Harry Martin and Propaganda Techniques

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Harry V. Martin is the editor of the Napa Sentinel. His articles on government corruption have gained popularity on the left. An analysis of the content and style of the Martin articles raises questions about his credibility as a reporter. Martin uses classic leaps of logic and propaganda techniques in his reporting. This section will look at several articles which Martin has written concerning the pending Inslaw court case.

Inslaw, a small computer company, developed a very sensitive computer program, Promis, which Inslaw alleges was appropriated without authorization by the U.S. Justice Department and other government agencies. Promis software was an early contender in case management software, but by no means unique. Several vendors at the time Promis was being offered also offered similar case tracking software. It can be argued that at the time Promis was indeed ahead of its competitors in many key features, but today Lotus Agenda with its case tracking overlay is just as powerful.40

Martin's Inslaw stories use the classical propaganda technique of stringing together chronological events and implying that one causes the other. One story, for example, which looks at the role governmental retribution may have played in the failure to re-appoint to the bench one judge, George Bason, whose rulings has supported Inslaw's position. Martin's article assumes allegations it needs to establish. He says:

As a result of the Inslaw cases, many heads in the Justice Department were lopped off. When Judge George Bason, a bankruptcy court judge, refused to liquidate Inslaw, ruling instead that the Department of Justice used deceit, trickery and fraud, he was only one of four who were not re-appointed to their jobs. A total of 132 were re-appointed. But to show the collusion of the Justice Department, when it removed Judge Bason from the bench after his ruling against them and for Inslaw, they had S. Martin Teel appointed to the bench to replace Bason. Who was Teel? He was a Department of Justice attorney who unsuccessfully argued the Inslaw case before Judge Bason.

Certainly the failure of Judge Bason to be re-appointed after ruling in favor of Inslaw is curious. A good reporter would seek evidence to show that there was a connection between the Inslaw case and the failure to re-appoint Judge Bason. That one event followed the other is not this proof. The same situation applies to Teel. The sequence is curious, even suspicious in light of Bason, but the cause and effect relationship remains unproven.

Martin also makes extensive use of arguments by exhortation, which are arguments based more on emotion that on reason. For example, he claims:

An official of the Israeli government claims [a person] sold the Promis program to Iraqi military intelligence at a meeting in Santiago, Chile. The software could have been used in the recent Persian Gulf War to track U.S. and allied troop movements. Ari Ben-Menashe, a 12 year veteran of Israeli intelligence, made the statement in a sworn affidavit to the court.

When Martin claims the software could have been used against the U.S. during the Gulf War, he is using jingoistic appeals to emotion rather than reason to garner support for his position. He is deliberately painting a picture of the possible deaths of U.S. soldiers as a direct result of the purported theft of the Promis software program by U.S. government agencies. That software also could have been used to track hamburger shipments by McDonalds, or alternatively, troop movements could have been tracked by Lotus AGENDA rather than Promis. It is hype, and misleading, to single out the one possibility that suits his political ends.

There are other misleading statement in the paragraph quoted above. For example, Ari Ben-Menashe was hardly "an official of the Israeli government." He was at best an experienced Israeli intelligence staffer who became a player in the international arms trade, and many of Ben Menashe's claims have been contested. Martin's inflation of Ben-Menashe's status serves to condemn the entire Israeli government in a way that a discussion based on Ben-Menashe's actual status would not have done. Another example is Martin's emphasis on the fact that Ari Ben-Menashe "made the statement in a sworn affidavit to the court." As anyone who has worked on legal cases can attest, sworn statements carry no guarantee that they are truthful or factual. Absent documentation or corroborating testimony, they stand as allegations, not facts.

In the same article, Martin goes on to claim that Promis is now being used by the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, these are unproven allegations that are being presented as though they were facts. They may indeed be proven at some point, but have not yet been proven. The technique of first presenting allegations, then later referring to them as facts, is a classic propaganda technique. A closer examination of Martin's presentation reveals that the claimed use of the software by these U.S. government agencies is actually an allegation from Ben-Menashe's affidavit, in which Ben-Menashe claims he was told by a third party that this was true. Legally, this is hearsay, which is typically inadmissible in court as evidence. Nevertheless, Martin converts this hearsay allegation into a statement of fact. But Martin is not through with his daisy chain of proof.

Still utilizing unproven assertions, Martin goes on to expand the cast of villains from a few corrupt officials of the Justice Department to the entire U.S. government. He writes:

[The] Judiciary Committee is conducting its own investigation in what has been described as the U.S. Department of Justice's "trickery, deceit and theft" of the software. The U.S. Government has been connected with the illegal sale of the sensitive software to South Korea, Libya, Iraq, Israel and Canada, as well as being pirated by a number of U.S. agencies, including the CIA, National Security Agency and other military units. The software is also in use by the FBI. Only the U.S. Justice Department was licensed to use the software...

From a proposition of criminal or unethical conduct by individuals within the Justice Department, a proposition itself unproven, Martin moves on to argue the existence of an international conspiracy, led by the U.S. government to steal and distribute Promis software. While such a claim could later be proven, Martin here merely presents the allegation as though it were true, a technique known as a "conclusory" or "Kierkegaardian" leap.

These few examples buttress the assertion that Martin is not a reliable source of information. A careful reading of all the Martin Inslaw articles reveals many other instances of fallacious argument and propaganda technique. Questions regarding Harry Martin's judgment and political orientation are also raised by the fact that he has allowed his articles to appear regularly in the Spotlight41

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