Over at Salon, Michael Massing wrote a disturbing post about the use of language by American traditional media and government to distort, obfuscate and hide truth. And how Americans overwhelmingly embrace this and attack purveyors of accuracy and truth.
We are the Thought Police By Michael Massing
Orwell’s Big Brother never showed up. Instead of centralized Iraq war propaganda, we have an America in which the public and the press jointly impose their own controls.
Salon Editor’s note: This essay is excerpted from the anthology “What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics,” edited by András Szántó. A related conference on journalism and public discourse takes place at the New York Public Library on Nov. 7.
Join me below the fold for more.
In short, no war has been more fully chronicled or minutely analyzed than this one. And, as a result, the Bush administration has been unable to spin it as it would like. The spreading insurgency, the surging violence, the descent into chaos — all have been thoroughly documented by journalists and others, and public support for the war has steadily ebbed as a result.
Yet even amid this information glut, the public remains ill-informed about many key aspects of the war. This is due less to any restrictions imposed by the government, or to any official management of language or image, than to controls imposed by the public itself. Americans — reluctant to confront certain raw realities of the war — have placed strong filters and screens on the facts and images they receive. This is particularly true regarding the conduct of U.S. troops in the field. The U.S. military in Iraq is an occupation army, and like most such forces, it has engaged in many troubling acts. With American men and women putting their lives at risk in a very hostile environment, however, the American public has little appetite for news about such acts, and so it sets limits on what it is willing to hear about them. The Press — ever attuned to public sensitivities — will, on occasion, test those limits, but generally respects them. The result is an unstated, unconscious, but nonetheless potent co-conspiracy between the public and the press to muffle some important truths about the war. In a disturbing twist on the Orwellian nightmare, the American people have become their own thought police, purging the news of unwanted and unwelcome features with an efficiency that government censors and military flacks can only envy.
Sometimes the public defines its limits by expressing outrage. The running of a story that seems too unsettling, or the airing of an image that seems too graphic, can set off a storm of protest — from Fox News and the Weekly Standard, bloggers and radio talk-show hosts, military families and enraged citizens — all denouncing the messenger as unpatriotic, un-American, even treasonous. In this swirl of menace and hate, even the most determined journalist can feel cowed.
My comment at Salon follows:
Both parties are total hypocrites relative to combat operations and the Iraq occupation.
I believe our duty as citizens is to honor every military member killed, by greeting each returning coffin, by greeting every returning wounded service member, and by greeting every returning service member at his and her end of deployment.
I also believe that our duty entails assuring that there is a robust diplomatic and economic effort underway, 24/7, which does not allow for any elected federal official to take vacation days AT ALL. If the US is at war, then it needs its elected officials to remain at their stations without recess until they effect the end of the combat operations.
And Americans have a duty to look at the horrors that the war and occupation has wrought and is wreaking. That involves having daily newscasts showing scene footage of combat operations. Where is the “if it bleeds it leads” ethos? It hasn’t disappeared from local news coverage. Americans need to know how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, have been wounded and have been displaced. We need to know – every day – how many hours of electricity Iraqis have, what the occupancy rate of their hospitals is, what the percentage of professionals and technicians is who have fled the country or are refugees in country. And we need a daily count of how many Iraqis have been granted asylum in the US for their cooperation at their own risk. And we deserve daily coverage of American efforts to end the occupation – what is State doing? Defense? The Senate? The House? The White House?
Instead, we get Brian Williams devoting an entire week to prepping for a host gig on Saturday Night Live. And the real news won’t be reported at all until the end of the writers’ strike, as the Colbert Report and the Daily Show – the court jesters of the imperial Bush regime – are on hiatus.
Americans have to read the news from the Asia Times, the BBC, al Jazeera, etc. to glean any understanding at all of what its government and its military is doing in the name of we the people.
America the republic is but a memory. America, the oppressed, is the extant iteration.
The Constitution is but a ghost. Faded, transparent and chillingly absent from the world as we experience it.
Daily. Without end until they all come home – Americans and Iraqis.
And as a direct observation to my own homeless, jobless desperate situation as a result of whistle-blowing, I can attest that all people indeed, DO NOT WANT TO KNOW. And when they don’t avert their eyes fast enough from looking away from what I write or at my face when I speak, they attack me. What they try to do is to run away and abandon the source of their cognitive distress.
Yes, I am still on the streets, writing from the library when I have access to a computer, and losing the ability to think and write clearly from prolonged sleep deprivation and hunger. And no, not a single interview or job prospect in sight, and no place to call safe shelter, no place to receive mail, and no longer considered a human.
Reality aversion – the new American apple pie, baseball and hot dog.