Donald Trump, angry; the 2016 GOP nominee.

The Gaslight Zone: How to Resist, II

The Guardian has published an excellent article on the dynamics of “gaslighting” and how to resist its manipulation of facts and reality: How To Survive Gaslighting: When Manipulation Erases Your Reality.

It is essential for all of us to understand that the constant lies and distortions emanating from the White House and GOP leadership are tactics of both authoritarian propaganda and psychological abuse. And the purpose of most psychological abuse, on an individual and group level, is CONTROL. Control without reason. Control without facts. Control without truth. Control without mercy. Kind of like an abusive spouse (I’m looking at you, Steve Bannon).

The Gaslight Zone: Undermining Reality. #Resist.

Trump limo, empty stands, on Inauguration Day 2017

The Gaslight Zone: “The Camera Cannot Lie” — Or Can It?

Quartz Media has published a short guide to understanding what news photographs do and don’t tell us about the true situation: Want To Resist the Post-Truth Age? . The example it uses is that of Inauguration Day, when some published photos were taken at an angle and with tight cropping that showed a smiling Trump family and Pence family walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to the crowd. Except that there wasn’t much of a crowd. Wider angle shots like the one above, published by The Atlantic, showed mostly empty viewing stands. There are many other similar published images.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan’s White House manipulated images in this way. When he would arrive at a location, there were actually barriers that kept the press at a far distance. So in order to have any kind of publishable photo, they would use powerful zoom lenses to get close-ups. Here is the kind of intimate photo that resulted:

President Reagan boarding helicopter

President Reagan boarding helicopter

Looks like the photographer was right next to him, doesn’t it? And see how the image focuses on Reagan’s cheery smile, his jaunty salute? It makes you feel as if you know him. Creating a sense of that kind of intimacy was Reagan’s specialty as a politician and public figure, starting from his TV days as an ad spokesman for General Electric.

But in reality, even the press pool photographers who were assigned to cover Reagan routinely were kept at an unprecedented distance from him, as documented by The New York Times in 1981, his first year in office:

One effect of many of the security steps has been to establish a physical distance between Mr. Reagan and the reporters who directly accompany him in a small representative group, or pool. For example, reporters at the airport at South Bend were kept too far away from the President to ask questions, which is a normal feature of airport arrivals and departures.

The rationale given by the White House was the then-recent 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life. Okay, that seems legitimate — except the attempt on his life happened on a city street. It had nothing to do with scheduled, controlled airport locations on tightly controlled, limited-access tarmac. The effect was to insulate a President who was known to make misstatements from pesky press questions, while creating a situation where they were almost forced to generate falsely intimate images.

It will be even more essential for us all to develop better skills in media literacy and critical thinking, given the propagandists who now occupy our White House. Good night, and good luck.


The Gaslight Zone: And So It Begins …

The former Public Editor of The New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, has issued a harsh warning to all journalists and members of the press who try to hold President Donald Cobblepot accountable: A Hellscape of Lies and Distorted Reality. The Columbia Journalism Review notes that Trump acts more like a media organization than anything else, one that is heavily influenced by the tactics and tone of Breitbart News, formerly led by his top adviser Steve Bannon, and Fox News, formerly led by his mentor Roger Ailes: Donald Trump is a Media Organzation.

What happens when emotion-driven messaging dominates over policy-making and good governance? Propaganda. I hate overblown comparisons to Nazis, but let’s not forget that Hitler and Goebbels were masters of communication innovation and used the most advanced means at their disposal to spread their poisonous dogma. And that dogma plunged the world into war and caused the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people. They too acted like media organizations. I think a sober analysis of how their propaganda succeeded in what had been one of the world’s most advanced and cultured societies is worth our time and attention, to avoid going down the 21st century version of that road.