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Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Asymmetrical warfare updated for the age of the Internet."

One of the topics I tend to cover here is politics, only because the way campaigns are waged has everything to do with advertising and how things are sold. I’m trying to get moms to buy more sugar for their kids while Drudge is trying to convince readers why Obama is evil. See? Connection made!

While it’s not *quite* that simple, I saw a piece in Esquire recently on Climategate that underscores just how much of an art there is to convincing people to either buy what they don’t need, or in the case of politics, questioning what they thought they believed.

And both cases, the facts you don’t bring up, matter.

It’s about Marc Morano, foot soldier in the battle over global warming. (His previous claim to fame is swiftboatng John Kerry.) I won’t rehash the article here; read at your lehzure (and the update too). But the writer, John H. Richardson, highlights a particular vibe out there now in trying to win political hearts and minds:

“This is how the information wars are fought in the age of the Internet, when an isolated outside voice can swing the debate and change the world.”

When you read the tactics he uses, you’re either giving Morano a fistbump or the finger. He’s far from alone there. Lobbyists and campaigns have always employed the strategy Richardson outlines.

Just change a narrative enough (or introduce a spin on it), and in effect, take it away from what the other side says it should be:

“So that’s how it’s done, Morano says later. He’s the turd in the punch bowl, that’s all he is and all he can be. But that might be enough. If they can use the echo chamber to reach enough people, they can confuse them enough to change the narrative. It’s asymmetrical warfare updated for the age of the Internet.

In other words, it doesn’t have to be true.

I know, this isn’t a new concept in politics. Politicians long ago mastered the art of changing the subject or deflecting questions to focus on their own agenda. The difference is that in the internet age, the speed at which that narrative changes has altered the landscape almost instantly.

Before the other side can craft a response to a leaked photo taken of a candidate smoking pot 20 years ago, there go five percentage points in the polls. Make a remark about military spending when you thought the mic was off? Driving an SUV on your way to a *green* conference?

Political waters, chummed.

Students though have a chance to witness a change that eclipses anything they could read in history books. The stories from 100 years ago that put me to sleep in school about Tammany Hall scandals et al. don’t come to life in nearly the same way stories on YouTube or Drudge do now.

Political porn as 24/7 addiction—one click away, and I am not going to rehab.

Students don’t really need to grasp the effect that a William Randolph Hearst had on publishing when he’s reborn online as Drudge, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Enter the likes of Air America, Jon Stewart and Huffington Post into the nightly arena, and yes Maximus, I am entertained.

That a modern day link dump like Drudge though is viewed as a go-to media source holding sway over both parties shows how far things have come.

It’s a narrative rewritten constantly, as one sentence from a local story in Iowa—where that candidate lets their guard down for a millisecond—will be taken and rerun in all caps, red, 72 px tall headlines.

Once that happens? It’s real hard to unbelieve it. Not that the truth matters or anything.

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