Objective Reality

- Russian Propaganda is Not Committed to Consistency

The authors consider that all this constitutes "a nontrivial challenge." They suggest it is a threat that Americans should not let Russia get away with. Indeed, the report poses the question, "What can be done to counter the firehose of falsehood?"

I find the Rand Report to be incredibly interesting. It is ironic that a report that criticizes propaganda, relies itself upon propaganda techniques to make its own points. 

"This report absolutely fails to justify its main point, i.e. that Russian propaganda is actually effective enough to pose a serious problem" observes Sergey Panasenko. I regard him as one of Russia's most astute media observers. He's been editor-in-chief of a major national business publication and a key executive of a Moscow advertising agency. So he's able to look at things from multiple angles.

Panasenko says the Rand Report "contains lots of technically correct remarks and observations," but that they are of no practical use. They are "worth talking about only in a purely academic sense" he observes.

I agree with him completely. This is out of Propaganda 101. The authors assert a nonexistent problem to readers as though it were a real threat. No support is offered for the assertion; it is treated as a given.

The report uses the term "propaganda" in a very pejorative way. The presumption seems to be that if Russia uses propaganda, it must be bad. No hint is given to the fact that it is hard to find a country that does not engage in propaganda of some sort. 

It is also hard to find any evidence that international propaganda has much impact. Panasenko asks, "Where is the proof of its efficacy?" He muses, "The Rand authors seem to believe -- or want me to believe -- that the West is weak due to the unmatched effectiveness of Russian propaganda. But I don't see where whatever stories the Kremlin sends abroad much matter."

I thought that the height of stupidity in the Rand Report is evidenced in its duplicity. On one hand it tarred and feathered Russia for its alleged use of Soviet-style propaganda techniques. But then it goes on to recommend that the US adopt such techniques to counter the purported danger of Russian propaganda. 

The brainiac authors suggest that a US response "include the use of a wider range of information warfare capabilities, then jamming, corrupting, degrading, destroying, usurping, or otherwise interfering with the ability of the propagandists to broadcast and disseminate their messages."

I think they plagiarized that plan. 

It sounds to me like something that was written by some Soviet commissar deep in the throes of the old Cold War. That's when it was decided to build a massive network of high-power radio transmitters to jam the programming of the Voice of America. Real smart!

Are these authors for real? If you believe in conspiracies, maybe they're secretly working for Putin to make the United States look bad. What a farce this is. The authors, their report, and their organization.

More seriously, though, Panasenko put his finger on a likely motive behind the report. He suggests it might be intended to "pull the wool over the eyes of the bosses while asking them for greater budget allocations." 

That's it, I think. There is no Russian propaganda threat. Russia has no monopoly on the "firehoses of falsehoods" that exist in the world. 

This is all about creating a bogeyman threat to justify seeking appropriations to beef-up America's own propaganda initiatives. What a waste.

Would a bigger and better American firehose of falsehood really help anyone? I think it would only make matters worse.

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