Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

This wouldn't have surprised her at all

Helen MacInnes wrote some of the best Nazi and Cold War thrillers. I've blogged before about how prescient some of her books were (see here, here and here.) I've been reading the last book MacInnes wrote before her death, Ride a Pale Horse, a 1984 effort about the waning years of the Cold War. Once again, I've been struck by the fact that she could as easily be writing about the cold aspects of the War we're facing now as about the Cold War itself. This time, the subject is disinformation. We're awfully familiar with it right now. Indeed, the AP gave a perfect example of disinformation this past week, when it let ride for a week a patently incorrect story claiming that Pres. Bush always knew that the levies in the Big O would breach. Other recent examples with horrific outcomes have been the imaginary Jenin massacre, the faked Mohammed al Dura death, and the incorrect "flushed Koran" that led to riots. But it turns out that this kind of skilled lying to manipulate the masses is nothing new in the ideological wars of the last 60 years. The scene I'm thinking of in MacInnes' 1984 book is a conversation between her heroine, Karen Cornell, an unbiased reporter just returned from a "peace" conference in Prague, and her editor, Schleeman, an equally unbiased journalist (proving that MacInnes didn't get everything right):

The meeting was ended. Not yet, thought Karen. "I have been doing some thinking. On disinformation. I could write two articles at least on that subject -- if I had some solid facts as a basis." "Disinformation?" That had caught his attention. He dropped the pen back on the desk. "It's important -- something we all ought to be aware of. Most of us don't really know the difference between misinformation and disinformation." "But you know now -- since Prague?" He was amused but interested. "Give me an example of that difference, Karen. No fancy language: just a simple explanation that any ignorant layman -- like myself -- can understand." He is challenging me, she told herself. All right, let's show him this isn't just a Prague-inspired notion. "The scene is Paris. An attempt to shoot Mitterand as he was entering his car. The actual facts are that he wasn't hit, his driver was wounded, and the two assailants escaped. "An early press report of the incident said that Mitterand was wounded and his chauffeur was killed; two, possibly three terrorists had done the shooting. That report is a case of misinformation. "Another press report starts appearing. It says that an attack on Mitterand took place; he wasn't hit but his driver was wounded. The two assailants have been identified as gunmen used in previous killings by a West German intelligence agency. A reliable source states that the assassination of Mitterand was to have been followed by a right-wing coup, establishing in power a French general favored by fascist elements in Germany." Karen paused. "And that report is pure disinformation." She knew what she was talking about. Schleeman nodded his approval. "It includes a fact or two to make a story credible, then adds the distortions." And people fell for it: the riots in Pakistan four years ago, the burning of the American Embassy and two Americans killed -- all the result of skilled disinformation. The lie that had lit the fuse? The Americans were responsible for the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the CIA being the villains. [Bolded emphasis mine.] (pp. 39-40.)
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