A newspaper headline on May 8 informed the British public that «Putin sends three warships to Latvian waters in the Baltic Sea in latest challenge to NATO» and although the message was clear enough, it was also an instance of misinformation, which is defined as «false or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive». The newspaper in which it appeared, the Daily Mail, is well-known for moral elasticity, profitable hypocrisy — and for publishing downright lies.
In April, for example, the BBC noted that a sleazy assertion in the Mail about Melania Trump had been withdrawn and the newspaper’s apology that «we accept that these allegations about Mrs Trump are not true" was accompanied by several millions pounds in damages. But retraction of its falsehoods is irrelevant because the real damage had been done, in that an unquantifiable but very large number of people would continue to believe the salacious drivel that was conveyed to them as news.
The Mail has had to pay large sums in damages to many people, but in spite of these expenses it must be profitable for DMG Media (formerly Associated Newspapers; includes the Mail titles) to tell lies, because these continue to be retailed. The motives for its irresponsible and indeed evil behaviour are undeclared, and the damage it has done to innocent individuals is incalculable, but its owner, Jonathan Harmsworth, the 4th Viscount Rothermere, carries on profiting in millions, as does its editor, a perambulating piece of filth called Dacre who is a contemptible foul-mouthed bully. It is unlikely that either knew or cared that the Russian ships did not enter «Latvian waters» and had no intention of doing so, but were sailing quite normally in international sea-lanes.
Truth should be a barrier to misinformation — but if the truth is never revealed to a credulous public, then lie-tellers will continue to sail on in their profitable waters. In February it was reported that «the Daily Mail has been removed as a ‘reliable source’ on Wikipedia after the news group was deemed ‘generally unreliable’», but that won’t have any effect on its behaviour. Its readers will continue to believe its exaggeration and fabrications because they are accustomed to them.
The Nazi marketing meister Joseph Goebbels said that if propaganda is to succeed then «those who are to be persuaded by it should be completely immersed in the ideas of the propaganda, without ever noticing that they are being immersed in it». Of equal importance he observed that «the rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitious».
The Daily Mail was listening, even then, because two months before Adolph Hitler invaded Poland and began the Second World War, the owner of the newspaper, the First Viscount Rothermere, wrote to «My Dear Führer» that «I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country». This was not surprising, because after Hitler came to power in 1933 the Daily Mail welcomed the result, declaring that if Hitler used his majority «prudently and peacefully, no one here will shed any tears for the disappearance of German democracy».
No ships sailing in Latvian waters, then, of course, but it’s always a good thing to own a propaganda outlet that is aimed at and understands the segment of the population that is poorly educated and will follow, follow, follow . . .
In George Orwell’s novel of prophecy, 1984, he wrote that the Proles (the «rank and file» of the evil Goebbels), could be manipulated because «...films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult».
Further, «All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations».
This is where much of today’s Western media comes wonderfully to the fore, because so many «news» outlets cater in the main for the primitives — the proles. Although TV stations and newspapers repeat themselves to the point that boredom should set in, that condition is experienced only by those intelligent enough to be bored. The «rank and file» identified with complacent contempt by Dr Goebbels are happy with repetitive messages, providing they are presented with lots of emphasis and scarifying detail retailed with spicy embroidery rather than attention to dreary fact. As Goebbels well knew, facts don’t matter if your audience is trained to accept «the best propaganda» which «penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative».
Propaganda should thus be popular and not intellectually demanding, as shown in the columns of the Daily Mail which is but one of the British newspapers which are now in the main, alas, a joke. As with print media in so many countries they have been hit hard commercially by a combination of the internet, social media, television and illiteracy, and have become shabby shadows of their former selves, catering for a large minority that seems to be composed of bigoted xenophobes whose main interests are sport, insulting foreigners, exchanging personal details of amazing triviality, and obsession with people the media tell them are «celebrities».
Xenophobia is «the dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries» and has become rampant in Great Britain. It is a sad moral weakness but a powerful weapon for propagandists, and much of Britain’s print media excel in using it against the European Union and Russia. It feeds what Orwell called «primitive patriotism».
On the day after the French presidential election the front page of the Daily Mail (circulation 1.5 million) had only two items : one was an illustrated story about Prince Harry kissing an American girl; the other was an enormous headlined piece about insurance companies overcharging their customers. On a day that had news of major significance for the entire world, the Mail wanted its readers — the rank and file — to ignore important facts that would affect their lives and concentrate on the celeb «culture» and a fairy story about insurance companies. And there is no doubt that it succeeded. The primitives are much more interested in a front-page picture of a prince kissing a girl than in learning about a change of leadership in a country that is of enormous importance to their own.
The Dacre Daily Mail loathes Europe and does not give space to news that presents the continent favourably. It is obsessively anti-Russian, and never loses an opportunity to portray President Putin and Russia in as bad a light as possible. In its propaganda it is joined by much of the rest of the British media which has also lowered itself to cultivate a quasi-nationalistic stance that is indubitably popular, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and subsequent developments. Their propaganda is not as poisonous as that of the Mail, but nonetheless has a substantial if unquantifiable effect on the public. Propaganda is winning, and a large number of British people are being successfully encouraged to fear and loathe whatever their manipulators wish them to abominate. Goebbels would be proud.