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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Agitation and propaganda trump criticism

We saw Alinsky rules used in commentary about Costa Mesa’s Water District. (Alinsky wrote the manual for political rebellion in the ‘60’s, 12 Rules for Radicals. The rules explain how to influence, or even force, political decisions with technique, instead of facts or logic. In fact, Alinsky noted that the truth wasn't a major concern.)
 One of Alinsky’s concepts is to never argue the point the opposition wants to argue. He advises changing the dialog to something unrelated but with emotional impact. Also, activists are encouraged to attack opponents personally and hurtfully. The hope is to distract opponents into debating unrelated matters or to defending themselves. 

Blogger propaganda

We also found examples of propaganda in an anti-Water District blog. (Propaganda is defined for this blog’s purpose as messages intended to persuade by emotion rather than factual or logical argument.)

An objective viewer could hypothesize that the District is either doing something definitely right, or egregiously wrong since it has inspired an “anti” blog devoted to criticizing it (and to soliciting donations). We've found no evil in water matters in Costa Mesa to date. Certainly, since it’s run by humans, mistakes are made, and since it’s a human endeavor there is lots of room for argument about decisions its managers and governing board make.

That said, the
blog admits its (primary blogger’s) bias, while it demonstrate obvious propaganda techniques. For example, a picture of the BOD (Board of Directors) notes it is a male-only group. 

What isn't mentioned is that it is an elected group, not a self-perpetuating “old boys network.” But the label is there, and it could influence how readers feel about the board in the future, without their ever remembering why.

VP looks too masculine 

The blogger describes one board member as “testosterone fueled” and shows a picture of someone with well-developed upper arms shooting a rifle. A question related to the picture wonders if the shooter is thinking about shooting journalists. The remark was part of the blogger’s whine about probably not personally qualifying as a journalist for press accreditation by the board. 

A more objective view, from, say, a newspaper might be “a fit man with medium complexion.” However, his fitness (and his hobbies) are irrelevant to his duties on the board. This particular male is also a well-educated investment professional who helps guide board policy and decisions. That pertinent information was ignored in favor of a pejorative description of his body habitus.

I think they hate me. . . 

The blogger was whining about the board’s decision not to accredit journalists who represented only personal blogs.

That may have been a poor, possibly illegal, decision. However, the blogger 
didn't seek accreditation, so one doesn't know if the whining is based on anything other than paranoid projections. 

We observed that a journalist from the Register, who has repeatedly written highly-critical articles about the Water District and about the BOD’s decisions, was present for a recent BOD meeting. He was treated courteously (which included providing him public documents on a flash drive to facilitate his work).

 The blog linked to articles in the Register and the Pilot, with their “Allinsky-ish” comments.

Commenters use Alinsky manipulation

For example, one commenter opined that the District’s Communications Director should be fired. This is a brutal attack since bureaucrats tend to be acutely sensitive to both criticism and job loss. It seemed to be an attempt to deflect her attention to defending herself. (He was critical of her spending a minute part of a 3% share of the overall budget on a PR event which was limited to invited attendees. Commenters thought the price was high, although none showed any cost analysis or competitive prices.) 

It should be noted that the same commenter also opined that the contracted PR company gives “kickbacks” to the District. Of course, if he had any evidence – not squinty-eyed speculation – the Grand Jury would love to run up a few indictments on the matter.

Expert's teaching ignored

Another commenter is an investment expert who contributes his expertise as a volunteer for Costa Mesa. That is, he’s informed and he’s contributing. He tried to explain the concept of a trust fund, and how other water departments are now in trouble because they didn't prepare for replacement of their aging pipes and other infrastructure.

He was attacked by a
commenter who, to our knowledge, has never created wealth or managed large investments. Apparently she didn't understand investments or the expert’s information enough to rebut. Instead she alluded to the commenter’s friendship with a member of the District (we know Sisler {BOD President} is your BF. . .”).

It worked. He diverted to inform the readers that he sees Sisler at Board meetings. Thus was the discussion diverted from debate about the District’s expenditure and investments to a discussion about “Who’s your friend?” which is irrelevant.

Trained or just mimics? 

It’s not clear if the commenters are using Alinsky training or if they are just
mimicking those who have trained. A revealing comment by one hints at a common purpose: “Time to start some trouble.” Maybe there’s a phone chain to alert them to “evil in the elected City offices,” something like the bat symbol projected on the clouds in Gotham. Instead of battling evil, they are called to “cause some trouble.” 

Unlike the Caped Crusader, these commenters have no experience and no training in the matters they address. As 
we've mentioned, they often don’t even try to understand the subject before they set their mouths in motion.

They could be useful but won't

That’s disappointing, since fielding logical and fact-related arguments is exactly what hones public officials into more effective service providers. Commenters' angry diatribe, speculation without evidence, and labeling or name calling makes it easy to write them off as “kooks.” Alinsky techniques and propaganda efforts are alive and well in Costa Mesa’s anti-Water District crowd. 

They’d be so much more helpful to Costa Mesa if they could articulate
a truthful, factual, and logical criticism. Or even say something nice instead of attacking people and diverting attention from issues.

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