The New York Public Library held a day-long event called "Orwell Comes to America" yesterday, a series of discussions to"diagnose the symptoms of propaganda and misinformation" in media—especially when it comes to politics and the shaping of public thought. I visited the one about the science of manipulation, moderated by Nick Lemann, the dean of Columbia's J-School who also sometimes writes for The New Yorker, though without distinction. Have you heard? War is the new Peace!
There were free scones and fancy Saratoga water, which everyone was shamelessly stuffing into their backpacks. For some reason, a ping-pong table was situated in the back of the room, and two professorial types were batting a ball back and forth.
It was announced that this forum was being broadcast "on TV, the Web, and Second Life." Huh? Oh, and about the ping-pong table: "It's just a question of repartee... We're hoping for a lot of back-and-forth on stage today." LOL! Academics are such cut-ups!
Propaganda in political speech is all about framing, said George Lakoff, "one of the world's best-known linguists and a founder of the field of cognitive science." (He's all UC Berkeley.)
His theory: We always think using frames, and whoever sets the frame wins. For example, when journalists use the phrase "war on terror"—even disparagingly or mockingly—they are still enforcing the idea of the war on terror by using that frame. Oh really?
Pollster Frank Luntz was on the panel as the token "often angry, often upset Republican." Some strident woman who was probably my old women's studies professor totally heckled him.
The dude was funny, though, and had a lot of good points. ("Basically, the reason Kerry lost in '04 is because he looked exactly like the tree that threw apples at Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.")
He kept chastising political psychologist Drew Westen, who was sitting next to him, for "touching [him]." The audience wasn't sure if this was a joke or not.
Then it was time for the audience to write in their questions for the panel. But wait, who was this note from? The gentleman reading the question seemed really nervous. It was from billionaire speculator and philanthropist and shadow world government member George Soros.
"So," he quavered, "this gentleman asks if sometimes deception is OK...."
Luntz responded with a long, impassioned speech about how first and foremost, we had to stop this poisonous hate, and pray for the family of Martin Luther King, and pray for this country. We had to set an example for the children!
It was some really good framing.