Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Black Kettle* Has a Few Good Ideas

[* from the old saying "A pot calling the kettle black" which comes from old times when pots and pans were generally black and kettles were generally metallic and reflective. Therefore the pot sees its black reflection in the kettle and thinks that the kettle is black.]

"I am a politician," Rendon said in a 1998 speech to the National Security Conference (NSC), "and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior, and a perception manager. This is probably best described in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when he wrote 'When things turn weird, the weird turn pro.'"

At a recent lecture in San Francisco, John Rendon, owner of The Rendon Group, was booed and jeered and his speech intrerrupted - but he also made some suggestions that merit repeating.

Rendon used to be a Democrat player. He worked in big campaigns and as the Executive Director of the DNC. But in 1991 he branched away from Democratic politics and began providing public relations services for the CIA and DoD (amongst others). He became a disinformation provider and privy to more polling and survey data than any single campaign or party could ever muster. He began using his campaign skills to enable our foreign policy and psyops programs to operate more successfully by missusing those very tools and practices very similar to the way the Reuters and AP photo journalists are missusing their photos from Lebanon by using Photoshop image manipulation techniques.

At the San Francisco lecture he recited facts and figures that could only come from the CIA's resource database (at least I hope they were "facts"). You can listen to the complete lecture by downloading the podcast from iTunes.

The lecture was interesting to me because of the case Rendon made of how little we really know about what we're doing throughout the world. The information isn't flowing in because we don't want to hear it, because we are often misdirected, and because there are some (himself included) that are using psychological and manipulation tools to make us too fearful to want to know. Further, our resources for alternate and competing information (returning travelers, foreign news sources, international travel) is being limited by the polarization that we see increasing daily in our congress and state and local chambers.

He claimed that as polarization increases (often accelerated by his company's efforts), balanced views of the world disappear and are replaced by selective information that supports the particular polarized group that the viewer belongs to and that these two suggestions would help mitigate that effect. Rendon suggested that we could alter our centrist view of the world by bringing more of the world to our news sources:
  • Require every news agency that has a federal license to have at least 10% of their reportorial staff exchanged with a foreign news agency

  • Require that before any college degree is awarded that the student have at least two years of foreign travel under his or her belt
He said that these two suggestions were the least that we could do to tip back America's lack of balanced information needed for understanding, planning and governance - an imbalance that, in part, he helped tip.