Friday, August 26, 2011

Riding the Wave, "Rectifying" the Record

"Like their counterparts in Hollywood, photographic retouchers in Soviet Russia spent long hours smoothing out the blemishes of imperfect complexions, helping the camera to falsify reality.... But it was during the Great Purges, which raged in the late 1930s, that a new form of falsification emerged....

Photographs for publication were retouched and restructured with airbrush and scalpel to make once famous personalities vanish. Paintings, too, were often withdrawn from museums and art galleries so that compromising faces could be blocked out of group portraits. Entire editions of works by denounced politicians and writers were banished to the closed sections of the state libraries and archives or simply destroyed" --

The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia, by David King and Stephen F. Cohen

"Most of the ills of the world would disappear if people just started telling the truth."--

Robert Welch

Manipulation of photographs is a familiar method of misrepresentation. The same end can be accomplished by manipulating photo captions, as well.

Until just a few days ago, the following photo -- including the caption -- was found on the website of the so-called "Freedom Project," an appendage of the JBS that provides the otherwise unemployable Alan Scholl with a paycheck and title:

Rick Santorum is a Republican presidential aspirant. He is among the most unabashed supporters of the welfare/warfare/torture state. He is a perfect specimen of that kind of authoritarian conservative who sees nothing amiss in building a huge, invasive apparatus of state violence and regimentation -- as long as it's in the hands of the "righteous." 
On August 22, I posted that photo, along with a few acerbic comments, on my Facebook page.

Today (August 26), the original caption was consigned to the Memory Hole, and -- to borrow the familiar congressional formula -- Scholl and Company inserted the "revised and extended"
 version seen below:

The first version was clearly meant to convey the impression that Santorum conferred his  blessing on the "Freedom Project"; the second makes the remarkable claim that Santorum was being tutored regarding the Constitution by the bottomless fountain of wisdom and principle known to lesser beings as Alan Scholl. 

In an e-mail sent out to donors today, Alan recounted that Santorum, canvassing for votes at an Iowa homeschool conference, "drops [sic] by our booth because of the buzz over AOF [American Opinion Foundation] and the Freedom Project among the attendees." Alan handed him some materials and posed for a photo. An aide later supposedly said that Santorum was impressed with the program and "feels that we need more of this kind of activity in America." Alan concludes by claiming that "the fact that he did what he did indicates that we certainly have the high ground, and he was concerned about our influence."

The original caption, in my view, conveyed exactly the opposite message: The "Freedom Project" was eager to exploit Santorum's influence to establish its credibility with kind of people who would support him -- and his agenda of unending war abroad and authoritarian regimentation at home.

It's clear to me that those captions were targeting two different audiences: The first was a come-on to prospective customers seeking a seal of approval from a political celebrity, the latter a "Hooray for Us!" message to the project's donors (long-time Birchers hungry for evidence that the group has "influence"). 

 In the weeks leading up to my termination five years ago, Alan -- and the two very expensive advertising hacks he hired -- were constantly talking about the supposed need to "ride the wave" -- that is, to suck up to the Red State Fascist constituency that favors the likes of Santorum. They also were fond of reciting potted platitudes about offering "milk" before "meat." I had thought that the "Madison Avenue Boys" were responsible for this change in the JBS's "corporate culture." It's clear to me now that this reflected the influence of Alan Scholl, someone whose conscience is elastic and whose commitment to the truth is highly qualified.

No, we're not dealing with Stalin-grade agitprop manipulation. The applicable standard, however, isn't Stalin's dishonesty -- it's Robert Welch's unflinching candor and commitment to honesty. I grant that it's a judgment call, but this seems a lot closer to the former than to the latter.