“Particularly since the 1930s, the connection of PSYOP with ideology and mass communication has made it a constant strategic element of international politics.”
— An Overview of Psychological Operations (PSYOP), Federal Research Division, Library of Congress (1989)
It is no secret that, since the 2016 legislative coup against President Dilma Rousseff and 2018 arbitrary imprisonment of front-running presidential candidate Lula da Silva, multinational corporations have made billions of dollars from environmental deregulation, dismantlement of labor rights and privatization of Brazil’s natural resources. It’s also now known that corporate media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post normalized the breakdown of Brazil’s rule of law and rise of fascism by ignoring crimes committed by high-profile Judge Sergio Moro that were widely publicized in Brazilian media.
Some people in the US even know how Anglo media outlets like the Washington Post and Guardian misrepresented Lula’s conviction for receiving a nonexistent apartment upgrade by unethically associating it with an alleged multi-million dollar graft scheme in state oil company, Petrobras. Analysis of US media coverage over the last seven years shows systematic bias against Lula, president of Brazil from 2003-10, and his Brazilian Workers Party, even in many left-leaning outlets (Brasilwire, 12/12/18).
However, this year’s Brazilian presidential election appears to have the media in a quandary. Opposing frontrunner Lula, whom they smeared for years (FAIR.org, 12/14/19), looks like public support for neofascist incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, as no other candidate has hit double digits in the polls. On the other hand, supporting Lula implies support for his proposed policies, such as reversing the post-coup labor, pension and environmental reforms that made billions of dollars for their corporate advertisers.
Despite his commitment to austerity policies, however, Bolsonaro is clearly not the right kind of neoliberal for news organizations like CNN or the New York Times. As the old saying goes in Brazil, the bourgeois prefer to support the kind of fascist who eats with a knife and a fork. With the elections looming less than three months away, and Bolsonaro trailing by nearly 20 points in polls, it seems late in the game to revamp his image to make any kind of clinging to power more palatable to an Anglo public.
These limitations, however, haven’t stopped one corporate media giant from stepping into the fray. During the last week of June, the Murdoch-owned Fox Corporation sent its most popular newscaster, Tucker Carlson, to Rio de Janeiro to slander Lula and weave a false narrative of Bolsonaro as a faithful ally in the US’s new cold war against China, which Carlson claims is “trying to take over the world.” (FoxNews.com, 6/30/22).
Justifying his visit by filming a documentary on Chinese “colonization” of Latin America, Carlson projected the US political situation onto Brazil’s vastly different political landscape (e.g., it currently has 23 political parties represented in Congress) while making a laughable claim (Fox News, 6/1/22) that Lula, a former steelworkers union leader who is currently polling by more than 2-to-1 against Bolsonaro with the working class, is supported by “a coalition of billionaires, college professors and CNN.”
In fact, CNN Brasil franchise owner Rubens Menin supported Bolsonaro’s campaign for the presidency, and poached the most right-wing, reactionary commentators from Globo TV to work for the network–including Alexandre Garcia, the former press secretary to military dictator João Figueiredo, who has been attacking Lula for 40 years.
Fox frontman Carlson is occasionally praised by US foreign policy critics—including Rio de Janeiro–based pundit Glenn Greenwald—for giving voice to a wider range of opinions than most corporate news program hosts. Opening space for controlled opposition, however, is a tried-and-true tactic of US intelligence, widely employed during the Cold War by the CIA (see Cultural Cold War, by Frances Stoner Saunders) and its partner organizations like Voice of America, which was directed by Carlson’s father Dick Carlson from 1986-91.
Carlson’s wider-than-average variety of guest commentators shows that he and his producers are hardly the “wingnuts” that DNC-aligned media try to portray them as (New Republic, 7/1/22). There is clearly method behind the madness, and it is easy to identify psyop propaganda tactics at work in Carlson’s Brazil coverage.
The world’s 2nd-most important election
In April 2021, at Mike Lindell’s Cyber Symposium in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Steve Bannon introduced Brazilian member of Congress Eduardo Bolsonaro–son of the president–on stage. Bannon warned of the dangers of a Lula presidency, proclaiming that the 2022 presidential elections in Brazil are the world’s “second-most important” (Business Insider, 8/11/21). Fox Corporation picked up Bannon’s rallying cry, beginning with Carlson claiming that the Bolsonaro administration is Latin America’s last US ally in the battle against China, which he frighteningly claims has a goal of destroying the US way of life.
Villainizing China puts Carlson firmly in alliance, not only with Murdoch family news outlets like the London Sunday Times and New York Post, but with CNN, the New York Times and other so-called liberal news companies that he regularly criticizes on his program for representing elite interests. Claiming that Bolsonaro is allied with the US in standing up to China, thus establishing him as an important asset in the new cold war, hinders efforts by progressive Democrats to pressure the Biden administration to break relations with Brazil’s far-right government. Contrasting “friendly” Bolsonaro with “red” Lula, whom he suggests will immediately transform Brazil into a Communist vassal state, feeds into the Cold War–era safety/fear dichotomy used by psyop actors like Voice of America. Although this kind of dichotomy may strike a chord with casual US news consumers, it has little correspondence with reality, as Brazil is currently much more dependent on China than it ever was when Lula was President.
China has been Brazil’s most important trade partner since 2009, when it passed up the US, but since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, trade with China has increased dramatically. In 2021, the total value of Brazil’s exports of goods and services to China was $125 billion, over four times the $31 billion in exports to the United States. Furthermore, the primary beneficiary of the Bolsonaro administration’s selloff of Brazil’s offshore petroleum reserves has been China, with its state companies being the only foreign investors in auctions in 2019 and 2020.
Due to his son’s relationship with Bannon and xenophobic statements by some of his cabinet chiefs on their social media accounts, many expected Bolsonaro to leave BRICS and cut trade relations with China. It didn’t happen. After labeling everyone from center-right political rivals to the Economist as Communists, Bolsonaro proclaimed, during his first official visit to Beijing in 2019, that China was a capitalist country. When asked about the trade war between China and the US, he said: “This isn’t our battle. We don’t want to get involved in any ideological fight between the world’s [big] economies.”
Shortly thereafter, Bolsonaro forced his two biggest anti-China ideologues to resign, Foreign Affairs Chancellor Ernesto Araujo and Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, and continued to work within the BRICS framework, most recently praising Brazil’s “strategic relationship” with China to Xi Jinping at the BRICS Summit on June 23.
The fact of the matter is, no matter who is elected in October, Brazil will maintain its neutral stance in the new cold war, and will not engage in sanctions against China or Russia, or any other geopolitical enemy of the US. Taking sides against important trade partners does not make rational economic sense to Brazil, which has worked to remain nonaligned in conflicts between world super powers for decades. Fox Corporation certainly knows this, therefore fearmongering about China to drum up support for Bolsonaro can best be viewed as propaganda.
Full-spectrum dominance is a military term that was originally used to describe a battle in which once side controls the land, air, sea and political narrative. In the modern era of hybrid warfare, it is often employed to describe control over all sides of a debate, as the CIA attempted to do in the Cold War when it coined the term “non-Marxist left,” and opened up funding for progressive academics and writers who opposed the Soviet Union and other Cold War enemies, often through front organizations like PEN (Cultural Cold War).
Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci viewed bourgeois media as fulfilling the task of maintaining capitalist hegemony–the dominance of the ruling class in the ideological and cultural spheres. Under that lens of analysis, the polarizing arguments over cultural issues between pro-capitalist media corporations like Fox and Carlson’s former employer MSNBC, even as they align on economic and foreign policy, can be seen as a kind of full-spectrum dominance over American news consumers.
Fox‘s Tucker Carlson Tonight program frequently engages in this practice by giving airtime to anti-imperialist critics of US foreign policy in the Middle East and Eastern Europe (but never China), as long as they don’t challenge capitalist economics, or advocate for labor unions or immigrant rights. This goalpost-limiting attempt at full-spectrum dominance was used by Fox in Brazil through the use of Carlson’s frequent guest, Glenn Greenwald–a move that exposed contradictions between Greenwald’s Brazilian and US public personas. Interviewed by Carlson, Greenwald openly supported his former enemy Bolsonaro for the first time ever, in alignment with Fox Corporation.
During a short interview (7/5/22) in his adopted home town of Rio de Janeiro, where Carlson based himself during his visit, Greenwald claimed that Bolsonaro had been “democratically elected”–even though Greenwald wrote an entire book about the illegal tactics used to frame Lula, Bolsonaro’s most serious rival, and remove him from the 2018 presidential election. He claimed that Bolsonaro’s “anti-establishment” platform had turned Brazil’s right-wing media oligarchies against him, and said that Big Tech social media companies had censored him repeatedly over comments he made against Covid-19.
In psyop terminology, Greenwald uses the concept of censorship as a glittering generality. Anthropologist William Yaworsky (Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement, Autumn/05), former enlisted man in US Army’s First Psychological Operations Battalion, defines the propaganda tactic of glittering generality as
vague phrases and buzzwords so closely associated with the values of the target audience that they are accepted without having any genuine propositional content…. Such phrases gain popularity because they activate richly laden inference systems in the human brain.
Censorship is an emotionally laden term in the US, a country whose citizens grow up being told they live in the land of the free. It is arrogant and imperialist, however, to believe that all other countries in the World should have the same interpretation of free speech that the US does. It is true that Bolsonaro had several videos about Covid-19 pulled off the air, but it wasn’t done by Big Tech companies, and only happened after a lengthy congressional investigation into criminal negligence in response to the pandemic.
After hearing hundreds of witnesses and looking over thousands of pages of evidence, Brazil’s multipartisan Congress found that Bolsonaro had deliberately used social media to convince followers that ineffective treatments like chloroquine, worm medicine and blowing ozone into the anus cured Covid-19 and that, therefore, it was unnecessary to follow state and municipal public health systems’ social distancing or vaccination guidelines. They concluded that he sabotaged Brazil’s Covid-19 response and that this, in turn, had caused 300,000 additional deaths. They accused him of abuse of authority — a crime for which he is currently under review by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, and which he will certainly be formally accused of in Brazil as soon as he leaves office.
Based on the congressional ruling, the Brazilian Supreme Court ordered the major social media companies to block Bolsonaro from communicating disinformation on Covid-19 on his social media accounts. In other words, it wasn’t Big Tech that “censored” Bolsonaro—Big Tech was forced to obey a court order. Far from making an impassioned plea for the glittering generality of freedom of speech, Greenwald’s comments on the US’s most popular cable news program suggest that US-based social media corporations ought to ignore the laws of foreign countries they operate in. Meanwhile, the left-branded pundit established full-spectrum common ground with Carlson by portraying Bolsonaro as a victim of authoritarian liberal elites.
Audience and effect
To millions of casual US news consumers, Fox‘s propaganda blitz preemptively sets the stage for the normalization of a possible military coup in Brazil this October–something which is already being announced by Bolsonaro’s vice presidential candidate, Gen. Walter Braga Neto. Furthermore, in the Cold War psyop tradition (Rolling Stone, 10/20/77), it sends a message to Brazilian elites that at least part of the US integral state would support an extra-legal maneuver by Bolsonaro and his military to stay in power, even if he loses the election to Lula.