Understanding the mechanisms of deception

by Bruce O’Hara


August 23, 2022

Moonofalabama has again expressed amazement at the continuing blatant pro-Ukraine propaganda produced by the American mainstream media. If you only get your news from mainstream US media, you must be thinking that Ukraine is winning the war.

Canada’s CBC is no better. Consider this piece by CBC’s Terence McKenna. It’s so obviously propaganda, it’s embarrassing

I do recommend watching the video, as it is an excellent example of how propaganda works, and contains a number of the main techniques used in well-done propaganda.

Let’s go through some of those techniques:

1) Present information without context:

McKenna provides zero background to understand the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine had been in a civil war for several years before Russian troops entered the country. When Russian troops entered Ukraine, two hundred thousand Ukrainian military were massed in the Donbass, ready to attack the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, in direct violation of the Minsk peace accords which Ukraine had signed.

2) Cherry-pick your examples:

Six months into the war, McKenna has to go back to the first month of the war to talk extensively about the Ukraine “success” story in the battle of Kiev. Isn’t that kind of old news at this point? Why not talk about major Ukrainian successes in the subsequent five months? (Perhaps because there weren’t any?)

3) Present only partial information:

“Then came phase two as the Russians poured in rocket and artillery fire, which destroyed cities and towns and killed hundreds of Ukrainian citizens.” Don’t mention that the Ukrainian army has been firing Western-supplied weapons at civilians in downtown Donetsk city. Don’t mention that Ukraine has been firing illegal anti-personnel cluster bombs at civilian areas. Don’t mention that the American HIMARS were used by Ukraine to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war. Don’t mention that NATO-supplied artillery is being fired by Ukraine at an active nuclear power plant, risking a nuclear catastrophe.

4) Sneak in the truth as an aside:

Oh, and, by the way, Russia captured Mariupol, Kherson, and much of the Donbass, but that’s not important.

5) Make a big deal over small successes:

Ukraine was able to re-capture only a small amount of the huge amount of territory it had lost near Kherson but somehow McKenna inflates this to a major victory.

6) Use ‘expert’ guests to say things that are not grounded in reality.

‘Former soldier’ Bob Seely says: “the Ukrainians are going to be in a position now to potentially launch either a new Eastern offensive or potentially a new Southern offensive.” (He says this days after the Ukrainian Government says their long-promised “Southern offensive” was just a psy-op to mess with the Russian’s heads, that no offensive is coming.)

7) Use hypotheticals to make things seem more possible than they are:

“If they could succeed in doing that, it may break the Russian positions.” As the Irish say: And pigs might fly, but they make most unlikely birds.

8) Sneak in inaccurate statements obliquely:

“This is the weapon that has made the biggest impact in turning the tide.” The statement makes it seem like the war is turning in Ukraine’s favour, when the Russians are continuing to grind down the Ukrainian army relentlessly day after day. The HIMARS have imposed some painful costs on the Russians, but there’s too few of them to have a significant effect on the course of the war.

9) Give extensive video coverage to relatively minor issues:

The video give lots of air time to the HIMAR artillery – including tons of impressive videos of explosions and missiles firing. It makes it seem like large numbers of HIMARS systems have gone to Ukraine when only about a dozen of the systems are in use currently. (The US sent more than that but the Russians have already destroyed several of them.)

10) Avoid mentioning obvious counterarguments:

Again, you have an ‘expert’ guest say about the HIMARS systems making “very specific hits on railway junctions and bridges, critical bits of infrastructure that will prevent the Russians from reinforcing- and secondly command and control posts as well.” Don’t mention that the Russians are making the same kinds of strikes – about twenty times as often.

11) Imply that the Ukrainian military failure isn’t their fault:

“The Ukrainians, probably quite rightly, say they don’t have enough of these long-range artillery systems.” It’s because of the stingy NATO Governments that Ukraine is losing the war.

12) Leave out obvious information:

McKenna tells us there’s a referendum coming in Kherson about joining the Russian Federation. He doesn’t mention that most of Kherson is ethnically Russian and speaks Russian, so the referendum is almost certain to succeed.

13) Normalize war crimes:

Targeting of civilians, including government bureaucrats, is a war crime. McKenna makes it sound like shooting government officials is fair game. He reinforces this with another ‘expert’ guest, Hannah Shelest, who says the same thing.

14) Leave out crucial information:

McKenna tells us that “75,000 rounds of ammunition” is on the way. He doesn’t tell us that the Russian military fires that many rounds every two days. He tells us that “Poland and the Czech Republic have provided Ukraine with hundreds of T-72 tanks.” He doesn’t bother the mention that most of the Ukrainian military personnel trained to drive tanks are dead already.

15) Use presentation order to create a false impression:

When McKenna says: “tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died” it makes it seem like most of the dead are civilians when in fact the large majority of Ukrainian deaths are soldiers.

16) Sluff over inconvenient realities:

McKenna admits that “the Ukrainian economy is expected to be cut in half. Unemployment could reach 30 percent.” He allows that the war has caused “a trillion dollars” of damage. He doesn’t ask whether this economic collapse might impact Ukraine’s ability to continue fighting a war.

17) Use evocative languages and images:

Use words like ‘liberate’ and ‘atrocities.’ Show pictures of funerals.

18) Embed misleading information in parallel structures:

McKenna says: “It seems to be becoming a war of attrition to see which side can sustain mass casualties for the longest time.” Stated this way it sounds like the Russians and the Ukrainians have similar numbers of casualties. In fact, most observers estimate Ukraine’s losses are ten times that of Russia due to the fact Russia has air superiority and a huge artillery advantage.

It saddens me to see something like this from Terence McKenna. He used to be a journalist, and a good one. And the CBC used to be an independent broadcaster, once upon a time.

PS: Moonofalabama has since commented on the use of interviews with alleged “experts” to push extremely shaky narratives – in this case he is looking at Pakistani politics, but it is the same propaganda technique that has been used to keep narrative control of both the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Social media has made it really easy for the mainstream media to find nut-bar experts to interview.