Sean Hannity and Cuban Government Propaganda

Political rallies exist, almost by definition, as a demonstration of force, commitment and intensity of feeling about a given issue. The more people who show up in support of a particular position, the more legitimacy, or at least gravity, it garners in the eyes of the world. The spectre of thousands of people piling on buses and heading to Washington implies a particular level of sacrifice: the wee-hour alarm clock, the milling about the assembly point in the dawn chill, the long ride on a stinky bus, the car-sick mascot. All this is why twenty thousand people assembled on Capitol Hill are worth more than a million clicks on an email link that says "sign this petition," and it also explains why I was so irate after my mother and I read in the New York Times, on the day after attending a mammoth demonstration attempting to prevent the Iraq war, that "thousands" of people had attended. We were sure (and likely correct) that "hundreds of thousands" would have been more appropriate.

There are, of course, tried and true methods to boost the numbers. Serving wine and grilled steaks at your rally will almost certainly inspire a higher turnout, as will good weather and the promise that celebrities and entertainers will appear on the stage of your cause.

There are some even more artificial methods for boosting the wider public perception of the numbers, which is what really matters. One of the classics is that used by both the "fair and balanced" Fox News and the state-run television network of the Cuban government. If your rally is sparsely attended, simply include video footage of a much larger crowd of people from some other moment in time, in order to create the illusion of numbers. Thank God for watchdogs like Jon Stewart:

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Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage

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You are wondering where Cuba comes into this. In the year 2000, during the Elian Gonzalez crisis, I was busy clawing my way across the island, preparing to write Walking to Guantánamo. The country was subjected to one gigantic rally after another, propaganda masterpieces demanding the return of the child Elian to Cuban soil. I happened to be in Camagüey when it was that city's turn to host one. In the morning the sounds of the distant rally boomed over the rooftops, and the air was churned by the helicopters filming it. I hope it isn't obnoxious to quote from my own book:

I followed my ears to the demonstration, walking through empty streets lined with parked guaguas. The battered buses had brought demonstrators from every corner of the province. Nearing the zoological gardens, I fought a tide of people streaming out of the rally, each with a tiny paper flag....

As soon as they had been counted, and filmed by the helicopters, many people took advantage of the free transportation to enjoy a day in the city. I joined the streams of people flowing toward the center of town. Like the Cubans, I had done the required and put in a brief appearance.

Back on the television at [the house where I was staying], the masterful multicamera production continued uninterrupted, looking just as urgent and crowded as it had before. Again and again, the live editor cut to sweeping aerials from overhead helicopter shots, demonstrating the magnitude and density of the crowd. But the sound of the rotor blades was no longer heard whirring above the house. The crowd scenes had been filmed earlier in the day, just after the buses unloaded.

I'll leave aside the irony that Comedy Central is the only network now consistently bringing us quality advocacy journalism. Someone very sharp at The Daily Show spotted this egregious use by Fox of typically authoritarian propaganda technique, and, perhaps because of a viral campaign of complaints to the FCC, Sean Hannity was forced to apologize:

This smarmy man has a very creative use of "inadvertent." Doesn't this word mean "by accident," or "not on purpose"?  In my long and illustrious career as a sound recordist for film and television I think I've been sufficiently exposed to the workings of broadcast news to ridicule this notion. The introduced footage is from two months ago. Are we meant to believe that Fox News simply has piles of videotapes stacked hither and thither in the edit suite, unlabeled and undated? Here's a hypothetical, fictional conversation between an editor and a producer, which I've created especially for this occasion and inadvertently include here:

Producer: Hannity wants to say that there were 20,000 people at the rally.
Editor: I'm not really sure we have the coverage for that. The cameraman pretty much filmed the steps where the Congressional delegation was standing.
P: Didn't he get cutaways of the crowd?
E:  No, he did. (Weren't you there, telling him what to shoot? Maybe you were at Starbucks?) It's just that the shots aren't really too impressive. It looks like a few people are having a picnic out on the lawn and a couple of the usual loonies are standing around holding their signs. There's not much there I can work with.
P: Hannity's going to be pissed. What are we going to do about it?
E: Well, I did have one thought. You know I cut that segment on the Glenn Beck rally, back in September.
P: What about it?
E: How can I put this? I still have a nice fat folder of selected crowd shots from that rally, right here on my hard drive....
P: Whoa there, cowboy. Great idea, but I never heard a word about it, okay? Plausible deniability. But if you think you can make it fly, go for it. I'm going out for coffee, you want a soy chai latte?

 At least the Cubans are smart enough to use footage from the same day.

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