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Ambassador Julie Chung: Pinocchio in New Normal

The USA has a long history of interfering in other countries, beginning with the Ottoman colony Tripolitania in 1805 to the more recent examples of Ugly Americanism in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Yes, another word-count exceeding exercise.

4 mins read
Rita A.B. Rico (right) directs a video for the Reimagine Task Force featuring Ambassador Julie Chung then the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in her office, November 2020. [Photo Credit: Amanda J. Richard/ Statemag.State.Gov]

US Ambassador Julie Chung was spot on. A few days ago, she pointed out, correctly, that ‘fake news – and fake tweets – are a real problem.’ She urged one and all, ‘don’t be misled.’ This particular tweet, apparently, was a response of sorts to ‘fake tweets mimicking [her] account’ which ‘have been spreading on social media.’

Indeed, I’ve seen some ‘Julie Chung tweets’ which, at first glance, aren’t exactly out of sync with the tone and substance of Her Excellency’s utterances — they are as hilarious, condescending and ill-informed — which perhaps, if we take her word for it, are fake. In these dismal times some light humour is not misplaced of course. Satire, as she knows, is legit. It’s good that she has alerted the general public who could be, in her words, misled. The lady, however, might want to review her overall operational thrust in Sri Lankan affairs, tweets and other statements included. Just to be sure that clever mimickers cannot make an already pathetic public image even worse.

But. She got it right. Fake news (and news) and indeed fake anything can be a real problem. The rise of social media, for all the communicative benefits, has its own pitfalls, especially considering that those who run the platforms are not politically neutral and those who use it can get away with murder. Ms Chung should know, after all, her government, through the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) and other lovely-sounding-but-nefarious outfits have been funding all kinds of people and organizations with dubious histories for several years now. Sri Lanka had her fill of fake-news/tweets traceable to such people, consequently, especially during the aragalaya.

[Interestingly, those who seem to be even more upset than Chung about her being parodied in social media (yes, those fake tweets she refers to) uttered not a word of objection about deliberate efforts to mislead people. Maybe, for them, and by extension, Chung, such activity was never a problem but in fact a solution to a problem they were taxing their brains over. Yes, one is reminded of sauces, geese and ganders.]

But. She got it right. Fake anything is a problem. And it’s not something that started happening just the other day. Any half-way decent study into the antecedents of what is supposed to be the origins of European (or white) civilisation would yield rich, sophisticated and thriving black culture, science and social organisation. Jesus Christ was not a blond haired, blue-eyed white man. He was black (Source: the Bible, no less). He was not born on December 25th either. A lot of Christian symbols and iconography are borrowed from what are called pagan religions.

But. She got it right. It’s not just a long ago thing, but something that’s evident in remembered, recorded and verified history. It’s evident in a not-long-ago, in the yesterday and today of human affairs, political and otherwise, not excluding the machinations of the corporate sector and self-styled aragalists.

Joe Biden, her President, put it well: ‘There is no subject off-limits to this fire hose of falsehoods. Everything from human rights and environmental policy to assassinations and civilian-killing bombing campaigns are fair targets.’ Of course he was targeting Russia, but when it comes to firehoses and falsehoods the USA would be tough to beat. Chung and Biden ought to know.

Way back in 2010, Thomas L Carson wrote an essay titled ‘Lying and Deception about Questions of War and Peace: Case Studies,’ in which he documented ‘political leaders and public figures [who] told lies or engaged in deception as a pretext for fighting wars.’ Chung would find references to William Randolph Hearst, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Obviously hardly an exhaustive list of liars. Fake news (no tweets back then) was not a problem for the USA even then. Remember Woodrow Wilson coming to power refusing to enter the way but in six months doing just that?

According to John R. MacArthur (Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War) George Bush (Snr) went about it professionally. The public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, among other things, arranged for a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah to testify before Congress prior to a key vote. She claimed, MacArthur recounts, ‘that she had volunteered at the al-Addan hospital. She had said, ‘While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.’

Turned out that ‘it turned out that the witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and human rights organizations found no evidence that anything like what she described had actually happened.’ Fake news. No problem for the USA.

We all know about non-existent weapons of mass destruction as pretext to invade Iraq. There’s the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. Then the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Exhaustive enumeration would force me to exceed the prescribed word-count for this piece.

The USA has a long history of interfering in other countries, beginning with the Ottoman colony Tripolitania in 1805 to the more recent examples of Ugly Americanism in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Yes, another word-count exceeding exercise. Maybe Chung wants her name somewhere in this long and disgusting history, we don’t know. What is relevant is that in these machinations too, fake-news played a role, A plaint media did its part, one might add.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently expressed surprise that anyone could doubt the US military’s claims when it came to civilian casualties. Oh well! Sums it up doesn’t it? Not only are their damned lies but perhaps uttered so often that the utterers believe it all to be truth beyond a shadow of doubt. Julie Chung, on the other hand, got one thing right. She knows that fake news/tweets are a problem. Maybe she’s more enlightened than Jen Psaki — she doesn’t believe the fake news manufactured by her country but uses it anyway.

So. Retire moral posturing, already, Ms Chung and just encourage the laughs, huh?

Views are personal

Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne is a poet, critic, journalist, translator, political commentator, and activist. Known for his outspoken political views, his opinion pieces are among the most widely read in Sri Lanka. He is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute.

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