When a foreign official accuses another nation of engaging in Goebbel-esque propaganda campaigns, it’s sure to make news. Yesterday, Brazil’s trade minister accused “rich nations” (read: the U.S.) of using Joesph Goebbel’s infamous strategy of repeating lies enough times that the lies become conventional wisdom. The Bush administration reacted sharply – but didn’t deny the accusations, only the reference.
Faux outrage always amuses me, particularly when it’s projected for media / public consumption. Here’s how it works: someone (say, a politician) will make an outrageous or insulting accusation; hyperbole to emphasize a point. Someone on the opposite side of the political fence takes public umbrage – “Gasp! How can you say that? Oh, my tender sensibilities!” – without disputing the main point of the accusation.
Such an occasion occurred yesterday at World Trade Organization (WTO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. According to reports, in advance of a WTO meeting this week, Brazil’s trade minister Celso Amorim accused “rich countries” of engaging in Goebbel-esque propaganda in attempting to ram through the Doha trade accords:
Brazil sought to play down a spat with the United States on Sunday that threatened to sour a week of key World Trade Organisation talks after its foreign minister likened arguments of rich countries to Nazi propaganda. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told reporters on Saturday that “misinformation” about the WTO talks recalled the comment of Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth.
A spokesman for U.S. trade chief Susan Schwab said Washington regretted the comment. “We are here to negotiate on substance and that kind of venomous name-calling does not have a place in these talks,” spokesman Sean Spicer said on Sunday…
By way of background, the Bush administration has been trying to hammer out an overarching WTO deal ( _blank”>the Doha accord) since they’ve been in office, and have met with tremendous resistance from developing countries. In response to this resistance over the past seven years, U.S. negotiators have done what the Bush administration has fashioned into an art form: catapulting the propaganda, telling outright lies and half-truths, and acting as an 800 pound gorilla on the world trade stage.
Admittedly, most Americans (and the legacy media) don’t pay a moment’s worth of attention to this stuff, but when the trade minister of another country starts making nazi references to characterize the Bush administration’s approach to trade talks, it becomes news. And apparently, the tender sensibilities of U.S. negotiator Susan Schwab were offended. The U.S. State Department immediately began dialing up the faux outrage, and issuing statements that refer to Schwab’s heritage as the child of Holocaust survivors.
What’s interesting is that none of the statements deny the crux of Amorim’s characterization of the talks, only that Schwab was personally offended. But then, that’s how the Bush administration’s communication apparatus has always rolled. Deflect, rather than deny. Ratchet up the rhetoric, rather than respond to the core issues (and certainly there are many core issues in dispute, at least in terms of agricultural trade).
In the end, though, Celso Amorim probably accomplished what he intended to do with such inflammatory remarks. He made the point that the U.S. is controlling the WTO “message” in a manner that does little more than amplify the interests