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The Rise of Weaponized Flak in the New Media Era

Beyond the Propaganda Model


Brian Michael Goss

The Rise of Weaponized Flak in the New Media Era presents the first book-length examination of flak as a form of political harassment, authored by a seasoned researcher on political discourse and mass media. Flak against news media was a component of the Edward Herman-Noam Chomsky seminal "Propaganda Model." However, in the thirty years since the model was introduced, flak has become an increasingly significant and prevalent sociopolitical force in its own right, in large part for the proliferation of new media platforms. Flak is not simply good faith or tough criticism. Rather, flak discourses and actions go on attack for the purpose of delegitimizing, disabling, and even criminalizing political foes, however tendentiously. The book presents cross-disciplinary appeal for students and scholars of mass media, new media, political science, and sociology—as well as for anyone concerned with today’s sociopolitical environment.

Given the book’s seminal examination of the topic, the introductory chapters in Part I extensively map out flak’s current forms and delineate similarities and distinctions from scandal and activism. Newly-minted terminology is introduced to flesh-out contemporary flak (for example, flak-in-discourse, boutique flak, phantom flak).

The balance of the book is organized around case studies of flak mills (Part II) and flak issues (Part III). In particular, Part II drills down into the flak discourses and techniques of dedicated flak mills that characterize themselves as, respectively, journalistic and think tank organizations. Part III of the book features case studies of flak around elections and universities in the United States.

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4 “transcendent truth” in disguise: project veritas’ flak traps


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“transcendent truth” in disguise: project veritas’ flak traps

We’re going to create an army of exposers and if you are lying or stealing or cheating, we are going to find you and make you an unwilling Internet celebrity. […] And you can continue to say it’s a joke, but people are gonna be resigning.

—Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe (quoted in Nuzzi, 2015, para. 38)

Introduction: Hanging on the Telephone

In 2016, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reported on a strange and lengthy phone message on the messaging service of Dana Geraghty of the Open Society Foundations in New York. The Open Society is an initiative of billionaire/philanthropist George Soros who has been subject to blasts of flak from the political right for decades. For her part, Geraghty directs the foundations’ pro-democracy programs in Eurasia. In Mayer’s narration, the lengthy phone message began as follows:

“Hey, Dana,” a voice began. The caller sounded to her like an older American male. “My name is, uh, Victor Kesh. I’m a Hungarian-American who represents a, uh, foundation that would like to get involved with you and aid what you do in fighting for, um, European values.” (Mayer, 2016, para. 2)

Geraghty thought it was very curious that someone ostensibly from a foundation would call and not state which foundation he was with, alongside apparently offering rather than seeking funds. However, the episode took an even more bizarre turn....

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