Preface: This handy set of rules covers most of the games which disinformation artists play on the Internet (and offline). When you know the tricks, you’ll be able to spot the games. Even if you’ve read this list before, you might be surprised at how useful it is to brush up on these tricks.
Update: This was originally apparently written by H. Michael Sweeney.
1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Regardless of what you know, don’t discuss it — especially if you are a public figure, news anchor, etc. If it’s not reported, it didn’t happen, and you never have to deal with the issues.
2. Become incredulous and indignant. Avoid discussing key issues and instead focus on side issues which can be used show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme. This is also known as the “How dare you!” gambit.
3. Create rumor mongers. Avoid discussing issues by describing all charges, regardless of venue or evidence, as mere rumors and wild accusations. Other derogatory terms mutually exclusive of truth may work as well. This method works especially well with a silent press, because the only way the public can learn of the facts are through such “arguable rumors”. If you can associate the material with the Internet, use this fact to certify it a “wild rumor” which can have no basis in fact.
4. Use a straw man. Find or create a seeming element of your opponent’s argument which you can easily knock down to make yourself look good and the opponent to look bad. Either make up an issue you may safely imply exists based on your interpretation of the opponent/opponent arguments/situation, or select the weakest aspect of the weakest charges. Amplify their significance and destroy them in a way which appears to debunk all the charges, real and fabricated alike, while actually avoiding discussion of the real issues.
5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. This is also known as the primary attack the messenger ploy, though other methods qualify as variants of that approach. Associate opponents with unpopular titles such as “kooks”, “right-wing”, “liberal”, “left-wing”, “terrorists”, “conspiracy buffs”, “radicals”, “militia”, “racists”, “religious fanatics”, “sexual deviates”, and so forth. This makes others shrink from support out of fear of gaining the same label, and you avoid dealing with issues.
6. Hit and Run. In any public forum, make a brief attack of your opponent or the opponent position and then scamper off before an answer can be fielded, or simply ignore any answer. This works extremely well in Internet and letters-to-the-editor environments where a steady stream of new identities can be called upon without having to explain criticism reasoning — simply make an accusation or other attack, never discussing issues, and never answering any subsequent response, for that would dignify the opponent’s viewpoint.
7. Question motives. Twist or amplify any fact which could so taken to imply that the opponent operates out of a hidden personal agenda or other bias. This avoids discussing issues and forces the accuser on the defensive.
8. Invoke authority. Claim for yourself or associate yourself with authority and present your argument with enough “jargon” and “minutiae” to illustrate you are “one who knows”, and simply say it isn’t so without discussing issues or demonstrating concretely why or citing sources.
9. Play Dumb. No matter what evidence or logical argument is offered, avoid discussing issues with denial they have any credibility, make any sense, provide any proof, contain or make a point, have logic, or support a conclusion. Mix well for maximum effect.
10. Associate opponent charges with old news. A derivative of the straw man usually, in any large-scale matter of high visibility, someone will make charges early on which can be or were already easily dealt with. Where it can be foreseen, have your own side raise a straw man issue and have it dealt with early on as part of the initial contingency plans. Subsequent charges, regardless of validity or new ground uncovered, can usually them be associated with the original charge and dismissed as simply being a rehash without need to address current issues — so much the better where the opponent is or was involved with the original source.
11. Establish and rely upon fall-back positions. Using a minor matter or element of the facts, take the “high road” and “confess” with candor that some innocent mistake, in hindsight, was made — but that opponents have seized on the opportunity to blow it all out of proportion and imply greater criminalities which, “just isn’t so.” Others can reinforce this on your behalf, later. Done properly, this can garner sympathy and respect for “coming clean” and “owning up” to your mistakes without addressing more serious issues.
12. Enigmas have no solution. Drawing upon the overall umbrella of events surrounding the crime and the multitude of players and events, paint the entire affair as too complex to solve. This causes those otherwise following the matter to begin to loose interest more quickly without having to address the actual issues.
13. Alice in Wonderland Logic. Avoid discussion of the issues by reasoning backwards with an apparent deductive logic in a way that forbears any actual material fact.
14. Demand complete solutions. Avoid the issues by requiring opponents to solve the crime at hand completely, a ploy which works best for items qualifying for rule 10.
15. Fit the facts to alternate conclusions. This requires creative thinking unless the crime was planned with contingency conclusions in place.
16. Vanishing evidence and witnesses. If it does not exist, it is not fact, and you won’t have to address the issue.
17. Change the subject. Usually in connection with one of the other ploys listed here, find a way to side-track the discussion with abrasive or controversial comments in hopes of turning attention to a new, more manageable topic. This works especially well with companions who can “argue” with you over the new topic and polarize the discussion arena in order to avoid discussing more key issues.
18. Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad Opponents. If you can’t do anything else, chide and taunt your opponents and draw them into emotional responses which will tend to make them look foolish and overly motivated, and generally render their material somewhat less coherent. Not only will you avoid discussing the issues in the first instance, but even if their emotional response addresses the issue, you can further avoid the issues by then focusing on how “sensitive they are to criticism”.
19. Ignore proof presented, demand impossible proofs. This is perhaps a variant of the “play dumb” rule. Regardless of what material may be presented by an opponent in public forums, claim the material irrelevant and demand proof that is impossible for the opponent to come by (it may exist, but not be at his disposal, or it may be something which is known to be safely destroyed or withheld, such as a murder weapon). In order to completely avoid discussing issues may require you to categorically deny and be critical of media or books as valid sources, deny that witnesses are acceptable, or even deny that statements made by government or other authorities have any meaning or relevance.
20. False evidence. Whenever possible, introduce new facts or clues designed and manufactured to conflict with opponent presentations as useful tools to neutralize sensitive issues or impede resolution. This works best when the crime was designed with contingencies for the purpose, and the facts cannot be easily separated from the fabrications.
21. Call a Grand Jury, Special Prosecutor, or other empowered investigative body. Subvert the (process) to your benefit and effectively neutralize all sensitive issues without open discussion. Once convened, the evidence and testimony are required to be secret when properly handled. For instance, if you own the prosecuting attorney, it can insure a Grand Jury hears no useful evidence and that the evidence is sealed an unavailable to subsequent investigators. Once a favorable verdict (usually, this technique is applied to find the guilty innocent, but it can also be used to obtain charges when seeking to frame a victim) is achieved, the matter can be considered officially closed.
22. Manufacture a new truth. Create your own expert(s), group(s), author(s), leader(s) or influence existing ones willing to forge new ground via scientific, investigative, or social research or testimony which concludes favorably. In this way, if you must actually address issues, you can do so authoritatively.
23. Create bigger distractions. If the above does not seem to be working to distract from sensitive issues, or to prevent unwanted media coverage of unstoppable events such as trials, create bigger news stories (or treat them as such) to distract the multitudes.
24. Silence critics. If the above methods do not prevail, consider removing opponents from circulation by some definitive solution so that the need to address issues is removed entirely. This can be by their death, arrest and detention, blackmail or destruction of their character by release of blackmail information, or merely by proper intimidation with blackmail or other threats.
25. Vanish. If you are a key holder of secrets or otherwise overly illuminated and you think the heat is getting too hot, to avoid the issues, vacate the kitchen.
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It’s been a bit surprising to witness the conspicuous lack of pitchforks and torches, what with all the hubbub about the Libor having been rigged. It’s not as if it’s headline news though. The media, if they mention it all, has given it a requisite plug between Tom and Katie’s break up and the weather. If it makes it past the cutting room floor, it’s being down played as inconsequential and unimportant. They’re describing it as an inter-bank interest rate, rolling their eyes and sloughing it off as something that only affects those financial geniuses on Wall Street. True, the definition does lend itself to that assumption: The London Interbank Offered Rate is the average interest rate estimated by leading banks in London that they would be charged if borrowing from other banks. Move a long, nothing to see here.
So here’s what you need to know if you don’t read past the next few paragraphs: As Matt Taibbi puts it in an interview on Eliot Spitzer's Viewpoint, “Libor is the Sun at the center of the financial universe … this is like finding out the world is built is on quicksand.” Libor, Spitzer clarifies, affects every interest rate in the world.
More importantly, Libor is the standard interest rate used to determine consumer interest rates on credit cards, adjustable rate mortgages, interest-only mortgages, and a majority of small business loans. Lenders earn money by offering consumers loans based on the LIBOR rate. For example: LIBOR +1 or the LIBOR rate + one percent. Meaning that as LIBOR moves up or down, it can change the amount you pay every month to service your debt. If you have a small business, own a home, finance a car, have a credit card, Libor is in your life.
Every morning the British Bankers Association would call around to the 16 big banks and get a number – what their interest rate was for the day. The four highest and four lowest numbers got thrown out, the remaining eight are, for all intents and purposes, averaged out and voila: the Libor rate for the day is determined. The problem, in Taibbi’s assessment, is that the banks were lying about their numbers, essentially faking their own credit scores and as a result screwing us out of trillions of dollars one percentage point at a time. Incidentally, LIBOR was also used to establish the base price for credit-default swaps, the financial instrument of mass destruction at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.
That being said, the deafening silence and apathy is astounding. “If some guy had held up a bank and taken a percentage point from every customer in the bank, there’d be a nationwide manhunt,” former Ohio AG Marc Dann said in a recent conversation, “This was not a hard crime to miss unless you believe the actors aren’t cheaters.” Dann currently has his own practice and has focused his efforts on defending homeowners in foreclosure.
Barclays Bank of England is at the center of the scandal and it hasn’t been made too apparent by the press that nearly every major bank, such as Bank of America, Citigroup, UBS and JPMorgan Chase, were involved in “allegedly” fixing the rate as well.
State side there’s the usual crew chiming in. Gretchen Morgenson, in her NYT piece, “The British, at Least, Are Getting Tough,” looks at how the Brits are handling the scandal compared to our Congress and regulators. While the British government is taking this whole fiasco seriously and actually conducting investigations, our folks are, for the most part, submitting to the banks’ push back of more regulation and greater transparency.
With each new financial imbroglio, the gulf widens between Main Street’s opinion of Wall Street and the industry’s view of itself. When Mr. del Missier, the former Barclays chief operating officer, took over as chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association last November, he said: “We will continue to work on maintaining and burnishing the level of confidence investors have in our markets, in our own financial institutions, and in the general economic outlook for the future.
Given the Libor scandal, let’s just say good luck with that.
In “Why is Nobody Freaking Out About the LIBOR Banking Scandal?” Taibbi shows his usual outrage at the lack of coverage on the part of the American press. Pointing out that the top stories in the midst of a story so big and relevant it’s impossible to miss were instead, the healthcare ruling, which makes sense, the heat, Tom and Katie, how Katie can wear heels again now that she’s not married to a short person, Joe Sandusky, and how fat Chris Christie is and why the hell he hasn’t done the bypass surgery yet.
But to me what’s missing from all of this is the “Holy F*#&ing Sh#t!” factor. This story is so outrageous that it shocks even the most cynical Wall Street observers. I have a friend who works on Wall Street who for years has been trolling through the stream of financial corruption stories with bemusement, darkly enjoying the spectacle as though the whole post-crisis news arc has been like one long, beautifully-acted, intensely believable sequel to Goodfellas. But even he is just stunned to the point of near-speechlessness by the LIBOR thing.
I’m still amazed that he didn’t make Joshua Brown’s “The 25 Most Dangerous People in Financial Media” list. I’m hoping it was an oversight.
In England and most of Europe, the press is having a field day and people are understandably outraged. Get this: Even government officials are freaking out. Yves Smith wrote:
Yves: The Guardian quotes Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England:
“It is time to do something about the banking system…Many people in the banking industry are hardworking and feel badly let down by some of their colleagues and leaders. It goes to the culture and the structure of banks: the excessive compensation, the shoddy treatment of customers, the deceitful manipulation of a key interest rate, and today, news of yet another mis-selling scandal.”
Yves: Could you imagine Ben Bernanke saying that? And consider this remark from a Guardian article by Will Hutton:
“Investment banking is an organized scam masquerading as a business. It is defined by endemic conflicts of interest, systemic amoral behavior and extreme avarice. Many of its senior figures should be serving prison sentences or disgraced – and would have been if British regulators had been weaned off the doctrine of “light touch” regulation earlier and if the Serious Fraud Office’s budget had not been emasculated by Mr Osborne. It is a tax on wealth generation and an enemy of honest endeavor – the beast that is devouring British capitalism.”
Try getting comments like that from our media or elected officials. Congress and the media seem to be okay with letting this one just slide by, while England’s MPs are going hard and fast at the Bank Deputy Governor for his role in the rigging. From the Harwich and Manningtree Standard:
… the fierce debate over banking ethics will rage on as Labour leader Ed Miliband delivers a speech on his vision for the sector. He will point to the Libor rate-fixing scandal as vindication of his much-criticised attack last year on "predatory" capitalism and promise wide-ranging action.
It’s as if millions of Americans getting ripped off to the tune of trillions of dollars is really no big deal, much less a surprise to anyone and that’s what makes this particular incident disgusting. The whistle blower law firm of Labaton and Sucharow conducted a survey of 500 senior executives in the United States and the UK about unethical and illegal conduct in the financial market.
According to the survey, 24 percent of respondents reported a belief that financial services professionals may need to engage in unethical or illegal conduct in order to be successful, while 26 percent of respondents indicated that they had observed or had firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace. Particularly troubling, 16 percent of respondents reported that they would commit a crime—insider trading—if they could get away with it.
Earlier this week the GOP tried again for the 31st time to repeal the healthcare bill that will give millions of Americans access to affordable healthcare and place us among the rest of the civilized countries that actually take care of their citizens instead of forcing them to bend over, grab their ankles, and get ready for another financial institution or corporation to stick it to them.
Here’s an idea: How about holding the financial masters of the universe accountable for this little Libor thing and using that to pay for healthcare and pay down the deficit everyone seems so worried about?
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