Culture & Society

Misinformation, Disinformation and Propaganda

Martin Gurri and Weifeng Zhong discuss access to information and the role of media in China, Russia and Ukraine

Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. Image Credit: Franz Aberham/Getty Images

The following is the transcript of a conversation between Martin Gurri and Weifeng Zhong entitled “Open Information and Propaganda in the Digital Age,” which they recorded on Twitter Spaces on March 23. Gurri is a visiting research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and a former CIA analyst specializing in the relationship of politics and global media. Zhong is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center; his work focuses on bridging the field of natural language processing and machine learning to economic policy studies.

This transcript has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

MARTIN GURRI: So, let’s get started. I guess we should begin by introducing ourselves. I’m Martin Gurri. I am the author of “The Revolt of the Public.” I’m a former CIA analyst—propaganda analyst, in a sense—and I’m a traveling fellow at Mercatus.

Weifeng, your turn.

WEIFENG ZHONG: Thank you, Martin, and thank you for hosting it on your Space.

My name is Weifeng Zhong; I’m a senior research fellow at Mercatus. My research focuses on analyzing Chinese propaganda, among other types of propaganda. The topic we are going to speak about today is very dear to my heart, and so I look forward to the discussion.

GURRI: Yes.

Let me get started by providing what I consider to be my definitions. I’m not the Oxford dictionary, but I use these terms; I probably will be using them in this discussion. Just so everybody in this cozy group knows what they mean.

“Misinformation,” to me, is falsehood, plain and simple. “Disinformation”: intentional falsehood. You’re basically lying on purpose.

“Propaganda” is something—you have to think about its history. The word “propaganda” comes from the Catholic Church. “Propaganda fide” means the propagation of the faith. It actually is an attempt to somehow propagate an ideology in people’s minds. I think, nowadays, since consumerism is our main religion, it includes a lot of commercial propaganda. But it’s a broader and deeper and longer-term factor than disinformation, which can be just a single article.

Finally, “information campaign” is an attempt to frame a new personality or a current event on which people haven’t quite made up their minds yet. Of course, the Ukraine war, which we’ll be talking about, is the perfect example of that.

Those are my definitions. Do you want to fight over those, Weifeng? Or do you agree?

Growing Up in a Dictatorship

ZHONG: I agree, largely, what you laid out. In fact, I wonder whether the way you define this—I agree to a large extent, but I wonder whether it’s because we share . . .

We have very similar backgrounds—very different backgrounds, but there’s also a lot of commonality between your background and my background, although from totally different countries. As I know, you have spoken about that you’re originally from Cuba, and I grew up in China, both of which were under heavy propaganda or information control in the country.

But I wonder whether perhaps other people, for example, who were born and raised in the free world, might naturally associate propaganda primarily with disinformation and misinformation. But in fact what I see to it is much more than that, because it tells us a lot, potentially, about what the propagandists are thinking. By extension, the purpose of why they’re saying those things might indicate what they might do.

That’s a feature that disinformation or misinformation do not share. Perhaps information campaign will share some of that, but certainly not the first two in the categories.

GURRI: Yes, I think we in the West, who have grown up in open democracies, can have no conception of what propaganda really means.

Imagine a regime like Cuba that lasted 50, 60 years: You’re hearing the same refrains from same presidential candidates 60 years after the damn campaign. It’s relentless and it’s total. Everything that happens in the United States in terms of trying to deceive the public, in any sense, almost always falls into the category of disinformation, in my opinion.

Although there’s such a powerful pro-identity movement right now among the people who have controlled both social media and mass media—you can see the elements of a propaganda campaign developing there.

ZHONG: Right. In fact, I wonder, speaking from a personal perspective, what did it feel like in Cuba? When you, say, came to America, what’s the most striking things to you, in the sense of how you perceive information or information control?

GURRI: I think anybody who’s ever lived in a . . .

Remember, by the time I was 10 years old, I had lived under a right-wing dictator and a left-wing, essentially totalitarian dictator. If you grow up like that, you never see information as something that is given to you that you accept as either platonic or somebody is in error or somebody is lying to you. Every piece of information you question as deeply as you can.

I think every person, every kid, that comes out of a controlled environment like that is born a propaganda analyst. There’s just no way you ever accept anything anybody says without wondering why they’re saying it, why they’re saying it that way, who they think they’re saying it to. I know the questions that propaganda analysts just automatically ask.

So when I get to the United States—and actually I had the same experience in CIA, because I used to look at governments like Cuba’s and Nicaragua’s, which compared to Russia and China are very disorganized propagandists, but were all controlled. Then I was moved to West Europe and you go, “How the hell do I make sense out of this? There’s nobody controlling this stuff.”

Then you realize, well, there are people who have messages that they want to convey. That becomes even a lot more fun, and it’s more or less where we are in this country: Who is sending the message? Who is behind every message?

It’s not a cynical approach, I don’t think; it’s not like everything’s being manipulated. It’s just that the human race, in every interaction, attempts to influence everyone else. If you think otherwise, if you think that there’s some kind of information that’s pure and it’s just something you can take and use, then you were never born in Cuba or China—I can guarantee it.

‘Totally in the Dark’

ZHONG: In fact, I come from a slightly different angle because the moment I realized the power of propaganda, information control, was not while I was in China. It was when I actually left mainland China. This is something very interesting that we have to discuss, because I was surprised when you said that you were born a propaganda analyst.

“Pillar of Shame” by Jens Galschiøt at the University of Hong Kong, commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. Image Credit: Minghong/Wikimedia Commons

The moment I left mainland China—I went to Hong Kong for my graduate school; it’s the University of Hong Kong, the oldest one on the island. When I went to campus, I saw this gigantic sculpture in a bloody red color showing a lot of dead bodies, apparently.

I was surprised: I stepped close to it, and there’s a metal plate underneath that says, “In memory of Tiananmen Square massacre.” I looked at the—even the word “massacre” was new to me because of my relatively lower, smaller vocabulary. I was surprised when I found out—I thought, what massacre are you talking about? Nobody died in Tiananmen Square. That’s the moment . . .

Then later I went to the library; I checked out a lot of books about the tragic events. That’s when I learned about the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the killing of innocent people: 17 years after the fact. It happened in 1989. I went to Hong Kong in 2006. And that’s the moment that I realized I was totally in the dark.

That’s actually what motivated me to become a propaganda analyst, because I just couldn’t believe the degree of control I was under.

GURRI: Well, remember that I ascended to that level of control. My childhood, literally my first memory as a tiny, tiny kid, was people telling me to stay away from the windows because there’s a coup going on.

A right-wing dictator called Batista was taking over what was a pretty ramshackle but real democracy in Cuba. Now, information under Batista was the way—kind of like Mafia, right-wing-type dictators control information, by saying “don’t say this and don’t say that.” It’s not total like it would be, as it was going to be, under the communists.

I learned real quickly, for example, newspapers weren’t allowed to say that people were being killed. But they could show—I mean, if you’re a kid this is pretty distressing—but they could show front-page in the goriest—you’re talking about bodies in your statue? These were real bodies, photographs of real bodies, because people would be taken off the streets and tortured and killed and dumped.

A body in the street: We’re not saying anything about the government. It was a counterpropaganda to the government. You became real smart at understanding what the newspapers are trying to tell you in between the lines.

By the way, I think what you said, to me, is the most effective way that propaganda works. And I think we should talk about, at some point, how effective is propaganda, really? Well, one way it is massively effective is it denies you access to information. If you don’t know something is, you can’t think about it; you can’t have an opinion about it; you can’t compare it to what’s going on. Essentially those regimes just shut down gigantic swaths of information.

I think nowadays, even in the Chinese—the Great Firewall of China—it’s hard to do that. It’s very hard to do that. Anybody with a mind who is the least bit savvy can break through the firewall and find out what’s going on in the world. In the old days, and I’m afraid that’s where my childhood took place, you could do it. You could basically build up a wall and people would not know what was going on.

Access, Perception and Manipulation

ZHONG: But wasn’t there another element that . . .

It’s one thing to say you can control people’s minds by controlling, restricting the information they can get. But another way is actually, even if you could have access to a lot of information potentially—I think that modern-day China, people have more access to information than, say, they used to in the ’70s or ’60s under Mao—but it’s another method to say, if you have very strong propaganda machinery, you could potentially manipulate their minds in how they perceive those information, right?

If you think about, even in the United States, we are hooked on media that are to our liking. So there’s a reinforcement mechanism there that drives the public to more and more a deeply divided state. People who are more liberal-minded, they would tend to discard the information coming from the right even though there is information available to them.

I think the information or propaganda control in China now is that despite the fact that they could see a lot of information—if they see a reporting about the Uyghur forced-labor camps, for example, in China, or the protest in Hong Kong—I’ve seen a lot of people in China during the couple of years where Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were protesting.

Mainland Chinese residents would say, “Well, they were just trying to destroy our country, destroy the economy. Hong Kong, they’re just dragging us in terms of our progress to a better future.” Because the mindset was already changed by the government, despite the fact that they could see people on the street in Hong Kong.

GURRI: Yes. Now you’re talking my sweet spot. I basically disagree with a lot of what you said because I do not believe that the human mind can be that easily manipulated. I have never seen evidence to that effect.

Usually, when cases like what you cite come up, it’s because people truly do believe in the Chinese government, and they truly do believe that maybe there are foreign powers that are manipulating Hong Kong, and they truly are very nationalistic—and not because the government has contorted in that way.

Certainly, that’s the way it is here in the United States of America. I don’t think the media has fractured us. I think we are fractured, and the media has unfortunately allowed us to amplify that fragmentation. All the evidence . . .

There’s a book by an author called Hugo Mercier, called “Not Born Yesterday,” that pretty much to my mind provides evidence that even when you talk about these crazy pogroms in Europe where Jews were slaughtered and their stores were looted and so forth, because they were supposed to be having these terrible blood ceremonies involving infants—mostly what happened was there was a riot and there was a pogrom. And then when the people got asked, “Why did you do that to the Jews?” They said, “Well, they were having these . . .”

I mean, they basically came up with the explanation after the fact. It wasn’t that their minds had been suddenly persuaded by this terrible story of the blood sacrifice. It was that they hated the Jews to begin with, and the blood sacrifice story was just a pretext.

I think propaganda can provide—much like The New York Times provides for liberals, say—the words that you’re going to use. It’s useful to people of those persuasions, but it’s not changing minds. It’s not turning a liberal into a conservative or vice versa. It’s not turning a person who does not like the regime in China into somebody who’s angry at Hong Kong because the government says so. I think cause and effect work in the opposite direction.

You see with somebody like Putin, for example, in Russia that it’s not because he’s brainwashed the Russians that he has been popular. He was popular. He was popular to begin with. The Russians like strong leaders. Hopefully that’s going to change now because he doesn’t look so strong. He does his propaganda, but he is popular not because of his propaganda but probably despite it.

Cultural Expectations of Leaders

ZHONG: That’s really interesting. I think we should drill deeper, because we do disagree on this point. I think that where we disagree is whether the notion of nationalism—is it innate to a human being, or could it be an outcome of the information environment we are in?

If the Russian people are intrinsically nationalist, then Putin would be popular despite what he does. Now, crazy things he does could compromise to some degree how nationalistic the Russian population ends up being, but there will be a baseline, a high baseline of nationalism. It seems that’s what you were—

GURRI: Actually, that was not necessarily—it’s slightly different. I think the Russians—and I have had a couple of friends . . . I’m not a Russia expert, I hasten to add, but I have had a couple of friends who are deep, deep Russia experts, and they have explained to me: The Russians fear chaos.

They are a great big, ramshackle country with all kinds of divisions, geographic and ethnic and religious. Basically what was happening when Putin took over was a disintegration of the state. And Putin was a strong man. He was a strong hand at power, and the Russians, according to my sources, have always loved strong rulers.

He was popular not because he was nationalistic, although he obviously was, in a weird sense—imperialistic, I would say, more than nationalistic—but because he gave the Russians the style of rule that they were used to. All those weird photographs of him bare-chested, riding a horse or doing judo or whatever: That’s what the Russians wanted.

ZHONG: Right. It seems now we are getting where your book “The Revolt of the Public” is about, although it’s written quite some years before Putin becomes the person that he is today or the situation becomes [what] it is today. It seems you’re suggesting that people have preferences for being guided by powerful leaders, heroes, in society.

Maybe that there was the picture in the past? So did you mean that in the past we were like that? Now we are no longer—increasingly no longer, because the information (or the tsunami of information, as you call it) is shattering the image or reputation of elites, so we wouldn’t be like that in the future?

But in the past it was like that, and it’s because we were like that, including people in Russia, we were more tolerant of control or manipulation of information in that manner.

GURRI: Yes. I think that that’s a fair statement. I think it varies from country to country and from culture to culture what form the hierarchy of the elites took.

I think in Russia it was just a very hard, Mafia-like hierarchy, where he was a tough guy: If you got in his way, he was going to rub you out. After all the chaos that preceded him, the Russians decided—well, he stabilized the ruble way back when; he stabilized the economy. People could make a decent living—not a great one, because the economy has never been great under him, but it’s been stable at least.

Whereas here in the United States, I think there’s always been a fiction that the elites pretend to be just ordinary folks—and then of course they start mandating things at us. We like a different style of leadership than the Russians do.

Yes, I think as a reality, that is, what you said is true. The fifth wave of information has battered every style, but people like Putin seem to survive it better than here in the United States, our type of politician.

ZHONG: In fact, if I could draw the parallel in China, I do see some elements of what you suggested, meaning that every time there’s a new Chinese president who came to power, there’s a wide expectation—sometimes even not only domestically in China, but also from outside China—that the new Chinese leader is going to be a reformer, a pro-market reformer. Several times in a row, right?

Remember back in 2012, 2013, when Xi Jinping was just taking office, people were expecting that he would be a reformer because—it’s amazing to think about what reasons people gave back then. It was that his father was open-minded; hence, he would be open-minded. He has a child in the United States; his relatives are in the United States or Europe, so they live in an open society, and so they know how good it is. Hence, he would be a reformer.

It turned out to be the opposite. That was not the outlier; it’s a norm. Every time in the past, it was like that too.

I do see that perhaps there are some innate preferences for being led by a powerful leader who knows things. If you think about the period, the years after Tiananmen Square in 1989, before the crackdown, there was a brief period of opening up where people did get better access to information. They did have a relatively more open environment to express their views.

I think the same happened in the Soviet Union after Stalin died, right? So there’s a few years of great opening of people’s minds or the space. But then it quickly narrowed afterward, right?

Where I’m going with this example was that even when people relatively have better access to a space to express their views, they could still later be getting narrower because of control and manipulation by the powerful government.

China’s Ideological Stance

GURRI: Yes. What you said made me think of an interesting question, which is—OK, we have two regimes: We look at Russia, we look at China. Both ones had very elaborate ideological underpinnings, which have been blown away. OK? Propaganda is about that: It’s about the ideology. It’s “propaganda fide”; it’s propagation of the faith, right? That was very easy for the communists; they had a faith.

Let me ask you with China, and then let’s take a stab about Russia: What is the relationship of propaganda with a regime like China’s, whose legitimating story is . . .

What is it? I’m not even sure I know what it is. That they’re more competent than anybody else? Or they are wiser than anybody else? It’s still the Communist Party, but they’re not Marxist-Leninists anymore, in the economic sense.

If you’re going to propagandize at home and then you’re going to propagandize abroad about—this is why we, Xi Jinping and the ruling class, this is why we should stay the ruling class; this is why you should buy into us; this is the propaganda I’m giving you—what is it based on?

ZHONG: That’s a perfect question because I think that’s where Russia—the modern-day Russia, at least—differs from the modern-day China, because in China the ruling party is still the Communist Party. So it has this necessity or the need to justify the legitimacy that Putin doesn’t, because he was not or he is not representing the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. So there’s this shift of how the Chinese Communist Party justifies itself before and after the reform.

Because before the reform, the Communist Party is representing everybody, right? Actually, let me rephrase: The Communist Party was representing the working class and the poor people. They were anti-capitalist, anti-landlords, the landed class.

But at the time, in the late ’70s, they needed to redefine the legitimacy. Especially when you needed to privatize the state-owned enterprises, which is the core—the state ownership is the core of communism or socialism in the Chinese model. Because they needed to privatize the economy, they needed to redefine the legitimacy. So this is where the Chinese President Jiang Zemin came in.

He was the one who took over after Tiananmen Square in the ’90s. The view he came up with was that the Communist Party basically represents everybody: It represents capitalists as well, entrepreneurs as well. That’s where the justification shifted from just representing the working class to representing the Chinese national identity.

This is also why, if you remember last year, when Xi Jinping had this big thing about redefining history or the “history resolution”: He was basically trying to redefine his narrative, going back from 100 years ago. He talked about the humiliation of being invaded by the Japanese, fighting against the Kuomintang, which is now ruling—it was ruling Taiwan until Taiwan became a democratic country.

That’s where he had to go back to, how far back he had to go, to say that now the legitimacy rests on our humiliation from 100 years ago. Not because we would lead us to the—the Communist Party would lead us to communism, the beautiful, imaginary world.

GURRI: That’s interesting. That’s not unlike the way Fidel Castro was. Of course, Fidel Castro considered the U.S. to be the evil empire and himself to be David that was standing up to Goliath. I think around the world—that played OK in Cuba.

The Cubans, surprisingly, were never terribly anti-American. What was considered the Spanish-American War here—it was the Cuban War of Independence, essentially—the Cubans and Americans fought on the same side. There was some anti-Americanism, but not enough to build—it was ritualistic more than anything else. But abroad, posing as David against Goliath was very useful to Castro.

Now, my sense of China is that there is deep nationalism. There are large numbers in China. In fact, that is something that the regime watches very carefully, because there are probably emotions there you don’t want to tap into too deeply, or people are going to jump out in the streets and start doing things that you don’t want them to. So posing as the national champion has its risks as well, I think. [crosstalk]

More Information, Less Manipulation?

ZHONG: The notion I was trying to think through was that, according to a hypothesis, when people have a lot more information, they will be less inclined to follow this kind of ideological manipulation. And that got me thinking: In the United States, the subject you write about most often was that when we have a lot more information, we don’t trust the elites anymore, whether it’s the WHO or Dr. Fauci and all the sort of elitist politicians or experts in a society. That’s a crisis, perhaps, for our democracy.

If you think about that in the context of China or Russia, if people do in the future get more and more information and they get less and less inclined to follow this kind of heroic leaders, whether they are actually capable, wouldn’t that be good for ending autocracy in those countries?

GURRI: It would be. I don’t think it quite works that way, though.

I think there are people who are very brilliant at exploiting any sense of information. Hitler was supposed to be exceedingly brilliant at exploiting radio. He had a powerful voice and an eloquent style, a very passionate style—but he looked kind of silly, right? Radio was a propaganda weapon for Hitler that he manipulated very, very powerfully. FDR did the same thing with his fireside chats. There have been others, like JFK—John Kennedy—who were basically brilliant television performers.

Then you have people like Trump, who knew how to use the troll principle of the internet to get himself gigantic amounts of attention—enough that he could get himself elected president.

So I don’t think necessarily the fact there’s a lot of information weakens everybody. It weakens the system; it weakens the structure, weakens hierarchy. It’s hard to say anything from a position of authority. It’s almost impossible now.

Yes, the Faucis of the world, who rely on institutional structures, are seen to be saying contradictory things. Honestly, in his case, he admitted that he had basically said a falsehood with regards to the masks initially, because he was trying to protect nurses and hospital workers.

Once you know that the person has, for the position and institution of authority, told you an untruth, let’s call it, you’re not going to trust that person ever again. It becomes much, much easier to catch them either in errors or in saying silly, contradictory things. The myth that’s standing at the top of the institution, [that] makes you an authority, is destroyed.

But there are individuals, on any kind of chaos, who can take advantage of this.

Legitimacy and Performance

ZHONG: I think that’s a great point. Just like it’s hard to see the future of democracy and open societies in the information age or digital age, as you put in the title of the Space, it’s even perhaps harder to see how the end of a regime, the end of an authoritarian regime, would mean for the future for that country.

GURRI: Yes. I think the choice right now is pretty stark. The Chinese have tried to come up with a middle way. And I’m watching them real closely, because I do believe that China—the Chinese—it’s not like that government is popular, I don’t think, my sense is. But it is legitimate, in the sense that most people go, “OK, I have made a lot of money in this system, and it’s thanks to the government providing all these opportunities. My grandfather lived in a hut and I live in a mansion, so I’m not going to rock the boat.”

Basically, in a digital world with this flood of information, a tsunami of information, there are tremendous, tremendous and sudden tides of opinion that can batter you if you fail at what the people expect from you. The second that that government gets into a deep recession, they’re watching that. There hasn’t been one forever in China. There will be sooner or later. At that point, the internet will be the weapon of people who are dissatisfied, and you’re going to get Hong Kong, only all over China, I suspect.

The rigid, top-down system in China, like the rigid, top-down system in Russia, works as long as there is real belief that it’s delivering something to the public, and the public feels like—they make a cost-benefit analysis that “I’d rather stay with this son of a bitch that I know than go with some kind of belief in democracy that may turn out who knows how.”

That’s the way I see it. I don’t think, necessarily, dictatorships are threatened. I think when they lose favor with the public, they can be overturned real quickly. That happened in Egypt, for example.

ZHONG: Right. I think that’s a great segue for us to talk a little bit more about how propaganda analysis, or using this kind of information out in the open, can understand dictators better.

One could even say that this kind of pressure from the public for performance is happening in China, too, because last year when the Chinese president announced the slogan of “common prosperity,” it got a lot of people scared. Some folks were saying that, “Does it mean that he’s going to go back to the Mao era of ‘common prosperity,’ meaning confiscating everything and reverting back to central planning?”

In fact, the downturn of the Chinese economy is enough pressure that’s putting on him that now he’s entertaining the idea of easing up the restrictions on the economy, a little bit at least. The performance, whether they could deliver prosperity, is key to the legitimacy.

Benefits of Propaganda Analysis

GURRI: Yes, that is interesting; I didn’t know that. Watch that space.

Propaganda analysis—let me put it out there for our cozy group—it’s not just about trying to figure out what Putin is doing or what Xi is doing. Propaganda analysis is something you should look on every piece of information with.

I assume, because I think it’s true, that every statement ever uttered or written by a human being is an attempt to persuade. At least it’s an attempt to persuade that you should pay attention to what the person’s saying, but usually it’s an attempt to persuade about some perspective.

Propaganda, say, or disinformation—say false information, fake news—my friend Andrey Mir says the most interesting kind of news is fake news, and the most interesting part of fake news is the fake part. Because if you’re just trying to convey something, well, that’s pretty straightforward. But [if] somebody is lying to you about something, all kinds of questions arise.

Why have they chosen this to lie? Why have they framed this lie in this particular way? Who do they think the audience is? What do they think the effect on that audience is going to be? Was that effect really what happened, or did something entirely unpredicted happen?

Propaganda analysis makes you question every bit of information from a perspective of, from the source to the audience and every point in between, in a way that I think, in our modern environment, in a contemporary environment where there’s so much noise—so much noise—because most of that tsunami of information that I write about is noise.

That sort of—Nassim Taleb said that, and 100% I agree. It’s either just nonsense or it’s disinformation or it’s fake news. But in there, in between all that, there is other material. Looking at that, looking at the fake news in itself, you have to ask yourself, “Why is this being done? What do they think happened?” It very rarely . . .

By the way, again, the evidence is pretty in: It’s very rare for a fake news campaign to have any effect whatever on an election, for example. But the 2016—there have been several, you might imagine, several very intensive studies. The effect was zero, as far as I can tell.

But why did they do it? Why would anybody try? What’s the dynamic? Because a lot of that information is actually shared very widely. It is very widely shared, but it’s widely shared—it’s “propaganda fide,” right? It’s the propagation of the faith. It’s widely shared among people who already share the faith of what the lie is about.

In other words, if you’re telling me that the pope, for example, endorsed Donald Trump—that was a story. If you’re a Catholic and you want to believe that Trump is a good person, then you take that. But if you’re a Catholic who hates Trump, you’re going to think it’s crazy, and you’re going to dismiss it. It’s not going to change your mind.

I think we need that mindset. In a democratic world, I think we need to teach our children that mindset. That should actually be taught as early as elementary school and for certain in middle and high school. How to read a piece of information in a way that is not—“Is this platonic truth or is this falsehood? Are you lying to me, and why are you lying to me?” Just stand back, be neutral and say, “Well, why is this happening?” Suddenly, you learn a lot.

Intelligence Analysis of Propaganda

ZHONG: Well, that’s I think what you meant by being a propaganda analyst per se, as a person. I think you grew up like that. It rings a lot of truth to me because this is exactly the methodology that guides my research for analyzing—the research of analyzing Chinese propaganda. But I sort of did not know that until . . .

I learned that while I was doing this project, the Policy Change Index that analyzes Chinese propaganda. I did not know until I got to America and started to read up this literature, when I had a relatively easier time accessing information, was that the starting point seems to be during World War II, when British and American intelligence analysts were monitoring Nazi radio—I know you mentioned Hitler. [chuckles]

The propagandists around him back then were actually doing a lot of radio, which one might say is fake news, because if there’s ever any, then that’s very much fake news. It’s not telling us truthful information, but it seems somehow that the analysts back then were able to infer from this public broadcasted radio the secret weapons that Germany was developing, including perhaps when it’s going to be deployed. That was really striking to me, and that’s precisely the . . .

I read the book by Alexander George, who was with the FBIS at the time. I think that became the predecessor of the department or the segment of CIA you were in, right? The Foreign Broadcast Information Service?

GURRI: When I joined, it actually was that. It changed its name later, to confuse the enemy, I guess. It was FBIS when I joined.

Yes, and actually that unit preceded CIA. It was incorporated into CIA, but it preceded CIA. It had a partnership with the Brits. The Brits were actually the ones who covered Hitler and later on covered a big chunk of the Soviet Union, because it was in Europe.

We covered pretty much the rest of the world, and there was a very intensive propaganda analysis wing to that, which I have to say was variably successful in applying that methodology to more open media. I think it didn’t translate as well as one might have hoped.

ZHONG: What I understood was that—perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about your job at the CIA, the sort of things that you’d have to kill me [for]. Probably you couldn’t, now that so many people are listening. [laughs]

GURRI: I hate to have to shoot you all through Twitter.

ZHONG: [laughs] What I found was fascinating was the methodology written in the book by Alexander George, that the propaganda messages sent out to the public are a function of a lot of things, right? The motives of the propagandist, what is the propagandist trying to achieve and the choice of strategy—all that went into eventually the messages the public sees as the outcome of the propaganda. If you think about the production, the end product is the messages.

There’s so much that goes in, and I’m always fascinated by what did you guys do at the CIA when you analyzed all these other countries, their diverse political institutions, and you see so many things flying around?

Parsing the Language of Media

GURRI: Right. To the degree that the propaganda was highly structured—and the joy of communist regimes in Russia and China both is that they were totally structured and had, for their statements, an elephant’s memory. They would say they—they literally would say certain words and certain phrases that were associated with certain actions in the past, and they were actually sending a message. They knew we were listening.

They would say certain words that we knew meant, “If you keep pushing us, we’re going to go to war over this” or “we’re going to invade this place” or “we’re going to do something rough.” We knew from the words they were using that—they’ve used those words two or three times in the past, and every time they did something military or something abrupt or something threatening.

On the other hand, it could be that every time they used certain words, it was a cover for them to retreat. So we knew that we could push because they were retreating.

Now, that worked in Russia really well. It worked in China really well. It did not work, for example, in Latin America, in Cuba, and Nicaragua with the Sandinistas. In Cuba because Castro was much more of a personalistic dictator on top of a Marxist-Leninist regime.

Basically, there was no structure. There was just what was going on inside Castro’s mind, and nobody, whether in CIA or even these newspapers—the Cuban newspapers would often publish certain opinions, and he would contradict them the next day, and they’d be running behind him because they didn’t know what he was thinking. I hate to say it, but CIA was pretty much the same way.

But you could always extract information. For example, in Nicaragua, there were seven comandantes. The leadership process, the decision-making process was pretty opaque for us. There was, by necessity, only one of the seven could be president: That was Daniel Ortega. To what extent was he really the boss and to what extent was not, you could see by what the other comandantes called him, how he was being perceived, right?

He could be called “our comrade” or “our brother, Daniel Ortega.” That meant “don’t get too big for your britches.” Or you could call him “Comandante Daniel Ortega,” which means “you’re just one of us.” Or you could call him “Mr. President,” which suddenly you were saying, “No, I’m on your side. You’re bigger than we are.” You could tell where they stood by looking at the little hints in their propaganda.

There’s just huge amounts of information you can squeeze out of—let me tell you, the Sandinista press, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy to read that stuff. It was boring, it was dry, it was pointless. But you could extract information from it like that. You could tell what the decision-making process—the dynamics of that process—by how they address their president, who happened to also be one of them.

ZHONG: Well, that also sounds familiar, too, even in the Stalin era. Wasn’t it one of the groundbreaking studies in propaganda analysis—in the literature of propaganda analysis—was to look at the personal traits, the features of the people surrounding Stalin, to see who are with him more closely and who are less? Perhaps that has to do with who will succeed him or who even has more say when he was still alive.

It’s the same exercise, right? The same exercise at a more personal level of what can broadly be called propaganda analysis.

GURRI: Yes. The more you know about the message senders and their relationship—part of the problem with Nicaragua was we really didn’t know that much about those guys. They came up from nowhere; they were a tight group; they didn’t spill a lot of beans.

But the more you can know—and in Russia you could know a lot because they had a much more public presence—the more you can then tie a message to, say, internal divisions or doubts. Just having certain messages appear that you might not expect is an interesting sign of possible divisions in a regime.

I sent you that little article by a Chinese—Shanghai—analyst who seemed to be very well connected with the government, called Hu Wei, that pretty much was saying, “We need to ditch Putin. He’s going to be an intolerable burden on China. There are bad choices involved here, but we need the least bad: We need to side with the anti-Putin coalition.” They waited for that article to get a million views before they actually blocked it.

I thought that’s an astonishing piece of information to come out of China, and that they blocked it was less interesting to me than that they waited so long for it, and that it appeared at all.

That tells me that there are people inside that government that think, “Is a crippled Putin,” which is a very distinct likelihood out of this war, “a very crippled Putin—is he going to deliver a Russia that is a valuable economic colony of China? Or is he going to be an intolerable burden on us, both geopolitically and economically?” I think there’s a whole lot of people who are thinking the latter, or at least some people.

ZHONG: Well, I think that’s a great example you brought up, because it only shows there are so many dimensions in propaganda analysis. But also—for our listeners who may not be very familiar with the incident, was that there’s a, one can say “dissident,” inside the Chinese government now who wrote a piece basically saying China should side with the West. And that piece was published about 10 days ago, but it was blocked by China only a few days ago—meaning that the website that published the piece was accessible to the Chinese population for an entire week before it was taken down.

There are different ways to interpret, right? I think that’s where it gets tricky. It could be that the censorship regime is not working very well. Maybe they didn’t notice, or they were inefficient in finding out and blocking certain things. But it could be intentional, like you said, which would be way more interesting. Because why not two weeks, right, before blocking? Or why not three days before blocking? That potentially could tell us a lot of information.

Espionage vs. Propaganda Analysis

ZHONG: I want to throw a question to you, Martin, because you mentioned those Latin American countries where the U.S. intelligence agencies may know less about, compared to, say, analyzing Putin or President Xi of China. Would you say that’s where, perhaps, espionage is more useful than propaganda analysis? I know both you and I are a big fan of propaganda analysis, but the intelligence agencies still cling to secrecy, and espionage is the way to deliver that.

If you look at, say, Putin now, the two ways would be to say, if you get somebody really close to Putin, you may be able to understand what he’s thinking. And the other way would be to say, just look at what he writes. July last year, he wrote a 5,000-word article basically saying that “I’m going to invade Ukraine.” He told us—he told everybody—that he’s going to invade Ukraine, so he did.

Which way is better? Perhaps sometimes we should say espionage or finding somebody closer to him is better, but sometimes watching his words is better.

GURRI: Well, I have been known to be a critic of our intelligence services in the sense that the business of intelligence is to predict the future for the president. And I think that’s an impossible task, and we keep trying and we keep failing. I think in this particular case, our intelligence on what’s going on with Russia was extremely good. I think we called it.

Now, I don’t know that it’s espionage; all you’ve got to do is—if you have a wire . . .

It seemed to me—I have no inside information, by the way, so I’m not giving away any secrets; I’m speculating like a rank amateur. But it seemed to me that they were listening to the Russians. They were listening to the Russians. They knew what they were saying; they knew what they were doing. They knew they were coming.

Kudos to them. I think—they surprised me how well they were on top of that. But you don’t need—espionage gets a lot of movies, and it’s very romantic, and it is ultimately necessary at a very bottom level. I think in the olden days more necessary than now, in the days when you can just put everything on a data stick and just steal every secret in your government—walk away and sell it or give it away or whatever. I’m not sure where that heads in terms of the future.

But in Ukraine, we got it right. I don’t think it was espionage. I think it was probably—whatever Putin was saying, we were hearing it.

ZHONG: One could—I don’t disagree with you; I totally agree—and especially, actually, the degree of openness on the U.S. government’s part in telling the public when and where or when Putin is going to invade. Just shy of sending a calendar invite: I used to joke about it. They did not send a calendar invite, but they got it pretty precisely.

So I totally agree with what you said, but one could also argue that the public, the open-source intelligence community, got it quite right too because they were able to use satellite images to monitor troop movements in Russia or near the border of Ukraine, and they could pretty much see that coming as well. Which brings me to this question, that—what do you see as the future of intelligence agencies? I know you’re critical of it.

Now, I’m not asking about the future of intelligence, which I think you would say, and I would argue, is in open source. But what’s the future for intelligence agencies as services that’s provided to the U.S. government or decision makers?

GURRI: Well, there’s a cult of classified information that’s pretty hard to break out of. When I joined the agency, classified information was considered traffic. You were supposed to read the traffic every morning, and it was important to be on top of your traffic. Open-source information was a background during it—filled in the gaps and so forth.

It was never really true. I think that if you looked at the data, open-source information was like two-thirds of the information we got, even in the Cold War. But it was at least an acceptable myth at the time.

I think, with a digital world, that has reversed. I think the meat and potatoes of intelligence agencies ought to be the open world. And then there’s got to be niche places where you just can’t get to without, again, putting down a wire or paying money to somebody to speak or whatever.

So I think that you always need to have an intelligence agency. I’m not so naive as to think that you don’t. I think CIA has a lot of very bright people in it, and I think it takes a while to recognize that the model you built on, which is the Cold War model, it’s not the one that’s going to be effective in the current world.

Hopefully, we’ll get there. They seem to have done well in this particular case of Ukraine.

Intelligence Activity in the Private Sector

ZHONG: Right, but there’s another—I understand and I agree with what you said. My question was, actually, there’s a difference between different sources of intelligence. Whether it’s generated with open-source information or whether it’s by espionage or tapping a cable.

What you were saying was that, in the future, more and more intelligence should be, as a normative statement, should be coming from open domain—the analysis of information in the open domain.

GURRI: No question. The answer is yes. Right.

ZHONG: But where my question has it was this: that if something can be generated from open domain, then it’s open to debate whether something should be produced by government versus produced by the public or the private sector, just like every other public good: building bridges or providing other government services. It could be through a procurement process that’s provided by the private sector.

Could that be also applicable to intelligence?

GURRI: If you’re talking about contracts, that’s already happening. Living in Washington is like, every other company you see with a name on a building looks like it’s a private company, but in fact it’s part of the intelligence community or the military or any other number of things. I think there are many aspects of what’s going on in terms of decoding the information of the world for the purposes of intelligence that probably the private sector can do better. But, like I said, you have to first of all get beyond the worship of the classified top secret.

Top-secret information is always more important than secret information. Secret information is always more important than just classified information, and classified information is always more important than open-source information. That is the mindset, and you have to get past that.

ZHONG: Right. That speaks to, like you said, these private sectors working in the production of intelligence. It’s already—

GURRI: Oh, yes.

ZHONG: My point is that—my question was, would that become the dominant form in future? What I’m hearing you say is that there’s a long way to go to get there.

GURRI: Yes. I think in some ways, reasonably so. The world is changing fast. The world is changing fast—any posture you assume—and I think back to when I was still in, and I was one of the ones who kept thinking, “Well, we need to align ourselves to what’s happening.” But if we had aligned ourselves to what was happening then, we already would have been out of fashion and misaligned with what’s happening now.

The world’s moving very fast. The world of information is exploding in the most bizarre and sometimes contradictory ways, and to be a government bureaucracy, very heavy-footed, very rigid, and try to keep up with that—it’s hard. I think we are not there. We are barely turning in the right direction, but we are turning in the right direction, and we do have successes.

The Allure of Classified Information

ZHONG: I gather that you are optimistic about eventually we are getting rid of the worship of secrecy. I’m hopeful for that, too.

GURRI: I am not optimistic. I am not at all optimistic. It’s just too cool.

It’s just too cool—and you know what happens is, every four or eight years you get a new president, and the president gets shown things. Now, if the president gets shown some article or some analysis of an article that was published, say, in St. Petersburg, he’s going, “I could read the translation. I could do Google Translate and read the damn thing myself.” But again, if he gets shown something that says “top-secret, important stuff,” he goes, “Oh man, this is like James Bond. This is cool stuff.”

The president is absolutely the only customer of the intelligence community. There’s a recurring way in which you can co-opt presidents into thinking classified is cool.

ZHONG: I guess what the open-source intelligence is up against is this predefined notion or predefined preferences for secrecy.

I think we talked about this before, but the reason I was hopeful was that I’m hoping more and more often in the future policymakers, when they receive intelligence briefings, they will say, “Yes, but you know I just saw this article put out by Bellingcat telling me this and that, and this seems to contradict what you’re saying, even though you have the label ‘top secret’ or ‘secret-level document.’”

[crosstalk]

GURRI: Oh, that has happened over the last maybe two, maybe three—maybe starting with Obama. That—I don’t know about poor Joe Biden. I don’t know what he reads or he doesn’t. But, for a fact, that’s been happening. Of course! And the younger the presidents get—as long as the boomers keep ahold of power, that won’t happen, but the second we get younger presidents, this is 100% what happens.

What it tends to do is not necessarily get the CIA involved in open-source information. What it tends to do is simply discredit the organization in the eyes of the president, its only customer, and that’s pretty much what has happened. I think until this recent turn for the better with Ukraine, the president just ignored CIA—a lot of what came out of CIA.

ZHONG: That’s actually very striking. Can you explain that more? It seems that that’s not good—you discredit the intelligence agencies without actually shifting toward open intelligence, open information.

GURRI: Well, you said it yourself: Every politician who gets to be president is an open-source analyst of some sort. He’s measuring himself in the media. My impression is that the presidents knew much more, much better—Obama and Trump knew much better what was going on in the media and how important it was than did CIA.

Yes, I guess—I mean, they always pay attention to some extent. There are some things that you could learn that only a secret organization can deliver. But in terms of what we’re talking about, I think actually our politicians, who are always measuring their impact on the information sphere, are smarter than our institutions.

ZHONG: Right. I asked you this because I was hopeful, because I thought there could be one channel through which, or one mechanism through which, the intelligence services could be more oriented toward open source. But what you’re saying is that it would not necessarily have the effect on CIA.

In fact, I think you mentioned that CIA, or the intelligence community in general, had multiple attempts of focusing more on open source, but every time it seems to be going back to the old normal, not the new normal.

GURRI: Yes. I was very lucky that I spent a sizable chunk of my career when open source was blooming and growing because CIA had failed in Iraq and had failed with 9/11. There were several commissions who said explicitly, “We need an open-source center to deal with the sort of information that would have prevented, or at least alerted us to the possibility of, these intelligence failures.” That was a good time for me: lots of money to spend and so forth.

Yes, I think as I was leaving, I could see that that door was shutting and that they were going back to the tried and true, the old-time religion—which is “top secret: good.”

It’s an existential identity crisis, OK? When that’s the way this organization has been for 50, 60 years, and now you’re saying, “No, you should just be out there in the world,” it’s very hard. It’s very hard. I don’t fault them too much; I just feel like they have a long ways to go.

ZHONG: I think that’s really fascinating to hear you say that, Martin.

I know we are around the clock here. Do you want to open up to see whether our listeners have questions?

GURRI: Oh yes, yes. If you can do it, go ahead.

ZHONG: Josiah, you are on.

GURRI: All right. You’re muted, Josiah.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello. Is this a Q&A portion? I was just trying to demonstrate how you could do it, but I could come up with questions too . . .

ZHONG: Go ahead, Josiah.

The Canadian Truckers’ Protest

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I was just curious to get your take: I know it seems maybe like a million years ago now, but the Canadian trucker situation and then, of course, the reaction to that, both in media and then through financial institutions freezing people’s bitcoin or whatever, checking accounts—I just wanted to get your general take on that.

Is this something new? Is it just part of the preexisting trends that you have talked a lot about?

GURRI: Well, I think we’re in a moment of reaction. I think Joe Biden represents that reaction. I think Justin Trudeau represents that reaction. By reaction, I mean the elites, after a period of confusion and defeat symbolized by things like Brexit and Donald Trump winning the presidency, are determined to get their 20th century back. They love the old hierarchies of the 20th century. Part of what they’re doing is they’re creating a control structure in which revolts from below are squashed.

That has two elements to it, at least, that I saw in the truckers’ protest. One is you could not find an honest report about what the truckers were thinking in the mainstream media of Canada. It was remarkable; it was remarkable. There was total and absolute silence. And of course this is the digital age. There were people who were with these people. The web was just teaming with video of these people being interviewed. They’re all waving Canadian flags, and they’re saying this, and they all sound like very mild-mannered Canadians. So in America, Canadians always seem mild-mannered.

So these truckers, the ferocious radicals they were somehow projected to be, sounded very mild-mannered. The demands were very specific—it had to do with COVID and mandates. They were not Nazis, they were not racist—at least I never saw any of that—but whenever they came up, which was rare in the media, it was completely a distorted view of them as being these monsters, right-wing Nazis, that somehow had taken over.

That was one way in which it was done. I think it was very effective. I think it worked for them, in a sense.

The other was a line that was crossed that, just honestly, I’m still trying to digest now: when they went and essentially took these people’s bank accounts. Now, that’s sort of what we’re doing with Russia. In essence, the truckers were treated by Trudeau as the equivalent of Putin’s Russia. These are Canadian citizens. You work that one out and explain it to me, because I can’t.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes. It certainly seems to be a big escalation, right?

GURRI: Yes.

I guess we have another requester—Weifeng?

ZHONG: Yes. Our colleague Karen has a question. Let’s hear from her. Karen, you’re on.

The Confucius Institutes

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you talk about the Confucius Institutes and their version of propaganda?

ZHONG: Yes, I think I can speak about it a little bit. It was started years ago in the early 2000s, early to mid-2000s. That’s where I think the Confucius Institute shows the difference between foreign propaganda efforts between China and Russia, because I think Russia, it seems to me—Martin can correct me if I’m wrong—they focus more on misinformation and disinformation than propaganda or information campaign, whereas for China, it focuses more on changing people’s minds overseas than sending out falsehood or trying to propagate falsehood.

The Confucius Institute was under the name of cultural exchange. They would basically set up a department at universities, not very formally part of the university, but there’s a center there. And then they would teach Chinese language, classes about Chinese culture, different elements—maybe the difference between green and red tea—all sort of things.

That’s how it started, but gradually, in more recent years, we have seen reportings that these institutes on campuses in America, they have been trying to put pressures on the host universities to, for example, stay down on certain issues related to, say, Tibet or Hong Kong or Taiwan. That’s where it hurts the democratic institutions more, because if you manipulate what our brightest generations in universities are hearing or discussing in their classrooms, you’ll be having a much longer-term impact.

I think that the Chinese government realizes the power—they have realized the power—and they are trying to exercise that influence. That’s the background. That’s why I think analyzing Chinese influence in this way, or at least in this respect, requires more attention. Because when we think about foreign inference operations, the public, they tend to think about the Russian type—not that they don’t exist for China, but this propagation of just falsehood is just one side of the equation. I think the other side was more, softer manipulation of minds.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you.

Ukraine’s Information Campaign

GURRI: Anyone else?

I’m sorry we didn’t talk about Ukraine enough. Let me just finish up by saying I think we have witnessed one of the most brilliant information campaigns that I am aware of coming out of Ukraine over the last three or four weeks. I think the lay of the land today would be very different without that information campaign.

The information campaign essentially is: We were making up our minds about who were these people. We never knew any of them. The past, if you look at the history of the Obama administration and also George W. Bush administration—when Putin attacked Georgia, Bush said it was unacceptable, then accepted it. When Putin took over Crimea, Obama said he was annoyed, but he [Putin] is still there. When Putin moved into the eastern Mediterranean, he said it was a quagmire, so “haha.”

We basically do a lot of sanctimonious condemnations and then do nothing. That could very well have been what happened in Ukraine this time, except the Ukrainians portrayed—and certainly with, of course, Zelenskyy, who’s the brilliant practitioner of the video selfie—portrayed themselves so attractively that the public, I think, just fell in love with them and drove the politicians to do the most extreme . . .

The public stampedes, like in COVID, and the politicians go extreme. The same thing happened with Ukraine, I think. They went to the most extreme measures possible, which I don’t know whether they’re the most effective ones, necessarily. But the Ukrainians essentially are beating tanks with smartphones, which is a weird proposition, but I think it’s actually happening.

ZHONG: Martin, I do have to pick on that, because it inspired me to ask this question. It seems like you’re suggesting a power of individuals, leaders, again. So if Russia invades the next country—of course, it depends on how it goes this time, but let’s say it happens again—the other country that Russia is invading, do we have to count on the leader also being charismatic and as skillful with social media?

GURRI: The odds are 0.1 that that would happen. I think Zelenskyy was a complete wild card, a complete black swan; I don’t know what words you can use to describe his . . .

This is not a particularly healthy country; it doesn’t have a particularly healthy democracy, doesn’t have a healthy economy. And the guy is a comic who got to be elected president because he played one on TV.

The odds of this guy being what he has turned out to be, which is such a moral force and such an informational force, were astronomically against. I don’t think you can expect that to happen. If the Russians decide to walk through Latvia, I don’t see that there’s some Zelenskyy standing in the way.

ZHONG: That’s precisely—I wouldn’t think so either. Which makes the point that perhaps there’s a lot of good things about the heroic elements about how the Ukrainians are fighting against the Russians. But the rest of the world—the free world—should not expect it to be the norm going forward.

GURRI: Yes.

We got two requests. Let’s do those, and then we can call it quits.

ZHONG: Yes, absolutely. Chris, you are on.

Documentaries and Newspapers

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just wanted to ask you—I recently saw, or was pointed at, a documentary by an outlet called Bonanza Media, which I guess is some people that used to be with RT, and it’s called “Burnt Alive in Odessa.” It is about anti-Maidan protestors in 2014, and it is pretty horrific. I was pointed at it by a guy who was telling me that the “Winter on Fire” documentary was Disneyland.

I was wondering if you had heard of it or if you had any idea about what it was.

GURRI: No, I have not.

I rarely watch documentaries to learn about a situation. One of the few things I actually have some skills in—everything else I’m pretty much faking—is visual analysis. I developed methodologies for that when I was with the government. Visuals are powerful; they get at your reptile brain, completely around your critical functions. You can see what is happening or whatever, but it’s hard. Your emotions are engaged regardless.

No, I have not seen that particular one, but I would take whatever you see in a documentary with a bit of caution.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I did and will. Thank you.

GURRI: One more?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello?

GURRI: Yes.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi, Martin, I’ve read your book; I enjoyed it very much. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

GURRI: Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I was wondering if, in your model of the changing information and news experience we’ve been undergoing for the past 20 years or so, how you view the relationship between newspapers all over the world turning to subscriptions and how that relates, if it does, to public service broadcasters. The reason I ask is because I’ve just noticed here in Ireland most of the best newspapers are subscription, and it’s actually difficult sometimes to access stories that might be important.

In the olden times, people would buy a paper; that paper might get shared around—that’s one aspect that isn’t quite there anymore. Also, in the olden days, the newspapers would rely on public service broadcasters more heavily to amplify, again, the story. That’s how it might actually reach the public domain.

I’m wondering, have you given any thought to how those changing relationships and structures might affect important information getting out there?

GURRI: You read Andrey Mir and his book “Postjournalism”—and I recommend that very much—he makes it pretty evident that newspapers are going to die. I mean, maybe not as fast as Andrey thinks, but they’re goners, OK? You may have a few lingering proud names, like The New York Times, Washington Post.

The Washington Post is actually the best model, because why? Well, they got Jeff Bezos. The Washington Post can go on as long as Bezos has billions, which is probably to eternity. But it’s not the old model of you are selling advertising by getting eyeballs, which means it’s important to reach a wide audience.

There are many different permutations of what’s happening now, but the newspapers, as a printed thing, is dead. And that means that it’s not—whatever they are, they may call themselves newspapers, but they’re not. The olden days are gone.

I think that probably the same thing—except for maybe the BBC and a couple of other very proud, old, established public broadcasters—I think they’re gone too. What’s the point of having the taxpayers pay for a broadcast here in this world that already has too much noise in it? I think that there’s a need for a model somewhere of the relationship between a democratic government and the masses of information, and that model has not been settled yet.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanks very much.

GURRI: Yes.

OK, I think we’ve reached the end of our line. Weifeng, do you want to finish? I’ll say goodbye to everybody here, but won’t you have the last word, Weifeng?

ZHONG: I just want to thank everybody for joining. Not much else in terms of last word, but I had a lot of fun. We should someday do it again, Martin.

GURRI: Oh yes, absolutely. This is cheap and easy.

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