I’ve written before on this site about the way that some people on the British Right choose to accept and even spout the propaganda of Britain’s enemies, particularly Vladimir Putin. We see the same thing on various parts of the Left – think of Jeremy Corbyn’s work for Iran and apologism for Hamas and Hezbollah, John McDonnell’s praise for the “bombs and bullets” of the IRA, or Seumas Milne’s warm feelings for a variety of tyrants.
This kind of knowing support for vile individuals and governments who wish Britain ill is bad enough. Anyone with the good fortune to live in a free country, with unrestrained access to knowledge and the liberty to speak as they choose, should know better than to put those gifts to work in the cause of regimes which deny the same freedoms to their own people.
But there’s a whole other type of disturbing interaction with the propaganda of tyrants going on in the West: people, including major news outlets, who witlessly allow themselves to be gulled into aiding the spin of tyrannies. While the traditional term for the fellow-travellers I described above is ‘useful idiots’, this second group are exhibiting genuine stupidity in allowing themselves to become propaganda tools of the world’s worst governments.
I wrote for today’s i paper about one current example of this trend – the way in which North Korea’s propaganda efforts at the Winter Olympics have been soft-soaped by outlets including the BBC, CNN and Fox News. Some of the reporting has been stomach-churningly obsequious and unquestioning, but just as bad are the write-ups that try to reduce the Kim dictatorship to a quaint joke. We shouldn’t be bowing to a tyranny’s view of itself, and nor should we be minimising their crimes by treating them as simply eccentric.
That’s just the latest instance of this harmful habit. As the direct danger of totalitarianism was felt to have retreated, particularly since the end of the Cold War, so the presentation of these regimes has retreated into either wry amusement or even rose-tinted nostalgia.
For the latter, look to the way in which Cuba is presented as some kind of retro paradise, a hipster holdout – all Instagram-filtered snaps of 1950s cars and old jazz musicians sipping mojitos next to distressed-looking buildings. The Castro dictatorship’s less fashionable habits, like shooting their critics in the head and imprisoning gay people in labour camps for ‘re-education’, don’t fit the narrative so they are conveniently ignored.
This might all seem harmless or irrelevant. But before going along with it, just consider: if they aren’t playing us for their own advantage, why do such states put so much effort into creating and distributing this propaganda in the first place?