HomeArticleResponses To This Tweet Show How People Fixate On Narrative Over Fact

Responses To This Tweet Show How People Fixate On Narrative Over Fact

Last month I published an essay about the importance of understanding the difference between fact and narrative, and I just want to quickly highlight a perfect illustration of this importance in a controversy arising from a recent Tulsi Gabbard tweet. The tweet reads as follows:

“Short-sighted politicians & media pundits who’ve spent last 2 years accusing Trump as a Putin puppet have brought us the expensive new Cold War & arms race. How? Because Trump now does everything he can to prove he’s not Putin’s puppet—even if it brings us closer to nuclear war.”

Now, all the facts say that Gabbard’s claim that Trump has been bringing the world closer to nuclear war with Russia is indisputably true. It is perhaps possible to dispute the notion that Trump has escalated tensions with Russia to try and “prove he’s not Putin’s puppet”; maybe an argument could be made that he’s simply reckless and violent or that he’s particularly beholden to cold war profiteers, or that despite all his rhetoric he just really, really hates Russia for some reason. But it is absolutely not disputable that Trump has greatly escalated tensions with a nuclear superpower by implementing a Nuclear Posture Review with a much more aggressive stance against Russia, withdrawing from the INF treaty, bombing and illegally occupying Syria, arming Ukraine, staging a coup in Venezuela, and many, many other hawkish actions taken against the interests of the Russian Federation which his predecessor Obama never dared to take.

These facts are all well documented in the mainstream press and are entirely beyond dispute. The facts say that Donald Trump has escalated nuclear tensions with Russia more than any other president since the fall of the Berlin Wall. But if you go to Gabbard’s tweet and read the responses right now, you’ll find thousands and thousands of Democratic establishment loyalists calling her a liar for saying so.

“Gabbard staking out a bold ‘Trump is *too* tough on Putin’ lane in the Democratic primary,” tweeted former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey of CNN and the Brookings Institution. “As predictable as it is absurd.”

“Tulsi Gabbard’s is the only Twitter account other than Trump’s that I routinely have to check to make sure it’s actually hers, because the tweet is so absurdly ridiculous,” tweeted #Resistance pundit John Aravosis. “Now she’s defending Trump on Russia. Why is she a Democrat? And she’s actually using Kremlin talking points (nuclear war!). Unbelievable.”

“Tulsi, you aren’t the first American politician to cozy up to foreign dictators and to serve as a Putin mouthpiece,” tweeted former CIA officer Evan McMullin. “While you, Putin and Trump fear monger about nuclear war, we’ll protect our democracy and hold corrupted politicians accountable.”

There are many, many more, but you get the picture. The deluge of responses to Gabbard’s undeniably true statement about Trump’s dangerous escalations against a nuclear superpower are largely predicated on two assumptions: (1) that Trump has not in fact made the escalations that he has made, and (2) that the danger of nuclear war is not a real or significant thing. These are both, obviously, bat shit insane.

The primary risk of nuclear war is not that one will be planned out and deliberately started in an attempt to win, but that a warhead will be deployed amid the chaos of escalating tensions as a result of miscommunication, misunderstanding or technical failure, as nearly happened on more than one occasion during the last cold war. Once one nuclear weapon has been deployed in an already tense situation, it’s unlikely that the full arsenals of both sides won’t be unleashed upon each other. As journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in response to the uproar over Gabbard’s tweet, “The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ doomsday clock is at 2 minutes before midnight. By far its two greatest threats to *humanity’s existence* are climate change & US/Russia nuclear war. Yes, how crazy and treasonous to want to avoid ratcheting up tensions.”

The US and Russia are by an immensely wide margin the two biggest nuclear powers on the planet, which makes for a lot of small, unpredictable moving parts with mounting tensions steadily increasing the probability of something going catastrophically wrong. Dismissing a congresswoman’s attempt to point at this potentially world-ending risk as a “Kremlin talking point” is about the stupidest, craziest thing that a human brain could possibly come up with.

And yet here we are.

So what’s up with that? Why is an indisputably true claim about an indisputably real danger being treated as a lie by Democratic Party loyalists, even though it attacks the same president they themselves claim to oppose?

The answer is because it doesn’t fit the narrative. A consensus has been built over the last two years that Trump is a Kremlin puppet, so the indisputable fact that his administration is endangering the life of every organism on this planet by escalating tensions with Russia looks like a lie against that backdrop. The facts say one thing, the narrative says another, and they go with the narrative. For most people, narrative takes precedence over fact.

And what’s interesting is that these same facts could have remained exactly as they are and allowed the exact opposite narrative to be constructed. If her plutocratic owners had wished it, Rachel Maddow would have spent every night over the last two years warning everyone that Donald Trump is taking dangerous actions against Russia that threaten to wipe all life off the face of the earth, and it would have worked. If Trump had continued making these escalations in our hypothetical alternate timeline while the mass media was constantly selling the “Trump’s going to get us all killed in a nuclear war with Russia” narrative, all the same blue-checkmarked Twitter pundits you see yelling at Tulsi Gabbard today would be yelling about the dangers of nuclear war in our alternate timeline.

Narrative really is that powerful. You see it in the behavior of social media users, you see it in the behavior of governments, you see it in religions, and you see it in abusive relationships which continue because of the narrative “He’s a good guy underneath it all and he really loves me” even though the facts say “He beats you and cheats on you all the time.” If you can control the stories that people tell themselves about a given situation, then you control those people on all matters pertaining to that situation. Regardless of facts.

Which is why the plutocratic class funnels so much money into buying up media influence, funding think tanks, and other means of narrative control: if you can control the narrative, no amount of facts will deter the mainstream public from going along with your agendas. This is why the behaviors of governments so consistently move in alignment with the interests of this same media-buying, think tank-funding, politician-owning plutocratic class. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world.


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Latest comments

  • Honest to goodness, I’m starting to see Maddow as America’s Hit==r. Not a mere Goebbels. And not Trump–even a fair percentage of his followers realize he spouts nonsense all the time. But then maybe I’ll shrug and change my mind after a week or so of new sorts of insanity following the Mueller dud bomb, or maybe I’ll turn off the TV (my husband’s, he can turn it back on if he wants) and hie off to the mountains to enjoy what’s left while it remains.

    Great writing, Caitlin! I hope enough of humanity survives to see you honored.

  • The book of Revelation prophecies that the US will be annihilated. Chapter 18 verses 1-23

  • Great article. Stephen Cohen warned that if some direct conflict with Russia happens, Trump will have no domestic political options to negotiate some peace or settlement to stop the conflict resulting in war. He argues what helped Kennedy over the Cuban missile crisis was that he had options and had widespread political support.

    This Russian narrative is not only driving Trump, but driving activists, academia, and the political and media elites. It is also driving those who consume mass media outlets like MSNBC. The narrative has come to a point that these groups accept war with Russian as a legitimate response to Russian “aggression” (Russiagate was Pearl Harbor and 9/11 rolled into one). Some literally demand it. It is well to remember that according to Gallup, 72% of Americans approved of Bush the Younger’s invasion of Iraq.

    Imagine now that if a Biden or Kamala Harris is elected President in 2020. The pressure will be immense by media and party to be hyper aggressive toward the Russians. The population has been primed for war. The population has been primed by people like Maddow that some structural failure of the power grid or water supplies, to immediately suspect the Russians (rather than an crumbling infrastructure). I fully expect a greater chance for war after 2021 unless somebody reasonable is elected.

    • Dear Erelis

      I’m sorry to say you might be right, unintended consequences…….

  • 95% of social media is gar-baahge
    and will be the death of us all

  • If you considered the Republican and Democrat parties to be opposite sides of the same coin, the ensuing narrative is exactly what you’d expect. One side spending like drunken sailors on absurd levels of weaponry and threat, whilst the other covers for them with their ironclad grasp of a narrative that, whilst being the rhetorical equivalent of “Look, there goes a squirrel”, manages to divert the attention of 99% of the population. Both sides are fully bought and paid for members of a machine that is unlikely to relinquish its grasp on the western hemisphere, and will bring it (best case) to ruin. Worst case, we’ll all die.

  • narrative control ===> spin
    planting evidence (Steele dossier) + fake investigation + lapdog media ===> psyop
    spin is responding to events, psyop is constructing a mental state

    neoMcCarthyism isn’t just anti-Russia hysteria, it’s anti-dissent of any kind because any dissent is ‘spun’ into pro-Russia activities

    • The extent to which Russia is being blamed is amazing (this is true also in Europe). Various industries have even taken it up. The U of Iowa produced some bogus survey showing the Russians were pissing on GMOs. Academics got funding to show that Russians were lurking behind the anti-vaccine movement. The NYTimes claimed in 2016 that the Putin was behind the anti-TPP movement. For fck-sake Merkel implied that the Russians were behind the recently protests by school kids over the climate crisis. Amy Kolburchar’s is blaming her borderline personality disorder on fighting Putin. (It would be funny to imagine Amy at some diplomatic meeting tossing a binder at Putin’s head). Of course Hillary in a paid speech blamed the Russians for the anti-fracking movement.

  • Where is Ms. Molly Ivins when we so sorely need her? She had no fear of taking on the Demoncrats, or the Repugnants. All it will take now with so many Egotists in power is one small set-back in their evil policies to decide them on pushing that End of the World button. I don’t trust any of them to even put their shoes on the right foot in the morning. More of us need to take charge of our own lives…..

    • I miss Molly too… Sharp and witty as well as willing and able to call a spade a spade (or a Shrub when he wasn’t smart enough to be a real Bush like his daddy).
      Caitlin ain’t bad and I like her work, but Molly’s shoes are pretty big…

      • P.S.: Regarding narrative, its control and hold on “popular” thought — Once worked politically meeting and greeting members of the general population (or citizens in quaint colloquial vernacular) and trying to overcome some of the dominant narratives of the late 1980s and early 1990s…
        It was difficult work, trying to disabuse illusions and cognitive dissonance, which was concisely pulled into focus by an older lass who replied to my ministrations with an exasperated: “Young man, if this were important it would be on TV…”

      • Caitlin is far better than Molly Ivins. Molly Ivins never spelled out the means of control Caitlin does that far better. People are given 12 years of public school conformity training and raised with a TV in this country. This is the foundation of their control. The US invented modern propaganda. The Nazis actually copied the US invention of modern propaganda. “They were using my books as the basis for a destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me, but I knew any human activity can be used for social purposes or misused for antisocial ones.” Edward Bernays from his 1965 autobiography. http://theconversation.com/the-manipulation-of-the-american-mind-edward-bernays-and-the-birth-of-public-relations-44393

        • “People are given 12 years of public school conformity training and raised with a TV in this country. This is the foundation of their control. The US invented modern propaganda.” — Goldhoarder
          We agree, on this at least. But Molly could make you laugh, even at yourself. It’s a style thing, I suppose. Caitlin certainly pulls back the curtain and cultivates our outrage (and is very good at at it) which is both informative and useful. But Molly had satire and understatement down to a fine art (within the confines of “respectable” media publications).
          Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing Caitlin… but would love to have seen what Molly might have written in this format.

  • The purpose and function of government ( now run by oligarchs )is not to preside over change but to prevent change. By political methods when unavoidable, by violence when convenient.

  • Thank you for an excellent article. Just coming to the end of my morning reading, which has been thoroughly depressing for exactly the reasons you address.

    I was particularly pissed off when I found the comments section in The Independent appears to have been overrun by people who seem to have very poor understanding.

    Tulsi Gabbard seems like a great choice for President but I can’t see it happening.

    I value your column as as you write well and have good insights.

    Keep it up.

  • #doublethink

  • Spot on Caitlin! Trump’s has succeed in demonstrating to the progressives that the Democrat Party is absolutely corrupt to its core. They are so bad so disgusting that they freely peddle lies that endanger us by aggravating nuclear conflict with Russia for the sole purpose of scoring points against both Trump and the progressive unrepresented wing of their own party.

  • Very good read, Caitlin Johnstone.

  • Your article is spot on, especially regarding RM and her pseudo-journalism.
    As Usual,

  • I’ve always considered ‘Hanlon’s Razor’: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”, to be good advice. But what is coming down on Tulsi Gabbard (and Ilhan Omar, and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning) absolutely cannot be adequately explained without giving full credit to both.

  • I absolutely support this editorial, Trump is preparing for WW3 without doubt, Trump makes out he is a Nationalist Republican, but the FACTS PROVE otherwise. His colors since being elected have PROGRESSIVELY changed, proving he IS in fact a Democrat in disguise, and very much a supporter of the Deep State’s Agenda! Global Dominance!

  • Trump really needs to grow a spine, doesn’t he?.
    He is just so weak, and that is dangerous

  • Please consider making a donation to Tulsi’s campaign. She needs another 30,000 contributors to be allowed on the DNC debate stage. A $1 donation will count.
    We need her voice on that debate stage.

    • Are you kidding me ???? Making a donation to someone who has used the military for personal gain, and also contributing to the pain the M.E. is suffering ? Let’s not forget the FACT, she supports the “narrative” of Assad attacking his own people with chemical weapons, despite the fact, the EVIDENCE has shown the contrary ??? Voting for this individual would simply be replacing one despot with another. WHY do Americans continue to do this, over and over again making the same mistake and always expecting a different outcome ???????? Weird.

      • Weird indeed, Eddy. Surely before donating and voting people should take a careful look at the candidate’s work and life history and affiliations and (for those already in elected office) their voting record. Less important because it can be just a list of lies is their policy platform. As for Ms Gabbard, any candidate who believes or says she believes that there’s no doubt ‘Assad gassed his own people’ either gets all their views from the MSM or is a pro-war propagandist. Either way, she’s not worth a dollar or a vote (unless you are pro-war and anti-peace).

      • Let me know when you find the perfect candidate. For now, her anti-interventionist war stance, her support for medicare4all, the environment (she was at standing rock), veterans, infrastructure rebuild, plus obvious integrity is enough. And she would slaughter Trump in any debate.

        • Let me know when voting for a Democrat or Republican works out for you.

          Pledging agreement with imperial lies isn’t “anti-war”. She’s anchoring one end of the Overton window, while those in power make the more objectionable decisions.

          She’s been invited to “make the rounds” on many imperial tv shows. The imperial powers wouldnt promote someone who would work against them.

          If someone chooses to be a member of a primary-rigging war party, I’m not interested. Like every other candidate the war machine produces, she’ll tell us what we want to hear until she “loses” the primary and asks followers to vote for another Killary. Or in the event she wins office, she’ll let people down, just like candidate/prez Obama and Trump.

          I’m not interested in what you’re selling. People are better off not voting or wasting their time reading about D or R candidates. It’s a charade. Writing in a candidate or not voting are the only respectable decisions.

          • Who gives a shit if you vote or not, but to have a voice on the debate stage calling out our military overspending and how we need that money to give clean water to flint and elsewhere – think of how Bernie, just by letting us know there were others out there who wanted a change – regardless if him as a person – allowed for a resurgence on the Left.

            Tulsi’s voice on the stage, letting people know that they are not alone in having these ideas (that the rest of TV does not reflect) could well be the catalyst to restart the anti-war candidate.

            Use the political theater like you would street theater- to educate and bring issues to the public consciousness.

            Unless you like being stuck in activist ghettos whining about how it’s impossible to get a message to the public…

    • Let the two parties die of disinterest. Find or start a new one. Or support an independent. Or don’t vote at all.

      It’s not worth your time or money to support this system. It’s a sham.

    • I agree with many comments here; however, the devil’s advocate in me would consider $1 to help get Gabbard on the debate stage. Curious if she could pull the discussion peace-ward — despite my cynicism at the D/R “debate” charade (just more narrative control). (Said I’d consider it, but it still ain’t happening.)

  • Warner, Schiff and Maddow —
    Too many “Russians” spoil the Party.

  • I hate to have to say it, but hasn’t it come to this? … Who is John Galt?

    • He’s some deluded self-important idiot who got his ass kicked by Tom Joad.

  • It’s time for a Narrative Override, Please Everyone (NOPE)

    Compulsory viewing of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove with mandatory Eyelid Restraints (as in Clockwork Orange) for all elected politicians. I’ll bring the popcorn.

    • Note of course that this behavior tends to act as what the hackers would call a Denial of Service attack on Tulsi’s ability to communicate through that twitter account. The trolls make it too toxic for normal people to stomach. I’ve seen this over the last few decades, first against comment boards that started to have too interesting a discussion. Suddenly a bunch of trolls come in the board becomes too toxic to read any more. The same tactic goes back to pre-internet days, when the bosses used agents to break up union meetings by sending people in to be argumentative and start fights. Probably dates back to the Lords in the Castle sending agents in to disrupt the Serf’s meetings when they were trying to organize. The only difference these days is that these trolls wear Blue Checkmarks. At least in the Union halls they could organize a few tough bouncers to keep order, but you can’t really do that on Twit-world.

      • Sorry Rand, comment went into the wrong place. 🙂

  • Narrative, narrative, narrative. Right on. I’ve been pointing out the problem with the Mockingbird MSM for over 20 years. So happy to see you continually driving this home and you are such a fine writer,

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