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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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5 voters as “thieves and fraudsters”: flak against elections


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voters as “thieves and fraudsters”: flak against elections

In politics as in everything else it makes a great difference whose game we play. The rules of the game determine the requirements for success […] and go to the heart of political strategy.

E.E. Schattschneider (quoted in Minnite, n.d., p. 16)

Introduction: Three Million Imposters

In the queasy, immediate aftermath of November 8, 2016, it was largely overlooked that Trump claimed the prize through the eighteenth-century technicalities of the Electoral College that negated a three million vote deficit in the popular vote. While four other presidential elections in the previous 200 years produced a similar Electoral College/popular vote split, most recently in 2000, the magnitude of the difference in 2016 was galling to those who noticed. A handful of counties in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania delivered the White House to Trump as he tallied the right number votes in the right places for Electoral College sums.

Three days later, an obscure former state government official and right-wing activist assayed to “explain” the slippage between the Electoral College ←131 | 132→and the popular vote as the efflux of criminality. Via Twitter, Gregg Phillips laconically lobbed this claim: “Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team” (quoted in Lusenhop, 2017, para. 11). The number of ineligible voters that Phillips cites approaches two-percent of the electorate and aligns—closely, magically—with...

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