This morning I got an e-mail from an old Navy buddy that he and I both think is a piece of Rovewellian monkey business.  

The subject is “Too Graphic for the ‘Main’ Stream Media.”  

Below the fold: how viral propaganda works and how much you’re exposed to it…

The opening paragraph says “Here is an important message you are not likely to get anywhere else, particularly from U.S. News sources–Pictures From Iraq That Are Too Shocking & Graphic for The Mainstream Media.”

Below that is a series of digital photographs depicting “positive images” from Iraq.  Several show U.S. soldiers visiting Iraqi kids at their schools and playing with them on the street.  In one, an Iraqi woman holds up two handwritten signs that read “Iraqi people happy today.  Thank You Thank You U.S.A.”  In another, an Iraqi boy in a car holds out a sign that says, “Thank You Very much Mr. BUSH.”

The last image–one that I found genuinely touching–was of an armed soldier in full combat gear bending over to pet someone’s cat.

Beneath the cat picture comes text that I’ve intentionally pasted here verbatim:

Sometimes in our everyday  lives we tend to forget what’s going  on elsewhere in the world and that the  brave men and women of the  service are just like you and I. They have family  and friends back home  who love them very much and are praying for their safe  return.  

When you receive this, please stop for a moment and say a  prayer  for our troops (land, air, and sea) in Afghanistan,  Kuwait, Iraq,   and around the world. There is nothing attached…….  This  can be very powerful……. Just  send this to people in your address  book.   Do not stop the wheel,  please….


I wouldn’t have a problem with people passing this sort of chain letter around if I thought for a moment it was on the up and up.  But this looks entirely too much like government manufactured viral propaganda.  It has all the earmarks.

For starters, the e-mail contains no trace that I can find of its origin.  That’s something that originators of chain letters almost have to do on purpose for the purpose of hiding their identities.  

The closing text is so clumsily worded and typed that it seems to have been deliberately crafted in order to convince the receiver that it came from someone who’s “just plain folks.”  The “please…..” at the end sounds like its coming from the poor little pussy cat–which, by the way, has to be the healthiest, best fed, cutest looking pussy cat in Iraq right now.

Then there are the photos themselves.  Some may be genuine pictures taken by regular soldiers, but they’d have to be regular soldiers who either know how to take good pictures or are wizards at Photo Shop.  Some images look suspiciously staged, especially the ones of everyday Iraqis holding up signs handwritten in English.  However genuine the pictures may or may not be, they were compiled by someone who knows how to use images to convey a striking emotional message.  Saving the cat for last was a nice touch, even if a bit obvious.

And for this kind of thing to be making its way around the web as the administration runs its “no good news in the media” campaign is timing too perfect to be coincidental.


I’m not wild about the idea, but I can accept the government spreading this kind of information over the web if it’s honest about where the message is coming from.  And I think it’s fine for Americans to help spread it around of their own free wills as long as they know they’re distributing government propaganda.

But if my suspicions are correct–and I’m convinced they are–this is the covert part of an orchestrated government propaganda operation aimed at U.S. citizens, and it is wrong.  


Frankly, I don’t blame the media for not reporting enough good news from Iraq.  Whatever good news there is, it’s not good enough to balance the bad news, or to justify the reasons for war.  The Bush administration has yet to give us a straight answer as to what those reasons actually were, but you can bet a paycheck we didn’t invade Iraq so our soldiers could hand out crayons to Iraqi school kids, or play soccer with them, or pet their putty tats.

The good news out of Iraq isn’t relevant, and there’s no reason for the media to waste a significant amount of bandwidth on it.

As for the bad news, I think the visual media have shown considerable restraint in the images it has chosen to show us.  Maybe too much restraint.  If we saw high quality visuals of all the violence we hear about, the anti-war movement would shift into overdrive.  

Some have suggested the major mainstream media bear responsibility for helping the administration sell this woebegone Iraq incursion to the public by channeling its pro-war drumbeats through Judith Miller and others.  There’s something to that argument, but keep in mind that if the big news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post are guilty of anything, they’re guilty of being duped, and don’t bear nearly as much guilt as the dupers who duped them, and who are now trying to transfer blame for the war’s failures from themselves to the media they duped at the outset.

And if I weren’t so outraged, I’d find it a delicious piece of irony that the administration is using one medium in a discreditable manner to discredit the other media.  


Viral propaganda works much like viral marketing.  Viral marketing is a pyramid advertising scheme in which “genuine” word of mouth personal testimony about a commercial product’s virtues is spread by “plain folks” who have been paid and trained to spread it but who don’t let their target audiences know that.  It’s normally conducted in conjunction with more overt, traditional advertising campaigns.  “Viral marketing” is an Internet age term that reflects the language of the contemporary information age–covert “testimonial” advertising can literally be spread like a computer virus.

But covert viral marketing isn’t limited to the electronic information sphere.  Viral marketers arrive at parties, cookouts, school and church functions, and other social events with free samples of the products they’re hawking.  They engage family, friends, and acquaintances in conversations into which they interject carefully prepared and easily remembered slogans, buzz phrases, mantras, memes, and talking points.  

Pretty soon, the viral marketers’ targets are repeating the marketing rhetoric, unknowingly becoming unpaid non-salaried employees of a sophisticated advertising firm.

Viral propaganda functions in much the same way, except it’s selling something far more sinister than barbecue sausage or underarm deodorant.  

As you find yourself in social situations over the next few weeks, make a conscious effort to notice how many times you hear the phrase “no good news” comes up in conversation.  See if you, for the sake of being amiable, agree with the speaker, and add a few comments of your own about the lamentable state of the open press.  

And ask yourself if you haven’t picked up the virus.  

If you’re of a mind to, ask people who bring up the “no good news” slogan who they think is really responsible for the mess in Iraq, the press or the administration.  How they respond should give you a pretty good idea of where they stand in the propaganda pyramid.  

If they answer, “Well, that’s what everybody says,” you’ll know they’re pretty close to the bottom of it.  If they deftly change the subject to something politically neutral, you can safely assume they’re well indoctrinated in the Rovewellian method.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Read his daily commentaries at Pen and Sword and ePluripus Media.

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