January 16, 2019

Rhetorical fallacies: Propaganda in 4 D’s

Ben Nimmo, of Nato’s PR agency Atlantic Council, has simplified the tactics of propaganda to 4 “D”s: Dismiss (ad hominem), Distort (straw man), Distract (tu quoque), and Dismay, the last of which as he describes it is more like “Threaten”, but Nimmo had apparently committed himself to all D’s.

Also, Dismay/Threaten isn’t actually propaganda, let alone a rhetorical fallacy of logic. And the examples Nimmo gives are in fact responses of the target to the actions that the propaganda program (the 3 D’s) is in support of.

There is a more apt fourth D that Nimmo chose not to admit to: Doxx. When the first 3 D’s fail, then simply destroy the life of the person still in your way. In fact, that is the implicit goal of the first 3 D’s. Nimmo’s use of “Dismay” – actually the response of the target of propaganda – obscures that final step of the propagandist, instead presenting the victim’s reaction with the implication that it provides the propagandist reason to Destroy him. So Nimmo’s Dismay is there to provide justification when he is driven – by frustration that his propaganda and provocation are not working as hoped – to the ultimate D, Destroy.

Nimmo focuses on Russian PR efforts, particularly in its response to Nato’s actions against her, and others have applied his model to Donald Trump. The 4 D’s apply much more aptly, however, to the work of the Atlantic Council’s own anti-Russian campaign, as well as to the anti-Trump media, the anti-Brexit media, the anti-Corbyn and anti–Bernie Sanders media – the whole machinery working to protect the neoliberal and neoconservative programs of global capital that have wreaked havoc on the world and people’s lives for almost 40 years.

An unspoken fifth D is both the beginning and the end of Nimmo’s cycle: Delusion. Propaganda is a failure of argument. Without a winning argument, and unwilling to accept more persuasive evidence, one may resort to rhetorical fallacies – propaganda – to preserve one’s delusions. If it works, even if only to retain the loyalty or faith of one’s own fellow travelers, or even just to convince oneself, then the cycle only worsens as it becomes increasingly removed from reality.

Nimmo concisely presents the propaganda efforts of such Dead-enders by projecting what is clearly an in-house strategy guide as the nefarious tactics of his perceived enemies.