Billionaire-funded propaganda, magnified by corporate media failure, threaten democracy's survival...
By Ernest A. Canning on 9/17/2010, 12:07pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."-Mark Twain

One of the basic axioms of law is that fraud vitiates consent. One of the foundational principles of democratic governance is that legitimacy rests on the informed consent of the governed. Come November, those principles will be tested in California.

Billionaire Meg Whitman, a former EBay CEO who surpassed the $100 million mark in campaign spending nearly a month prior to the traditional Labor Day kickoff of the Fall campaign, who, by Sept. 16, had donated a record-smashing $119 million of her own funds to her campaign, who refused to meet with former California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and Republican State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poisner in a pre-primary debate, has knowingly sought to fill the gaping knowledge deficit created by the corporate media's gross neglect of its fourth estate responsibilities with disinformation about Brown, her Democratic opponent.

When confronted by an analysis which exposed a powerful but deliberately deceptive ad (video below) which shows former President Bill Clinton accusing Brown of lying about his tax record based on a CNN report which is now known to be erroneous, Whitman's spokesperson, Darrell Ng dismissed the idea of pulling the deceptive ad as "ridiculous"...

Whitman lies about Brown's record on spending and taxes

In August, Whitman told an assembly of the California Republican Party:

Government spending increased 120 percent under his [Brown's] watch, and we became rated among the very worst states to do business in.

As revealed by the Orange County Register, however, Whitman, who has a bachelor's degree in economics and an MBA from Harvard, deliberately failed to adjust her figures for inflation and population growth so as to mislead her audience.

Adjusting for inflation and population growth, state spending under Brown rose 12.3 percent during his eight years as governor, from 1975-83. That's about the same as his immediate predecessor, Reagan, who oversaw a spending increase of 12.6 percent during his two terms...

Despite a concession from CNN's Brooks Jackson that he had erred when issuing a report that taxes were higher when former California Governor Jerry Brown left office than when he entered and despite a report issued by the California Department of Finance showing that CNN had relied upon the wrong year in its analysis of California taxes under Brown, the well-funded Whitman PR machine refused to pull their deceptive attack ad in which Clinton, citing the erroneous CNN report, said of Brown during the course of a 1992 Presidential Primary Debate: "He raised taxes as governor of California…. He doesn't tell the people the truth."

Media substance deficit, paid-for propaganda, and the threat to democracy

While it is appropriate that the Los Angeles Times, the Monterey Herold and the Orange County Register have all challenged Whitman's deceptions, none of this addresses the core problem we discussed previously in "Meg Whitman, Wall Street, 'Billionaire Sociopaths' and the Media 'Substance Deficit'" --- that, as revealed by a recent study released by the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, 68% of Los Angeles residents rely on commercial television as their primary source of news.

What they receive, when their attention is not being diverted by celebrity gossip, can in no sense be described as journalism.

According to the report, in a typical, 30 minute "news" segment...

Stories about government actions on topics like education, health care and law enforcement took up...1:12 [one minute, twelve seconds]. The majority of this time (0:49) was devoted to government actions taking place at the federal level or in other states

Commercial ads take up 29% of a typical thirty-minute "news" broadcast. But that does not begin to tell the story of "campaign by paid-for propaganda".

Whitman's ads are, today, omnipresent in California --- on all forms of TV and radio broadcasting, billboards, and even within the blogosphere. You can't watch a movie on TV, or a sporting event, or a talk show in the Golden State without seeing one.

Brown, whose resources are far more limited, has put together an 18-second ad (video below) which seeks to counter Whitman's avalanche of lies by depicting her as Pinocchio.

While a more compelling ad featuring President Clinton, who has endorsed Brown, would perhaps help to undo the damage of Whitman's deceptive but powerful hit-piece, by exposing the lie, the real question is whether democracy itself can survive much more of this.

In addition to millionaires and billionaires being able to fund their own deceptive campaigns, the Supreme Court, in it's infamous wisdom, has recently determined that fictitious entities with unlimited profits, otherwise known as corporations, are similarly able to spend whatever they want, to disinform the nation about whatever they want, in favor of anybody they want --- and, perhaps more disturbingly, against anybody they don't want.

As poignantly observed by Kristina Mason in a 9/14/2010 Letter to the Editor of Los Angeles Times:

If we let people like Whitman win, then we disgrace our democracy and the ideals of truth and integrity. And ourselves.

Is American moving beyond the 'democracy deficit'?

In Failed States (2006), Prof. Noam Chomsky, a preeminent linguist and one of this nation’s most prolific political writers, concludes that the U.S. suffers from a “democracy deficit” --- the significant gap between the policy positions of the electorate and their elected representatives --- which he attributes to the manner in which "elections are skillfully managed to avoid issues and marginalize the underlying population…freeing the elected leadership to serve the substantial people."

As usual in recent years, the 2004 electoral campaigns were run by the public relations industry....Its guiding principle is deceit...The task of advertising is to undermine free markets...Business spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year projecting imagery to delude consumers...One of the primary tasks of business propaganda is the 'fabrication of consumers,' a device that helps induce 'the classic symptoms of state-based totalitarianism: atomization, political apathy and irrationality, the hollowing and banalization of purportedly democratic political processes, mounting popular frustration...'

While, in the context of Chomsky's analysis, the Whitman phenomena is nothing new, what we appear to be seeing is a move past the "democracy deficit."

Just as climate scientists discuss a tipping point or fail-safe point in terms of global climate change that would bring about a catastrophe that policy decisions could no longer control, the U.S. political system may well be reaching a fail-safe point in which logic and the will of the citizenry may be insufficient to prevent a disastrous slide into a totalitarian plutocracy.

The ever growing gap in wealth and power, a permanent war footing, the continuing erosion of civil liberties along with the erosion of the social safety net, privatization of decidedly public governmental functions, the unleashing of the corporate beast by Citizens United, billionaire funding not only of candidates but of non-stop, 24/7 propaganda from the right-wing echo chamber, the growing angry mob of 21st Century "know nothings" (aka the billionaire-funded and manipulated "Tea Party"), a corporate media which refuses to serve the public interest, the continued use of easily hacked and completely unverifiable electronic voting systems coupled with the quiet acceptance, as valid, of the virtual election "results", all suggest that we may be rapidly approaching the fail-safe point for the survival of our democracy.

If the American people do not find a way to pierce the fog of disinformation and insist on both truth and a transparent electoral system in which we can be assured that the "winner" actually received the most votes, we, the ordinary citizens who make up the vast majority of the U.S. electorate will be in danger of a permanent loss of our ability to control our own destiny.

* * *

Whitman's deceptive attack ad follows...

Brown's response ad, depicting Whitman as Pinnochio, follows...

* * *

Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).