year ago, a State Department press event included quite possibly
the most epic "deer in the headlights" moment in all of government
press briefing history.
the final press briefing in May of 2017, the State Department put
high level official Stuart Jones at the podium to give the daily
briefing, and he was asked how the
US could call for democracy in Iran while ignoring the fact that
one of Washington's closest Middle East allies is an oppressive
autocratic state with an opaque legal system run
by strict Islamic sharia courts.
Tom O'Connor set
the scene at the time:
Jones, who was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq by former
President Barack Obama in 2014 before assuming the title of
assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs in
a long, silent pause after an Agence France-Presse reporter
asked the official how President Donald Trump could criticize
Iran's democracy, while standing next to Saudi Arabian
Arabia is an absolute monarchy, where every position of power is
appointed by either the king or other members of the Al Saud
royal family from which the nation derives its name. Trump
recently visited Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S., and
took the opportunity to deeply criticize the two nations' mutual
foe, Iran, and its commitment to democracy weeks after it held
its presidential election.
clearly hilarious and at the same time appropriately awkward, the
incident highlighted the fact that mainstream
journalists rarely ask the obvious questions that
might so easily expose the glaring hypocrisy of US foreign policy
and its leaders.
Asleep in America blog so aptly described:
"In lieu of delivering an actual answer, Jones became visibly
uncomfortable, signed audibly, stared blindly into nothingness
and said nothing for roughly 18 seconds. You could
see the squeaky gears laboring to rotate in his head. You hear the
faint trickle of urine run down his thigh. You could feel Jones
praying to be suddenly
whisked away by a dragon-drawn
chariot sent to him by the sun god Helios."
so beautiful and epic we thought it deserved its own anniversary
on a more serious note, about six months after Stuart Jones'
internal meltdown moment, a leaked State
Department memo obtained by Politico spelled
out how Washington merely values the concept of human rights insofar
as it can be molded toward propaganda ends. The
leaked government memo,
made public for the first time in December 2017, instructed top
State Department leadership that "Allies
should be treated differently — and better — than adversaries."
this reason,” the leaked internal
State Department memo argued, “we
should consider human rights as an important issue in regard to
US relations with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And
this is not only because of moral concern for practices inside
those countries. It is also because pressing those regimes on
human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure,
and regain the initiative from them strategically.”
the May 2017 Stuart Jones presser demonstrated, this means
countries like Saudi Arabia or Qatar will always be let off the
hook in spite of — for example — US ally Saudi
Arabia executing over 50 people so far this year, half of them
related to nonviolent
drug charges, according
to HRW. Or this might further translate into government
to look the other way when allies illegally possess or
pursue nuclear or other banned weapons.
Politico explained that the
memo encourages government leadership, on up to the level of the
Secretary of State, "that we should do exactly what Russian
and Chinese propaganda says we do — use
human rights as a weapon to beat up our adversaries while
letting ourselves and our allies off the hook.”
recently, one year after the incredible and embarrassing State
Department scene, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has
delivered an even more astounding propaganda fail which went
largely unnoticed in the media. The CFR is among America's oldest
and most establishment think tanks, with a who's who of government
insiders filling up its ranks, and has often played an advisory
role on important policy questions to elected officials.
CFR's Richard Stengel, a former editor of TIME magazine,
told an audience at a CFR event in late April called Political
Disruptions: Combating Disinformation and Fake News that governments
“have to” direct “propaganda” toward their own populations.
himself a former high level official who headed the
US office for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State
Department from 2013 to 2016, is also a regular pundit on MSNBC.
every country creates their own narrative story and, you know,
my old job at the State Department was what people used to
joke as the ‘chief propagandist’ job. We haven’t talked about
not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have
to do it to their own population, and I don’t necessarily
think it’s that awful.
personal bio site notes
that he “helped create and oversee” the Global
Engagement Center at the State Department whose
official mission is to "counter propaganda and disinformation from
international terrorist organizations and foreign countries" (with
focus on Russia”).
full CFR event. Stengel openly argues in favor of
propaganda against US citizens starting at 1:15:26 of the video.
more worrisome for a guy who openly expresses views clearly
implying that he's
"not against propaganda" on the US government's "own population" is
that he was recently
named a "distinguished fellow" as part of the Atlantic
Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab).
weeks ago the DFRLab announced its
team has partnered
with Facebook to "monitor disinformation" and
protect elections. The DFRLab defined
the new initiative as follows:
Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab today
partnership with Facebook to independently monitor
disinformation and other vulnerabilities in
elections around the world. The effort is part of an
initiative to help provide credible research about the role of
social media in elections, as well as democracy more
Digital Forensic Research Lab is launching a partnership with
Facebook to support the world’s largest community in
its efforts to strengthen democracy...
it currently receives little commentary or attention, it must be
recalled that Obama administration lifted
the prohibition on domestic propaganda in 2013.
we are probably only just now experiencing the beginning phase of
what the State Department and intelligence agencies' propaganda
planners had in mind when the domestic propaganda ban was
overturned but these few short years ago.