Whispering Facts and Yelling Feelings

By Julie Macken

For the last decade or longer, I have been in business of propaganda – before that I was in the business of journalism. Let me rush to say that despite what some folks think, the two trades are very different. As a reporter I needed to adhere to a pretty strict code of conduct and ethics, and in my case, I had to have three or four sources for anything asserted in my yarns – I was a very tight leash because me and the editor were at loggerheads.

As a propagandists the rules are entirely different. My job was to frame the terms of the debate and then persuade folks to my point of view, or at least neutralise opposition to the proposition. I think propaganda is a very powerful tool. While journalism tries to tell you the facts, propaganda tells you how to feel about those facts. And frankly we tend to act on our feelings rather than facts which is why it works.

This has become very relevant because last week we all witnessed a very dangerous development in the propaganda war the Prime Minister is waging against – in his view – the Labor opposition. But in fact it is a war being waged against the common good and the broader Australian community. And we need to read it very closely to unpick the menace and method in his pitch.

A few weeks ago in Victoria we saw right-wing extremists chanting out the front of Parliament House threatening the lives of anyone who voted for the Public Health and Wellbeing (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 that was being debated in the Upper House. There was a gallows set up and an effigy of the Premier in a noose. State MPs and their families were getting death threats and the daughter of one MP was actually assaulted.

The footage had the same grubby look as most violent, neo-fascist protests have – the screaming heads, death threats and a bizarre hodgepodge of archetypal images and exhortations – and of course the overt and covert anti-Jewish, anti-Other messaging. I know what I think about that, but the important question is what does the Prime Minister think?

Well I think he believes he can make this violence work for him. That why he went straight to the propaganda playbook. He mildly chastised those threatening the lives of our elected representatives and then pivoted around to put himself on the side of the “everyman” in that riot.

He said, after refusing to condemn the violence for days, that while he had no time for violence, he has sympathy for those who “have had a gutful of governments telling what to do” and that it was time for the governments of Australia to allow people to make their own choices, urging Australians to “take their lives back.”

In saying this he is asking us to believe that his government – the federal government – was not the government that refused to allow citizens to return home from India, that he was not the man who said any citizen who tried to get back home would be fined, jailed. He is asking us to believe that he didn’t direct mandatory vaccines for the aged-care sector – that he didn’t direct billions of dollars to businesses, many of whom didn’t need it, that he didn’t make it mandatory for every journalist at his press conferences to be vaccinated,.

He is attempting to occupy the bizarre position of applying for the top job in government – Prime Minister – while  saying government should get out of the business of running things! But what he is really doing is whispering his disapproval of the facts, while shouting his support for the feelings of these violent right-wing extremists.

Fortunately this has been called out for what it is – Trump-lite.

Labor front bencher, Ed Husic said Morrison was trying to establish “some sort of moral equivalency, like what we saw with Donald Trump at Charlottesville. Then the federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, told reporters in Sydney it was “extraordinary” that Morrison had “failed to unequivocally condemn the violent and extreme statements” including “explicit threats”.

“When [Morrison] made some statements saying that was inappropriate, but then went on to speak about people’s frustrations, he only put the second bit up on his Facebook post – thereby eliminating any criticism of this activity,” Albanese said. “When people marched on the Victorian parliament with gallows, threatening people with being hung, he spoke about how he understands people’s frustration. I ask people to think about that, and whether that represents the leadership that this country need.”

Trust me ,the power of propaganda comes from people not thinking through the implications of its use. We really need to think through these implications today because we are all enfeebled when violence is excused on the grounds of feelings.