Steamshovel Press


"Conspiracy and Credibility in Minneapolis"
by Kenn Thomas

    At the opening reception for the Midwest Popular Culture Association conference recently in Minneapolis, the discussion turned to David Kelly, the UK's Ministry of Defense adviser found dead of a slit wrist last July. I gave my opinion that Kelly - a high profile whistle blower over the false data about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war - was murdered. A woman from the Netherlands assured me that she followed the European press more closely about this and that Kelly indeed had committed suicide, the view of Kelly's death most charitable to the Blair administration.

    When dealing with the parapolitical, individual opinions rarely coincide and even agreement on the facts is rare. I maintained that neither of us had an absolute certainty about Kelly. We were flanked on my side by speculation and a large pattern of facts (the microbiologist death list), and on hers by official conclusions and what runs in the press. We did agree on one thing: not much functional difference exists between murder and driving someone to suicide.

    But the nuance of difference in our views colored the rest of the conference proceedings. Presenters for the most part simply explored themes and social reflections found in various aspects of popular culture, but occasionally it turned to the parapolitical. Obviously, this was true of the panel I chaired on conspiracy culture. One member of the audience, a Steamshovel fan of long standing, effectively challenged Jerry Lembcke, a panelist who wrote the book CNN's Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam's Last Great Myth, a well done examination of media distortion. While the book has a lot to recommend it, its author often makes his points by receding into the vagaries of "institutional analysis", the facts-avoiding tactic advocated by Noam Chomsky.

    To describe parapolitical research, Lembcke uses terms like "conspiracism", a word that Fletcher Prouty pointed out long agocontains the subtle smear of "racism" within it. Lembcke also labeled Prouty "right wing", as he did people like Michael Ruppert and Jeff Rense. To my great pleasure, the Steamshovel reader had my co-panelist trace this line of reasoning to the absurd point where he actually declared Peter Dale Scott "right wing" as well.

    John Stauber, the director of the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, gave the keynote address on how the Bush administration uses public relations propaganda to promote the Iraq war.

    His book, entitled Weapons of Mass Deception (co-authored with Sheldon Rampton), rightly blasts such Dubya newspeak successes as convincing the American public that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks, although the book doesn't use the term "brainwashing".

    I had lunch with Stauber just before he took the dais and we talked conspiracy. He explained that he knows Jim Fetzer, author of the highly regarded book, Assassination Science. Stauber seemed genuinely interested in news that the new LBJ-did-it book was written by the father of the current White House press secretary. He even seemed open to such notions as Paul Wellstone possibly being assassinated, although he more or less rolled his eyes at that as well as some of Fetzer's more startling conclusions. Parapolitics never rose to the level of a mention in his keynote speech, however.

    Stauber instead told the assembled that public relations is a business practice that tries to put a credible face on scams and screw jobs. He recalled an example from work on his previous book, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, when a PR firm tried to convince him that thepoisonous pollutants of solid waste are actually "recyclable bio-matter". I wondered, though, to what extent Stauber's own effort suffered from the same problem.

    The search for "credibility" also haunts the opinion industry, left and right. Jerry Lembcke defined respected conspiracy writers as "right wing" - not just people whom he felt had it wrong - because it gave him more credibility as a critic coming from the left. Stauber had little to say about conspiracy as a broadstroke concept, even though his work studies it in detail, because that would tarnish its credibility.

    It's one public relations success often overlooked.

Previous From the Editor The Octopus Returns
Previous From the Editor Comic Book Conspiracy
Previous From the Editor Michael Kelly and the Conspiracy Fusion
Previous From the Editor Penn, Teller and Bullshit
Previous From the Editor Media Monotone
Previous From the Editor Zevonfest 2002

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