President Ronald Reagan watches some non-CIA programming, 1984.
When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, he became the first president to receive Central Intelligence Agency briefings in video format. The CIA produced more than 40 short informational videos for Reagan, ranging from evening-newsy looks at topics like the Chernobyl nuclear accident (below) to profiles of foreign leaders.
Bob Woodward and others have maintained that Reagan preferred these videos since he was not keen on heavy reading. Not so, says CIA historian Nick Dujmovic. "This myth is supported by Reagan's purported preference as a former career actor in films and television and by the old perspective of Reagan's simple-mindedness," he asserts in an agency report on the Great Communicator's consumption of top-secret intelligence. While Reagan found the videos helpful and asked for more, the original idea for the televised briefings was the CIA's. The president still received regular written and in-person briefings, Dujmovic writes.
The CIA declassified and released several of the videos in 2013, including this look at how the Soviet media portrayed the United States. It's worth a watch as an '80s-tastic Cold War relic, featuring cameos by Michael Jackson and Rambo. There are also references to the Russian translation of oral historian Studs Terkel's Working and the state-run newspaper Pravda's interest in Native American activist/prisoner Leonard Peltier. The agency refrained from criticizing the Russian media for translating the title of Jackson's Thriller as Film of Horrors.
"The Soviet media," the CIA narrator explains, "portrays the US political system as an oligarchy ruled by big capitalists who control the impoverished masses. Moscow radio said recently that the American public has been lulled by the demagoguery of politicos whose services have been bought by capital."
You can read the full transcript after the video.
Transcript of "The Soviet Media's Portrait of America"
Russian man (overdubbed in English): The people don't have power in your country. What you have this crime, sadism, unemployment, drug addiction. I don't think your young people do anything but harm to their country.
[Clip: "Beat It" by Michael Jackson]
Russian announcer (translated from Russian): "Beat It," the unprecedented hit by Michael Jackson from the album Film of Horrors, which became the most popular in the history of music.
Spend enough time browsing government websites and you're sure to come across a GIF*. Not the bite-sized pop-culture kind, but low-res relics of the days when a GIF was a way to spice up a Web 1.0 site without slowing down Netscape users' dial-up connections. Here are a dozen taxpayer-funded GIFs you may not be able to stop looking at:
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the biggest challenge to the Affordable Care Act since the court first considered the law's fate in 2012. If the justices side with the Obamacare-hating activists and unlikely plaintiffs behind the latest case, they could nix subsidies for people buying health coverage on federal insurance exchanges. Here's a quick look at the potential impact of that decision:
North Korea recently released a list of 310 slogans, trying to rouse patriotic fervor for everything from obeying bureaucracy ("Carry out the tasks given by the Party within the time it has set") to mushroom cultivation ("Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms") and aggressive athleticism ("Play sports games in an offensive way, the way the anti-Japanese guerrillas did!"). The slogans also urge North Koreans to embrace science and technology and adopt a spirit of can-do optimism—messages that might not be too out of place in a TED talk.
Can you tell which of the following exhortations are propaganda from Pyongyang and which are sound bites from TED speakers? (Exclamation points have been added to all TED quotes to match North Korean house style.)
President Thomas Jefferson (left) and Clay Jenkison
"Good day to you, citizen." That's how America's third president opens The Thomas Jefferson Hour, a weekly radio program and podcast in which the 271-year-old founder discusses politics and wine, expounds on the virtues of farming and footbaths, rails against Alexander Hamilton, and answers listeners' questions.
This reanimation of Jefferson is the work of Clay Jenkinson, a 60-year-old humanities scholar who has been portraying our most idiosyncratic president in person and on air since 1984. He's recorded more than 1,000 episodes of the Jefferson Hour (many produced inside a converted farmhouse outside Bismarck, North Dakota). His other historical impersonations include Meriwether Lewis, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Theodore Roosevelt, but he keeps coming back to TJ because "if ever there were an interesting man, it's Thomas Jefferson."
I spoke with Jefferson—and Jenkinson—about getting into character, the Sally Hemings controversy, and why the Jeffersonian vision still matters.
Mother Jones: When you look at modern America, what do you recognize and admire most?
Thomas Jefferson: I see you're still a constitutional republic with a doctrine of separation of powers, and that there's still federalism. The states are laboratories of democracy, and the American people are the most prosperous and in many respects the freest people on Earth. In all of those respects, you continue to be the nation we intended.
MJ: And what shocks you?
TJ: Your communication systems, your computers, your internet, your devices are astounding. There are also things that would terrify us: Your national debt, your capacity for violence, including war but also domestic violence. The materialism of the American people, the fact that you seem to entertain yourself in ways that are both vulgar and really disturbing to the very idea of civilization.