America's Bureaucracy of Truth

Americans who are exasperated by the low level of professionalism in the mainstream media would do well to take a glance at the mother of all media lunacies, the Soviet Union. For instance, readers of the 1 October 1979 edition of Pravda, a Soviet newspaper meaning "truth," were greeted on page one by a fervently argued two-column (out of eight) editorial calling for "higher standards in political and economic work" while excoriating slackers for their lack of discipline and interest in the great "cause of building communism." The main news item was a headline story entitled "Harvest Completed," which is not exactly hot-off-the-presses news but undoubtedly comforting nonetheless, and a lot less trouble for Pravda's editors to put into print. And if this isn't enough to excite your senses, how about that front page picture of a ball bearing plant in Moscow? Be still my heart.

 

This raises the question about the current relevance of a defunct newspaper from a defunct empire, about which Paul Lendvai's "The Bureaucracy of Truth" provides an excellent account. The answer is that what the Soviets and their Eastern European satellite brethren did during the Cold War days simply was not news reporting, because their media had no concept of the news, no sense of what constituted breaking events worth an impartial and judicious treatment in those collections of pages the rest of us call newspapers. This also meant, paradoxically, that those myriad manipulators of public symbols in the Soviet bloc could not be accused of bias, either. They had internalized regime rules about what to say and what not to say. Thus, if you're not doing the news, no one can accuse you of bias, because that charge presupposes an understanding of impartial criteria for journalism, without which the accusation of news bias simply has no meaning.

 

It is this concept that many conservatives need to grasp more fully in their frequent charges of bias leveled against elite media outlets such as the network "news" programs, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- as well as national newspaper corporations like The New York Times and the Washington Post. For instance, using content analyses of reports to demonstrate bias -- by showing disproportion use of code-words like "right-wing," and "far right," and the absence of corresponding words to describe the political left -- really misses the point. Similarly, disproportionate treatment of some matters, such as charges of sexual impropriety against Herman Cain, for instance, or lack of complete coverage in others, such as episodes of criminality or anti-Semitism in the Occupy Wall Street movement, cannot be taken seriously as evidence of cover-up or partiality. Rather, like their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War, many American media outlets that cover such matters simply lack a concept of news. No news, no bias.

 

Perhaps the best example of this point centers on media reports of the Solyndra bankruptcy in August 2011, which attentive consumers of news know involved over half-a-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees to a company favored by the Obama Administration. This came in spite of credible projections that the company would go bankrupt at almost exactly the time it actually did. Further, private investors who were contributors to the Obama campaign will apparently take precedence over taxpayers in getting reimbursed first -- an arrangement that reeks of political payback. All of this amounts to a pretty big news story, right?

 

Not as far as the talking heads are concerned. The Media Research Center's November 2011 Report ("The Watchdog") highlighted this story and others under the headline, "Solyndra, Like ACORN, Van Jones, and Other Obama Scandals, Another Cover-up by the Liberal Media." Now the MRC has done yeoman's work exposing accounts like this, especially with the Solyndra Scandal, about which The Watchdog states: "For the three months following the Enron implosion in 2002, those same news networks had run 198 stories -- a 24-to-1 disparity!" Further, "a Pew survey in September showed that only 43 percent of respondents had even heard of the scandal."

 

But does this constitute bias? Is this a cover-up? Actually, the answer is: No, it is not, because our media operate under firm rules about what to say and not to say, and the rule in this case amounts to blindness to events that are embarrassing to the regime. Again, as in Soviet Russia, this rule is internalized and is followed without thinking about it. In the Soviet Union the result was an entire country that lived in a fictitious realm that had no news, while in the United States this zone comprises a bit less than half of the population, at least in this case. For America's Soviet-like media, if you don't talk about an event, it didn't happen, or if it did, didn't really matter much.

 

Welcome to America's fantasy land of self-important writers and talkers who are committed to rules of prattle that are often bereft of real news. In the Soviet Union, as noted in agonized words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russians had to live in a land of lies. In America, the result is not quite as extreme, but on some occasions comes close. Indeed, it seems that many citizens, even in a free country, cannot avoid living under the non-news regime of America's Bureaucracy of Truth.

 

 

- Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and fellow for American studies with

The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled "The Thirteenth Commandment."

 

Americans who are exasperated by the low level of professionalism in the mainstream media would do well to take a glance at the mother of all media lunacies, the Soviet Union. For instance, readers of the 1 October 1979 edition of Pravda, a Soviet newspaper meaning "truth," were greeted on page one by a fervently argued two-column (out of eight) editorial calling for "higher standards in political and economic work" while excoriating slackers for their lack of discipline and interest in the great "cause of building communism." The main news item was a headline story entitled "Harvest Completed," which is not exactly hot-off-the-presses news but undoubtedly comforting nonetheless, and a lot less trouble for Pravda's editors to put into print. And if this isn't enough to excite your senses, how about that front page picture of a ball bearing plant in Moscow? Be still my heart.

 

This raises the question about the current relevance of a defunct newspaper from a defunct empire, about which Paul Lendvai's "The Bureaucracy of Truth" provides an excellent account. The answer is that what the Soviets and their Eastern European satellite brethren did during the Cold War days simply was not news reporting, because their media had no concept of the news, no sense of what constituted breaking events worth an impartial and judicious treatment in those collections of pages the rest of us call newspapers. This also meant, paradoxically, that those myriad manipulators of public symbols in the Soviet bloc could not be accused of bias, either. They had internalized regime rules about what to say and what not to say. Thus, if you're not doing the news, no one can accuse you of bias, because that charge presupposes an understanding of impartial criteria for journalism, without which the accusation of news bias simply has no meaning.

 

It is this concept that many conservatives need to grasp more fully in their frequent charges of bias leveled against elite media outlets such as the network "news" programs, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- as well as national newspaper corporations like The New York Times and the Washington Post. For instance, using content analyses of reports to demonstrate bias -- by showing disproportion use of code-words like "right-wing," and "far right," and the absence of corresponding words to describe the political left -- really misses the point. Similarly, disproportionate treatment of some matters, such as charges of sexual impropriety against Herman Cain, for instance, or lack of complete coverage in others, such as episodes of criminality or anti-Semitism in the Occupy Wall Street movement, cannot be taken seriously as evidence of cover-up or partiality. Rather, like their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War, many American media outlets that cover such matters simply lack a concept of news. No news, no bias.

 

Perhaps the best example of this point centers on media reports of the Solyndra bankruptcy in August 2011, which attentive consumers of news know involved over half-a-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees to a company favored by the Obama Administration. This came in spite of credible projections that the company would go bankrupt at almost exactly the time it actually did. Further, private investors who were contributors to the Obama campaign will apparently take precedence over taxpayers in getting reimbursed first -- an arrangement that reeks of political payback. All of this amounts to a pretty big news story, right?

 

Not as far as the talking heads are concerned. The Media Research Center's November 2011 Report ("The Watchdog") highlighted this story and others under the headline, "Solyndra, Like ACORN, Van Jones, and Other Obama Scandals, Another Cover-up by the Liberal Media." Now the MRC has done yeoman's work exposing accounts like this, especially with the Solyndra Scandal, about which The Watchdog states: "For the three months following the Enron implosion in 2002, those same news networks had run 198 stories -- a 24-to-1 disparity!" Further, "a Pew survey in September showed that only 43 percent of respondents had even heard of the scandal."

 

But does this constitute bias? Is this a cover-up? Actually, the answer is: No, it is not, because our media operate under firm rules about what to say and not to say, and the rule in this case amounts to blindness to events that are embarrassing to the regime. Again, as in Soviet Russia, this rule is internalized and is followed without thinking about it. In the Soviet Union the result was an entire country that lived in a fictitious realm that had no news, while in the United States this zone comprises a bit less than half of the population, at least in this case. For America's Soviet-like media, if you don't talk about an event, it didn't happen, or if it did, didn't really matter much.

 

Welcome to America's fantasy land of self-important writers and talkers who are committed to rules of prattle that are often bereft of real news. In the Soviet Union, as noted in agonized words by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russians had to live in a land of lies. In America, the result is not quite as extreme, but on some occasions comes close. Indeed, it seems that many citizens, even in a free country, cannot avoid living under the non-news regime of America's Bureaucracy of Truth.

 

 

- Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and fellow for American studies with

The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled "The Thirteenth Commandment."

 

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