The Donald is a master of these four techniques of misinformation.
On April 16, 2015, one month after Russian soldiers entered eastern Ukraine and joined Moscow-backed separatists in the slaughter of more than 130 Ukrainian troops in a town called Debaltseve, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to perpetuate a claim that was growing increasingly ludicrous. “I can tell you outright and unequivocally that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine,” he declared in a broadcast to the Russian people.
The denial was a classic propaganda move. “The first Russian approach to negative reporting or comment is to dismiss it, either by denying the allegations on the ground, or denigrating the one who makes them,” writes Ben Nimmo, a British-based analyst of Russian information warfare and strategy. Specifically, this approach is an example of dismissal, one of four distinct ways the Putin government tries to spin facts and misinform the public, as identified by Nimmo. He calls it the 4D Approach: dismiss, distract, distort, and dismay.
Though Putin has put these tactics to good use, he did not invent them. Nor is he the only image-conscious, scrutiny-averse world leader to employ them. Over the past months, President-elect Donald Trump has also proved adept at using the propaganda techniques Nimmo describes. “The fact that the Trump campaign is doing the same kind of thing does not necessarily mean that they got it from Russia. These techniques are pretty universal; it’s just there’s a commonality of approach,” Nimmo says.
Some examples of The Donald’s mastery of the four Ds of propaganda:
Dismiss: Dismissing uncomfortable allegations or facts is second nature to most politicians. When nine women accused Trump of groping or kissing them without their consent, he first accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of orchestrating the allegations. A day later, during the third presidential debate, he claimed, falsely, “Those stories have been largely debunked.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly dismissed the press as “scum,” “horrible people,” and “dishonest.” In the week since winning the election, he has taken to Twitter on six occasions to excoriate the New York Times and its coverage, casting it as “very poor” and “highly inaccurate.” Unsurprisingly, as Philip Bump of the Washington Post points out, Trump’s complaints about the New York Times are most commonly about stories that have proved true. But, dismissal plays well with Trump’s supporters, who are already inclined to distrust the mainstream media. “Why would you listen to your critic if he is intrinsically not worth listening to?” notes Nimmo.
Distract: Another way propagandists dodge facts is to throw out distracting stories or counterclaims.