How the Western media does propaganda – the technique of ‘narrative overlay’

This post is part of a series analyzing how the Western media does propaganda. In this post we examine a technique which we are calling ‘narrative overlay’. In this method a story is produced which at least to some extent follows the pattern of traditional journalism. Facts are reported, sources are cited, and a story is put together. But, then, at some point in the story a claim is made which is not evidenced, has never been, but which tilts the story in a very certain direction. These additions we call ‘narrative overlay’. They aren’t evidenced. But they are a key part of building the overall narrative. Following are some specific examples:

1) After Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet The Guardian ran a piece in which they compared Turkey and Russia. [1]  The piece suggested striking similarities exist between the two countries “not least their ability and propensity to move conflicts into the covert arena”. The piece could of course compared either country to the UK and the US who have been covertly arming and training rebels to fight against the government of Syria. [2] But, hey, this is the Guardian so that comparison wasn’t made.

In this piece the readers of the Guardian are informed:

Ankara is often guilty of neglecting attacks on Isis and hitting the Kurds (who are in so many ways the most effective force against the jihadists) instead, smuggling weapons in the guise of humanitarian convoys (something we saw the Russians doing in Ukraine), and being willing to support groups which are often jihadist in their own terms.

But – did we see the Russians smuggling arms via humanitarian aid convoys to Ukraine? It is notable that the author of this piece in the Guardian references his claim about Turkey doing this (to a Turkish opposition outlet) but not his claim about the Russians. The editor of this site followed the story about Russian aid convoys to Donbass quite carefully. He hasn’t seen any evidence of weapons smuggling in these convoys. If there had been one can imagine it would have been all over the front pages of the Western press. Russian state media reported that at least one convoy was checked by Ukrainian border guards after the Red Cross mediated an agreement between Ukraine and Russia. The reported statements by the Ukrainian government confirming that the convoys would be accepted as humanitarian aid are corroborated by reports in Western media. [4]

This, then, is an excellent example of ‘narrative overlay’. A story contains some facts – but then parts are simply added, made up, with no ground in reportage and facts at all. They are just presented as self-evident truths that require no evidence. The intent presumably is to create a narrative based around these made-up elements. These ‘narrative overlay’ elements follow the second method of truth-validation used in the West. The first method of truth-validation, or epistemology, asserts that something is true if it corresponds with some aspect of reality. This method looks back to a tradition of empiricism. (If we accept Foucault’s analysis it has its origins in medieval juridical procedures as well). It is (approximately speaking) the normal, everyday, method of truth-validation which most people use. However, Western power, has a second method of truth-validation. In this method the test is ‘is it consistent with the narrative we are trying to spin’. If it is it must be true. Statements are validated not by reference to reality but to the narrative itself. The technique of ‘narrative overlay’ references this method of truth-validation. The insidious practice of Western media propaganda is to mix the two.







Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer