Then, very much alive, he quickly picked up from his desk a sheet of paper covered with fine handwriting and a batch of newspaper clippings. “Well, here are the items that Mr. Penneyman would like to see. I have called this report the History of the Planted Lie….
It was in French, very closely written, precisely detailed. Fenner read it carefully, condensing, selecting the main points that were the skeleton of the report. In brief, it began with the date of the Generals’ Revolt—April 22, 1961. Within a few hours a story was circulating that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States had instigated and aided the revolt against France. Within a few days the story was printed as uncontrovertible fact in the Roman newspaper Il Paese. Immediately, Pravda, Tass, and Radio Moscow were quoting Il Paese to Europe and the Middle East. By April 27 the London Daily Worker was denouncing America. A non-Communist French newspaper followed suit. So did other French papers. So did some officials in the French government, who talked cautiously, with shrugs and pursed lips, to foreign journalists. The news was even beginning to be accepted by some friends as well as enemies. The storm was rising to hurricane proportions. Americans protested their innocence, but how do you prove innocence? Even the usually accurate, and conservative, newspaper Le Monde could begin an attack on the CIA with the damning phrase “It now seems established…” But it wasn’t. An Australian newsman, reporting for a British paper, challenged a French official at a public luncheon, and the French government issued a statement that no evidence had been discovered that could support the story. The report became what it always had been, a planted lie….
“The memorandum is divided into four sections. First, the purpose behind the planted lie. Second, the means and methods used to spread it. Third, the reason for its failure. And fourth—the next attempt.”
Fenner stared. “You think they will try something like this again?” The question had been jolted out of him.
“I don’t think. I know,” said Vaugiroud very quietly.
Propaganda is the planted lie. Its use to shape perception into a falling domino that causes a cascade of planned consequences in a theme of Helen MacInnes’ books. Helen MacInnes began writing espionage novels during World War II, and reached her peak during the Cold War. Her books are now being reprinted, so you won’t have to scour used book stores or libraries hoping to find copies. I first learned the word disinformation from reading Helen MacInnes, and so she is a natural connection for me when I think about propaganda. Read her books and give your favorite ones away, because in the thrill of the chase she provides an education on power, lies, and their deadly consequences.
Past generations felt the onslaught of German and Russian propaganda during the twentieth century, and growing up during the Cold War I was taught some of the basics on its distortion of reality. Since the Berlin Wall fell and the old U.S.S.R. broke up, that knowledge as a common part of our thinking seems to have gone by the wayside. As I’ve looked on the internet for sources I’ve been surprised to find that many of those who write on it scoff at its application to the Left. The topic itself has become a source of propaganda against the Right.
The extent to which the American people today are swayed by their emotions to believe lies and make irrational choices detrimental to their own well-being reveals how much we need to revisit some of those old tricks of the propaganda trade. I’ll begin looking at some of those tools of deception this week.
Helen MacInnes, The Venetian Affair in The Deadly Decisions (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York NY: 1963) 464–466.