I am an old and beat-up commodity trader, and I learned that the key to success was a simple rule: Buy low and sell high. But sometimes you had to give words of "encouragement" to push the markets in your direction. You tell people that it is raining in Kansas when it isn't or it's too wet to plant in the Red River Valley. With this background, I am always skeptical about whatever information I get.
We are now in a volatile political economy where truth is the commodity and multiple sides try to make their positions the ones that carry the day. The old paradigm was that 90% of what you read in the Wall Street Journal was provided from outside sources and half of what you got in the local paper. And remember in a court of law what you read in the paper and social media is regarded as hearsay and not admissible as evidence. Everything you read has a point of view. "They say" or "someone said" doesn’t work as proof of anything.
One of my favorite journalists was Edgar R. Newman who, in 1974, wrote a book called “Strictly Speaking: Will America be the Death of English?” In it he complained about what all the new "spin" and misuse of the English language was doing. A reviewer responded: "Newman skillfully dissects contemporary and spoken English and how the language of Shakespeare had degenerated in the hands of business and politicians becoming choked with clichés, pomposities, redundancies, and catch phrases."
And no greater transgressor of this era was my classmate at Georgetown, former President Bill Clinton. He once gave the most convoluted explanation ever on the meaning of the word "is," for starters.
Probably with him, two types of phrases were born: "strategic communications" and "marketing communications." Unlike old-fashioned public relations, which provides information, these two are done to "induce action." Ready for this? The Oxford dictionary describes communication as “a term used to denote the higher level concerns behind communications efforts by organizations to devise organizational missions." Every one of the 36,000 lobbyists in D.C. now considers himself or herself a "strategic communicator."
Among the tools that strategic communicators use is media manipulation — a series of related techniques that create an image that favors particular interests. I wonder who would be doing that? Such tactics, according to Wikipedia, could include "logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, disinformation, (and) rhetorical and propaganda techniques." They often involve the suppression of information and points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere.
Insofar as marketing compunctions are concerned, I once had an intern who was horrified that our firm wrote articles that favored a client for the business press. One repository is always a popular journal of medicine where companies touting their product research would "plant stories." Thus in the last years you could read that coffee is good (or bad), beef is good (or bad), and a glass of wine is good (or bad). I am for wine!
Then all you have to do is leave out certain adjectives or bits of information. Thus you could have a politician saying, "When I took office the tank was half empty, but now folks it's half full."
The media manipulation masters have been the Russians, which is probably why President Donald Trump is infatuated with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
My favorite is past President Richard Nixon arguing with former Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev over which car is faster, a Ford or a certain Russian car. Thus, they had a two-car race, and the Ford won. But the next day, the Russian party paper reported, "There was an international competition and the Russian car came in second and the Ford finished next to last."
John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minn., is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is jfapress.com. He wrote this for the News Tribune.