Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Agenda Denial

The most effective tactic in politics is not to win the argument but instead stop opponents from making their case at all. This comes up frequently in standards discussions. When someone says 'it is too early to discuss X' they may mean it or they may mean 'I don't ever want to discuss X and when you attempt to raise the question later on I am going to say it is too late'.

So planting markers to ensure that the agenda denial fails becomes vital. When someone says 'now is not the time' the next question should be 'when will it be the time'.

Agenda denial strategies are routinely used in US politics where the mainstream media has aggressively asserted its exclusive right to decide on what is news. The Web has challenged this claim. The political agenda is no longer set by the New York Times alone, it is set by Google News. A similar change took place in the UK in the 1980s in the wake of the year long Times newspapers strike. By the end of the strike the British establishement had discovered other newspapers. Many returned to The Times after the strike but the monopoly on agenda setting had been ceeded to the BBC.

The blogosphere is active in the US precisely because of the widespread use of agenda denial tactics. When the Iraq war began the mainstream media accepted the administration claim that anti-war protests were marginal, not news and should be ignored. As a result the anti-war protesters created an alternative media infrastructure where the issues and points of view they thought important were the agenda.

When Bill Kristol states that anti-war protesters should simply stop protesting for six to nine months he is essentially employing an agenda denial tactic. What he is saying is in effect 'I don't have a case so I am going to criticize you for arguing against my position'. He has in effect been making the same argument for five years and he will continue to make it as long as he is allowed to.

This is why the recent question asked in a Whitehouse press briefing is so significant, 'what is an appropriate way to show dissent'. Predicatably the Press Secretary had no answer.

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