News junky, heal thyself

Listen: I get how watching the news right now is like a train wreck, except each new day brings a bigger, more fiery train wreck than the day before. And you just want it to stop, and go back to normal, but can’t turn away.

As a reformed journalist, I’m a complete and utter news addict. Went to rehab–didn’t help one bit.

So I feel you.

Here’s what is really going on.

Chaos and confusion

In normal times, a scandal is big news for weeks or months. One large scandal can easily end a political career, or bring a CEO down.

What’s happening now is a flood of scandals and outrages, and yes, part of that is because the world’s most powerful man is a moody, incompetent toddler. But it’s also by design.

Vladimir Putin has a large country with a tiny economy. He can’t beat the West in economics, or even in a straight military conflict. What he’s doing is sowing discord, distrust and chaos through lies, misinformation and propaganda.

Brexit and Donald Trump are only two examples. Look hard enough–or listen to the intelligence community pros and reporters who cover national security–and you’ll see evidence of this information war being waged all over the free world.

Putin + Trump = a perfect marriage

Putin’s strategy is perfectly aligned with what Donald Trump has done his entire life: use conflict and chaos to build his name ID and get press coverage. The twist is, Trump didn’t care whether the coverage was good or bad, as long as they spelled his name right. Affairs, divorces, scandals–didn’t matter. Just get him on the front page or the Howard Stern show.

Working in reality TV only cemented this strategy. If everything goes right on a reality show, the ratings stink. What sells? Conflict and chaos, betrayals and big fights. 

And when there’s a new political scandal or outrage every day, it’s hard to remember the seven train wrecks from last week, or last month. 

Attacking the media

The other half of this is attacking the foundations of truth–the free press–while trafficking in lies, misinformation and propaganda.

They want average people to be numb and apathetic, and to mistrust what’s coming from real journalists.

To create doubt and fear.

What you can do

It’s easy to get hooked on the news in times like this. It feels like the middle of a presidential primary, the days before a Super Bowl, the first moments of a war. 

When you care about something, getting glued to the screen is easy. 

I’m not saying you ignore the news, quitting it cold turkey.

The trick is balancing out gathering information, and being informed, with taking action.

Because gathering info in a time like this can never end. There’s always a new scandal, another angle you hadn’t considered, a rabbit hole to go down.

The more you care, the more you tend to read and watch, and it certainly feels like you’re doing something.

Except it’s not actually taking action, and it’ll take average people refusing to be apathetic to bring things back to normal.

Elections alone won’t win this kind of fight, especially if you live in a country where elections are partially or fully rigged. 

Check out this chapter for more on Winning the War on Truth.

If you care about protecting our democracy, follow these people on Twitter

In normal times, I’d never title a post like that, except as a joke. Yet these are not normal times.

You can see that based on how people changed the way they use Twitter.

I follow all sorts of people: screenwriters and speechwriters, librarians and literary agents, authors and architects. Twitter let’s me chat with folks from Iceland to India, and instead of talking about the things we love, like books and movies, most of the people I follow increasingly tweet about politics. Why? Because it’s not hyberbole to say that free democracies around the globe are under attack.

Creative people get that. They see what happens to reporters, writers and filmmakers when authoritarians subvert what used to be a democracy. They understand that liberties like freedom of the press can be taken away by the stroke of a pen and watch as police round up political leaders along with reporters who write stories the Dear Leader doesn’t like.

This list of five is mostly conservatives and national security / law enforcement folks. That’s for one simple reason: they have the strongest ethos on this issue.

It takes guts to walk away from your political home. Your career will suffer, even though you’re choosing country over party. I respect the hell out of that.

As for national security professionals and counter-intel folks, they know this fight better than anyone and have dedicated–and risked–their life to protecting all Americans, regardless of party, race, creed or color. My grandfather flew bombers in World War II and was a FDR Democrat, while my father’s a disabled Vietnam vet who votes Republican, but they both served the same flag and constitution. They swore the same oath to protect our country and constitution from enemies foreign or domestic.

Our democracy is under attack from enemies foreign and domestic, as are democracies in Europe and around the world. If you care about that, the people on this list are worth a listen.

1. John Schindler — @20committee

#Natsec @observer, historian, security consultant, author, provocateur, bon vivant, polyglot, counterintelligencer, cat guy. Former NSA, NAVSECGRU, NWC.

2. Rick Wilson – @TheRickWilson

GOP Media Guy, Dad, Husband, Pilot, Hunter, Writer. Author of Everything Trump Touches Dies, coming August 7th.

3. Molly McKew – @MollyMcKew

Writer. Information warfare expert. Foreign Policy and Strategy Consultant.

4. Malcolm Nance – @MalcolmNance

US Intelligence +36 yrs. Expert Terrorist Strategy,Tactics,Ideology. Torture, Russian Cyber! | NYT Bestselling Author, Navy Senior Chief/Jedi Master, NBC/MSNBC.

5. Clint Watts – @selectedwisdom

Author: Messing With The Enemy Current: @MSNBC@FPRI & @gwcchs Former: @USArmy@FBI@CTCWP

 

P.S. Wrote a quick little guide on how to fight back against propaganda, lies and oppression. It’s built to be brutally practical, no matter where you live or when you need to use it.

 

 

Defense against the Dark Arts: Propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric

As the race for the White House gears up, you are being bombarded with stories, 30-second ads, attack tweets and Instagram videos.

Back in the 1970s, the average person got hit with 500 messages a day: ads in the paper to buy Fords, radio spots for Richard Nixon, promos for the latest ABBA album and billboards for Coke.

Today, the average person is buried with 5,000 messages a day.

So how do you tell the difference between propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric?

I did a series of posts about this for about.com, back when it was owned by The New York Times, and it’s a topic worth revisiting. Continue reading “Defense against the Dark Arts: Propaganda vs. journalism and rhetoric”