Members of the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team travelling in a convoy through southern Iraq on their way to Basra International Airport. Credit: Joe Amditis (2009).

Trust, media, and propaganda

Tell the same lie enough times and people will eventually start to believe it

It’s so frustrating to see the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy publish this piece by Christopher David Yung. In it, Yung explains why he believes the U.S. military is “universally admired” and trusted by the American public.

Support the Troops™

First, there’s the underlying premise of Yung’s argument, which is that the American public “almost universally” trusts and respects the military.

“Globally, more people see U.S. power and influence as a major threat.” Pew Research Center (2017).

1. The military promotes values like honesty, accountability, and self-sacrifice.
2. Popular culture shows the military in positive light.
3. Military people don’t brag — they act.
4. The military learns from its mistakes.

Taking accountability seriously

Yung starts by casually acknowledging and then quickly shrugging off the U.S. military’s widespread lack of command accountability for what he calls “failed military campaigns.” Putting aside the fact that “failed military campaigns” has got to be one of the softest euphemisms for illegal wars of aggression and clandestine international torture networks I’ve ever heard, it’s arguably not even the worst part of that paragraph:

A photo of me (back) and one of my battle buddies during pre-deployment mobilization training in 2008.

The military in popular culture

Yung’s second argument can be summarized as such: The military is portrayed positively in the media because they are a massive, opaque organization that restricts public access to information and leverages its vast financial and political capital in order to cultivate a positive public image.

Military people don’t brag

I’m not going to get too deep into this one — it’s a silly argument on its face and I’m not even really sure what the implication is. Even if it were true that people in the military don’t brag, is the point here that journalists are notoriously braggadocios and need to tone it down if they want the public to like them again? I’m not entirely sure. But if you think people in the military don’t brag, you’ve obviously never met someone who just got back from basic training.

The military learns from its mistakes

Yung’s final argument for why the military represents the epitome of the American institution and is deserving of the public’s trust and admiration is that the military learns from its mistakes. The military, Yung argues, takes its failings very seriously and makes a conscious effort to avoid repeating them — or at least an effort to make sure people don’t remember them.

1. The ongoing epidemic of sexual harassment and assault against women serving in the military

2. The military’s abhorrent treatment of homosexual and transgender service members

3. The Vietnam War

Once again, Yung bends over backward to carefully describe the deep and systemic issues of sexual assault and harassment that run rampant through the ranks of the military. “There is no question that the military has a serious sexual harassment problem,” he writes.

Good morning, propaganda

Which brings us to Yung’s final example for members of the media who wish to improve the public’s perception of and trust in journalism: the Vietnam War.

Screenshot: “Ranks of Notorious Hate Group Include Active-Duty Military” by A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Jake Hanrahan for ProPublica.org.

This isn’t even good propaganda

From the fawning tone and servile language he uses, to the selective messaging and utter lack of substantive sourcing, to his objectively offensive erasure of the horrors of the Vietnam war, this really is one of the worst articles I’ve ever read. There’s just no getting around it.

Joe is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University and the host of the WTF Just Happened Today? podcast.

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