“Control the narrative” is the common phrase. It’s confident. Dynamic. Aggressive. And not always realistic, because sometimes the narrative is a tiger by the tail, and the best you can do is to ride it until it calms down.
You could safely say that Julius Caesar controlled the narrative with his “letter from Gaul,” claiming unbearable insult to Rome by the Germans he was sent to subjugate. A contemporary historian described it “… as though General MacArthur had pressed on into China during the Korean War, ignoring orders from President Truman, and informing the American public by sending letters to The New York Times.” It worked quite well, since after taking control of the narrative he crossed the Rubicon and returned to Rome against orders, then proclaimed himself emperor.
Winston Churchill also did a good job with the narrative, thundering “… we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender …” along with “… blood, toil, tears and sweat.” However a month later the Luftwaffe was bombing the dickens out of England, so it might be more accurate to write that Churchill successfully defined the narrative with his words.
In a similar vein Jackie Kennedy defined the narrative days after the assassination of JFK with the words “Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot,” forever attaching that phrase from the musical to the fairy tale version of the Kennedy White House. History has been rewritten to say that she created the myth from whole cloth, but in fact that spin was well in progress, and her genius was to nail it in place, which might better be called defining than controlling it.
Since few of us happen to command an army like Caesar, or have his chutzpah, defining the narrative may be the achievable goal.
These two short reads are the nutshell of defining the narrative:
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