One of David Baldacci’s books, “The Whole Truth,” features an intelligence operative named A. Shaw who essentially saves the world from World War III. No big deal. Many of today’s writers of fictional thrillers or mysteries feature characters who lead readers through many labyrinths of twists, turns, and tight places. Oddly enough, Baldacci released this book in February 2009.
Baldacci introduced a new concept to me: perception management (PM). Perception is reality when no known facts contradict what we perceive. The plot’s villain is CEO of the world’s largest defense contractor. He’s a billionaire many times over who wants to maintain peace around the world through large sales of weapons. Sounds a lot like Orwell’s “war is peace.”
The villain contracts with a company that specializes in perception management. In this age ruled largely by social media “news,” purveyors of news seek and believe everything they already agree with. In 1970, Paul Simon observed, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear. And he disregards the rest.” (The Boxer)
The head of the PM company and his employees are specialists in strategically monitoring and planting “news” items to manipulate the masses into believing whatever they want them to believe.
The villain wants the world to believe that Russia is cracking down on dissidents as political leaders in the Kremlin plan WWIII. The PM company creates a faux phone video of Russian authorities brutally torturing and executing a man who is desperately trying to send a message to the world about all the atrocities going on inside of Russia. Media call Russia’s apparent moves the Red Menace. Of course, the Kremlin denies all of the accusations including the veracity of the video.
Though I’ve not finished the book, I’m reasonably sure Shaw saves the world from total destruction, probably at the last second. There’s at least one sequel featuring our hero Shaw.
“The Whole Truth” deals with international intrigue, PM or “fake news” as we might say today, Russia, China, American presidential politics, and the hero’s noble search for the real truth inside a newsy maelstrom. In other words, the book is not much different from politics and media coverage today. The biggest difference is the book has a hero who will expose the truth and save the day.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal last week titled, “The Ultimate Trump-Putin Deal.” Khodorkovsky is founder of the Open Russia movement and a former CEO of Yukos Oil.
Over the years I’ve traveled to Russia 7 times and plan to return this summer. Russian people generally see America as an enemy state. The past few years the Russian economy has slipped badly due primarily to the worldwide drop in oil prices. When a nation’s economy suffers the nation’s leaders suffer. Putin has largely maintained political control by engaging in conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, while building relationships with Iran and other rogue states.
Meanwhile, American presidential politics is making a tortuous transition from one administration that promised more flexibility with Russia to the current administration critics call too cozy with Russia. These same critics praised the past administration’s “reset” with Russia, and now scream that Russia is a dreadful enemy.
In the meantime, Washington Democrats and media are managing perceptions as best as they can. Cue the hero.
Daniel L. Gardner is a syndicated columnist who lives in Starkville, Miss. He can be reached at PJandMe2@hotmail.com.