PERSPECTIVES ON THE PANDEMIC XVII

2020: A PROPAGANDA MASTERPIECE, PART ONE


A Conversation with Mark Crispin Miller, Professor of Media Studies at New York University

June 10th, 2021 - Brooklyn, New York


Interviewed by John Kirby


Edited by Francis Karagodins


Researched by Evan Dominguez and Billy Miller


“Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government,” wrote Edward Bernays, the father of modern propaganda. In part one of Episode 17, Mark Crispin Miller, professor of Media Studies at New York University, discusses the propaganda onslaught that defined the year 2020, when what was dismissed one week is confirmed the next, and why questioning official narratives "necessarily means taking ‘conspiracy theory’ seriously."



Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

It seems to me that the year 2020, and then the first half of 2021, have comprised a global propaganda spectacle of unprecedented scale and sophistication. I, for one, believe that we were subjected to a series of carefully planned psychological operations over the course of 2020. And just beyond. I think it started with the rollout of the virus. This particular instance of fear-mongering is the most persuasive, the most compelling, the most devastating kind of fear-mongering that's ever really been used in the history of propaganda. And that's really saying something.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

We've seen the fear propaganda move from the Hun, to communism, to terrorism. But now it makes the crucial move to the thing itself. The thing with which previous enemies have been compared. The evocation of the virus is all around us. There's enough to turn the wits of millions of highly educated people. It's a very easy matter to get people to do what you want. Just convince them they're under attack, and that anyone who argues with that claim is putting them at risk.


John Kirby:

Today we're talking to Professor Mark Crispin Miller about the assault on free thought and free speech. He's been a professor of many subjects for many years. He's been teaching a course at NYU on propaganda. So Professor Miller, you're an old friend of ours. Talk to us about how you got interested in this field.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Yeah, it's an interesting story. Before 2005, I was regarded as an edgy, but acceptable media critic, and was there for allowed to write op-eds for the Times. I wrote four or five. I was often on NPR talking about things like pop culture and so on. In 2005, my career took an unexpected turn when Basic Books published Fooled Again, which was my analysis of how the 2004 election had been stolen. It was a very thoroughly documented study of that theft. It had been vetted carefully by the publisher's lawyers. And I and the publisher are very optimistic about the book's chances of kick-starting a much needed national discussion of the US voting system, which is the worst in the developed world. And I therefore hoped that this book would make some kind of a difference, that people would address the issue.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Well, it didn't happen. Much to my surprise and the publisher's surprise, the book was pretty much blacked out by the corporate media. A total of two newspaper reviews in the whole country. One was a hatchet job. And it was impossible to get an interview on NPR to talk about it. The Times, the Washington Post, none of them would review it. The strangest thing about the book's reception was that while the corporate media blacked the book out, the left press attacked it as conspiracy theory and called me a conspiracy theorist. I mean, these are outlets that I'd written for myself, and I knew some of the people who wrote these pieces.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

So when I got over the shock of this, I asked myself when exactly did this become a thing? When did conspiracy theory become a thing? It can't always have been a phrase that springs to everybody's lips the way it does now. So I researched its history and it was very simple. I just went to the archives of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Time Magazine, and did a search on conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist. And I discovered that until 1967, conspiracy theory had been used now and then, and in no consistent way. The phrase conspiracy theorist, never. Nobody ever called anybody a conspiracy theorist in print.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

So what happened in 1967? Well, 1967 was the year that the CIA sent its memo 1035-960 to all station chiefs worldwide, basically explaining that the problem they were faced with was the traction that certain conspiracy theorists were getting raising questions about the Warren Report.


Speaker 3:

US Chief Justice Earl Warren is the bearer of the sad epilogue, the report on the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Compiled by the commission created by President Johnson, which was headed by the Chief Justice himself.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

What the memo told the CIA station chiefs to do was to contact their media assets and encourage them to attack and discredit the conspiracy theorists. I mean, the memo actually uses that phrase. The conspiracy theorists in question is people like Mark Lane and Edward J Epstein and others who had written books raising perfectly rational questions about the Warren Report. The memo recommended, for example, arguing that a conspiracy of this magnitude could not have been kept secret. Which is an argument we still hear today, about things like 9/11.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Suggest to the editors or reporters you talk to that the conspiracy theorists use some material deliberately generated by communist propagandists. So the memo went out. And it's no coincidence that that marks the moment when we first start to see those phrases used, and used increasingly as the decades roll by. It seems clear to me that we're moving to a kind of crisis point in the deployment of that phrase. Because the authorities, the press, the state now use the phrase openly and explicitly, as ...


John Kirby:

In reference to who? Who are they labeling with that phrase?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Well, anyone who raises questions about the prevailing propaganda narratives is a conspiracy theorist.


Brian Wiliams:

They happened to be anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.


S.E. Cupp:

With reasons varying from general skepticism to conspiracy theories.


Speaker 6:

A new wave of conspiracy theories that have been shared through social media.


Speaker 7:

And COVID-19 is acting as an accelerant to conspiracy theories.


John Oliver:

Conspiracy theories, voted definitely true by Dipshit Uncle Quarterly.


Bill Gates:

Evil theories about, did we create the pandemic? Are we trying to profit from it?


John Bachman:

If you go online, there's no shortage of conspiracy theories. All right. So here's one, the virus was bio-engineered in a lab.


Speaker 11:

These clean cut conspiracy narratives are designed to prey on your pre-established suspicions. Let's start with the most widespread theory, that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory.


Dr. Anthony Fauci:

It is very, very strongly leaning towards, this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.


Chris Hayes:

Something you probably have heard from a certain corner of the right is this theory that the coronavirus, quote, escaped from the lab.


John Berman:

The email sent to you said, conspiracy theory gains momentum. And this, again, was the idea of the lab leak.


Brianna Keilar:

So how did we get here, with America's most prominent public health expert saying that the lab leak theory, which was previously hawked by conspiracy theorists, might actually be credible?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Questioning propaganda narratives necessarily means taking conspiracy theory seriously. When someone calls you a conspiracy theorist, they have already lost the argument, because that epithet is a way to prevent discussion from taking place. And a lot of these fact checks, that kind of thing, that are now, dare I say, pandemic ... you do a search on practically anything that's controversial, and what Google will give you first is page after page of of denials and rebuttals and fact checks and all that kind of stuff, right? You have to go way, way, way down to find the actual story itself that's being called a hoax, right? Well, that's because in defending the propaganda narrative, they don't have an argument. They don't have a defense. They have none. They have none. So they basically try to fill people's minds with derisive portrayals of the people raising the question.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Seems to me that the year 2020, and then the first half of 2021, have comprised a global propaganda spectacle of unprecedented scale and sophistication. Let's go back and let's do a kind of review of last year up through January 6th of this year. And with a thought as to what might be coming next. Let's go through all that as we would do it in a propaganda course. Now let's try to cast our minds back to 2019. You might say one BC, okay? One before COVID. It's worth noting that 2019 was characterized at the end of the year in a pretty perceptive article in Extra, which is the magazine of fairness and accuracy in reporting, noting that 2019 would go down in history as the year of the protest.


Ivan Watson:

If the authorities were hoping that this protest movement would fizzle over time, they were terribly wrong. Even pouring rain hasn't dampened the protestors enthusiasm.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

They made the point that the over-focus on Hong Kong throughout the Western media tended to obscure the fact that the world was hit with all kinds of organic spontaneous protest movements that year. The point of the article was that they shouldn't have focused only on Hong Kong, but they should have taken note of feminist protests all over South and Central America. A long protest movement that racked Honduras over a stolen election. The Yellow Vests in France. The Bernie movement in the United States. A major protest movement in Lebanon. That the over-focus on Hong Kong was due to the fact that Western intelligence is sort of involved in all that.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

I think it's worth recalling, with a sense of poignancy, that there were all these organic protests in 2019. Because the rollout of the virus put an end to all that very, very efficiently, in exactly the same way that World War I put an end to a tremendous amount of left wing organization and protest prior to 1914. I, for one, believe that we were subjected to a series of carefully planned psychological operations over the course of 2020 and just beyond. I think it started with the rollout of the virus. And I want to make a few observations on this. I mean, we heard vague rumors about it. Oh, there's a virus in China, and so on. What happened? Well, what happened was that China and the UK simultaneously rolled out these really ludicrous images made in China of people dropping dead in the streets.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Nobody drops dead of COVID-19 in the streets. But nobody knew that time, because we didn't know what COVID-19 was, or supposedly was. We had no idea. So there are these creepy images of people ...


Speaker 17:

China has identified the cause of the ...


Speaker 18:

... mysterious new virus.


Speaker 19:

Coronavirus.


Speaker 20:

Coronavirus.


Speaker 21:

There are fears a rapidly spreading virus has reached Australia.


Professor Brendan Murphy:

This is a rapidly emerging situation. There is not a cause for alarm.


Speaker 23:

The first US case has been detected.


Speaker 24:

There's confirmation the Coronavirus has reached Australia.


Speaker 25:

China is urging its citizens not to travel abroad, as it struggles to contain the virus.


Alex Azar:

I have, today, declared that the Coronavirus presents a public health emergency in the United States.


Speaker 27:

Countries around the world have now reported more than one million coronavirus cases.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

This particular instance of fear-mongering is the most persuasive, the most compelling, the most devastating kind of fear-mongering that's ever really been used in the history of propaganda. And that's really saying something. Because propaganda drives war, propaganda drives ... Whether they actually concern war or just political war, have always, always relied on fear and anger, right?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

And the first effective modern propaganda drive was what the allies did in World War I to demonize the Germans as the Hun. These stories, these horrific nauseating stories of atrocities in Belgium, the rape of Belgium. They supposedly impaled babies on bayonets and cut off the breasts of red cross nurses and crucified a Canadian. They made all these stories up. The completely fabricated. The German army was fairly ruthless in Belgium, yes. But they did none of the things they were accused of doing. And almost no American reporters told the truth. There were a group of five who went over there, distinguished investigative reporters. They came back and they wrote pieces saying, we didn't see anything like this. This is all made up. But that stuff was lost in the tidal wave of infuriating propaganda about these brutes.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

The idea that propaganda, like ideology, is something that they do, the aliens, the communists, do it. The totalitarians do it. That's completely false. Modern propaganda, whether political or commercial, is an Anglo American invention. The Nazis learned from it. I don't think the Bolsheviks learned from it so much. Their propaganda was more doctrinal, more solidly rooted in Marxist dogma. But that's not the kind that has prevailed.


John Kirby:

And so what distinguishes this one ... the COVID propaganda drive rollout, from say the World War I propaganda? What makes it so much worse?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Well, we can regard the history of fear-mongering in propaganda as a process of making the enemy ever more in inchoate and pervasive. And the Germans, there they are on the battlefield, with their helmets and all that stuff. That's a nation at war. That sort of gives way a few decades later to the specter of communism, right? So the enemy becomes Soviet communism, which was already more demonic than the Hun, because anybody you know, your mailman, could be a communist. This is the kind of thing that Hoover ...


John Kirby:

Right. He compared it to an epidemic, didn't he?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

He did.


J. Edgar Hoover:

Communism, in reality, is not a political party. It is a way of life. An evil and malignant way of life. It reveals a condition akin to disease that spreads like an epidemic. And like an epidemic, a quarantine is necessary to keep it from infecting this nation.


John Kirby:

We've almost gotten right down to the metaphor itself, haven't we?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

That's right. That's exactly right. The one we all know is the specter of terrorism. That 9/11 now conceives the enemy almost as an abstraction. It's terrorism, a war on terrorism. A war on terror.


John Kirby:

It's an abstract noun.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Right. It's an abstract noun. It makes no sense.


President George W. Bush:

Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

But it was very important to de-nationalize the enemy by claiming, well, yeah. We'll bomb Afghanistan, although they didn't attack us, because they're harboring ... and there's this mental image that calls up, of this sort of vast, teeming, swarthy mass of terrorists, who are actually concealing their Islamist extremism and so on. And there's an idea that this could be infectious too.


John Kirby:

It's catchy.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

It's catchy. It's catching in the prisons and so on. And indeed, starting in 2014, we have various world leaders comparing conspiracy theory to the spread of this kind of evil ideology. David Cameron basically says that conspiracy theory is a way for jihadists to be lured into this very destructive machine that will blow things up at a moment's notice.


John Kirby:

It radicalizes people.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Radicalizes people.


David Cameron:

We know this worldview. The pedaling of lies that 9/11 was somehow a Jewish plot. Or that the 7/7 London attacks were staged.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

And then the following year, Francois Hollande in France, addressing an audience of Holocaust survivors, says that conspiracy theory is something that infects people with violent anti-Semitism.


Francois Hollande (interpreter):

Antisemitism, it has changed its face, but it has not lost its roots of thousands of years. Some of its methods have, sadly, not changed since the beginning of time. It's still conspiracy, suspicion, falsification.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

So we've seen the fear propaganda move from the Hun, to communism, to terrorism. But now it makes the crucial move to the thing itself. The thing with which previous enemies have been compared, in a way that makes them seem ripe for extermination. And that is the virus.


President Donald Trump:

It started in China and is now spreading throughout the world. Today, the World Health Organization officially announced that this is a global pandemic. We have been in frequent contact with our allies and we are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people. This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

That is something that could be on any surface. That is something that could be adhering to the fingers of any loved one. That's something that's coming out of the lungs of our fellow citizens. People passing us on the street could infect us with this so that we die in agony, like those people who died of the Spanish flu. That's the fantasy. It is complete fantasy.


Dr. Anthony Fauci:

So you may not even know that you're infected and be completely asymptomatic, and then spread it to somebody else.


Speaker 33:

I think that's been the scariest part of this whole pandemic.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

There is no asymptomatic transmission of the virus. We don't even know what the virus is. It's never been isolated, right? It disappears in the open air and the sunlight. I mean, this is complete ... this is voodoo. I mean, this is primitive thinking. But the-


John Kirby:

How do we know there's no asymptomatic transmission?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

This has been well-established since a major Chinese study came out last year. There are all these stories of alleged super spreader events and when you dig into every one of them, there wasn't any such thing. It's a fantasy, okay? The place where the virus did arguably spread was in those nursing homes where either Democratic governors or other politicians in Britain, Canada, and Sweden housed COVID patients with very weakened old people who were susceptible to some kind of viral infection.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

I say that in a tentative way. But what I'm saying is that this is a completely irrational fear. It is a kind of primordial fear that the reason why the people, you and I know who have understood every previous charade, have fallen for this one. It's because they're panicked. I'm going to be honest. I felt this way for about a month and a half myself. I mean, I was 70, I had Lyme disease. So I was creeping around in a mask and washing my hands. And then you start ... you get your bearings and you start thinking. And you look at the evidence around you. You walk past a hospital here in New York City and you don't see, bring out your dead and all that stuff that you're reading in the New York Times.


Speaker 34:

We had to get a refrigerated truck to store the bodies of patients who are dying. We are, right now, scrambling to try to get a few additional ventilators or even C-PAP machines. If we could get C-PAP machines, we could free up ventilators for patients who need them.


Governor Andrew Cuomo:

Why is there such a demand on ventilators? And where did this come from? It's a respiratory illness for a large number of people. So they all need ventilators.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

I'm one who believes that China was in cahoots with the West on this whole thing all along. And I bolster that by also noting that it was China that developed the ventilator policy, that the World Health Organization then recommended to the whole world. And those ventilators killed, I'd say nine out of 10 of the elderly people who are hooked up to them.


John Kirby:

Yeah. Just barotrauma just totally blew out their lungs.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Blew out their lungs. And it was that young doctor, Cameron Kyle-Sidell, in Brooklyn at Maimonides Medical Center, who noticed that putting people ... intubating them was just a way to kill them, because they had low oxygen levels in their blood, was more like high altitude sickness. And as we know, from the travel nurse, Erin Marie Olszewski, who went undercover at Elmhurst Hospital. Obviously, I don't know to tell you. They seemed to be playing this macabre game of musical beds, just basically doing things to people that would be sure to kill them.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

The guy over in [crosstalk 00:24:34].


Nurse 2:

I have two in 26 that were two negatives.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

And they end up positive. Like the guy over in 29, I had him upstairs because I was in CCU before. And he came in with a stroke.


Nurse 2:

Oh, wow. That's what 26 one was, a stroke. It was nothing to do with COVID.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

And no COVID. And now he's got COVID and he's on a vent.


Nurse 2:

Because we gave it to him here.


Nurse 2:

My bigger problem with this whole scenario is when they intubate people who don't need it. And it looks very clear to me that they're just pushing it.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

It was like, the day before intubation, he was fine on the rebreather.


Nurse 2:

Yeah. And then they intubated and then he got a pneumo. And then they put in a chest tube. And then it turned to shit.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

And now he's 37 years old and dead.


Erin Marie Olszewski:

That's what I'm seeing, like all these negative tests. And they're putting them on these vents, hopeful that they'll get it, they'll be put on the COVID floor. It's murder. It straight up, is setting these people up for failure based on money.


Speaker 38:

Who's paying this bonus of 29,000?


Erin Marie Olszewski:

I believe it's Medicaid, Medicare. It's government money, but I don't know exactly where it's coming from. But I know that it is. But I know the orders are coming from the above, someone above. And everybody says that. It's someone higher up.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

I'm not suggesting in any way that I think that COVID-19 was a hoax, and there are people who think that. But it's worth noting that that characterization of what I'm arguing is a very handy way to discredit what I'm saying. Oh, you think it was a hoax? Well, no, I don't think it was a hoax. In as much as there was clearly some kind of illness with fairly unique symptoms that did really, really hit certain populations in certain places and in certain hospitals, very hard. That's true. But that doesn't mean that the magnification of the danger wasn't, in effect, a hoax. That doesn't mean that using this as a pretext for the lockdown, wasn't a hoax.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

There was never a single moment when this whole crisis was the subject of appropriate democratic procedures. Not once. They never had hearings with people on all sides. They never listened to anybody but Dr. Fauci. Well, when people are terrorized and there's a so-called state of emergency, democracy is put on hold. I mean, this is something that the framers understood, right? The reason why they broke up presidential power and separated powers as they did, was to make it much harder for the president to behave like a king and use war as a way to tax the peasants and have them join military and so on.


John Kirby:

Or take on tyrannical powers, generally.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

Exactly. They were acutely conscious of the possibility of the executive turning into a tyrannical force. Well, it works every time. We've all heard various people quoting Hermann Goering's famous utterance during the Nuremberg trials. When he was interviewed by this army psychiatrist and told him that it's a very easy matter to get people to do what you want. Just convince them they're under attack. And that anyone who argues with that claim is putting them at risk.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

The psychiatrist, a good American, objected that that wouldn't happen in the United States because we are a Democratic Republic, blah, blah, blah. And Goering, with a kind of weary cynicism, waved that away and said, it doesn't matter what kind of government you have. It could be communist, it could be fascist. It could be democratic. You just convince people they're under attack, and you can do whatever you want, okay?


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

So again, the evocation of the virus, which is all around us, was enough to turn the wits of millions of highly educated people ... got them doing the most perverse things, that they're doing even now. Masking their children, right? These are people who don't seem to do any study whatsoever. If they did, they'd know that children have strong natural immunity to COVID-19. They don't get it and they don't transmit it.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

They would also know that masks don't work. They would also know that masks make you sicker, that they weaken your immune system. That they dull the wits through hypoxia. They would know this, but they don't. Because all they do, all they read, all they watch is their favorite media outlets, which are all saying the same thing.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

It's as if people have been under hypnosis by the media. And it's based, again, on panic. It's based on fear. If you're sufficiently terrorized by the images ... and it is the images and it is the words, right?


John Kirby:

And the numbers on the screen.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

The numbers on the screen. It's constant, it's unremitting, it's one sided. Those are all characteristics of successful propaganda drive. They're same characteristics that the Nazis used in their propaganda drives. And the German people too were under hypnosis, right? And at that, I mean, a lot of them, especially the uneducated ones, didn't even really become anti-Semitic. But they just kind of gave in because they were surrounded by peer pressure and physical threats and stuff like that.


Professor Mark Crispin Miller:

I used to think it was tasteless to compare our system and our lives and our society in any way with the Nazis. I no longer think that. I now understand perfectly how that happened, because the same thing is happening here, right? People have been so terrorized by the plague of COVID-19 that they have been desperate for those injections.