30 January 2020

The Slow Pravdaization of Our Press

(We are offline due to a much-needed research period at the moment, so we've decided to re-publish some earlier pieces you might have missed the first time.)

From the O.C. Register:
In legal news, CNN recently settled what is being described as a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit filed by Covington Catholic High school student Nick Sandmann over its false and misleading coverage of a viral confrontation with a Native American elder that left viewers with the impression that the teenager and his pals were being racist provocateurs.

Turns out that Sandmann’s group had been taunted with racially charged, profane rants by the Black Hebrew Israelites. 
...Thanks to Google and shoddy memories, Sandmann will forever be known as the racist kid who harassed a Native American elder, even though there’s absolutely no truth to it whatsoever.

What could push 'the most trusted name in news' to commit such eye-wateringly expensive folly, all in the name of a narrative?

It's a question worth asking. We invite you to have a look at this piece from a few years back, in the hope that you will find it enlightening.

[Re-post, original post here.]

Two weeks before Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest decided to shut down commenting at his blog, on a post about an Arab riot in France the following exchange took place:

'PC is intellectual Stalinism. It is also a betrayal of Liberalism in all its historical incarnations...'

'Intellectual Leninism might be a better way to characterize PC than intellectual Stalinism....Stalin just follwed suit.'

     '… like reading TASS and PRAVDA, one learns to interpret what is unsaid by what IS said.'

To right-thinking Americans, these comparisons might sound laughable.  We're a liberal democracy, after all, with the strongest free speech protections in the world.  What could we have in common with an iron-fisted one-party totalitarian state whose dissenters were sent to die in massive slave camps?

A better question might be, how is it possible that a liberal democracy in the 21st century is home to phenomena that so readily call to mind those of an iron-fisted one-party totalitarian state?

'Absurd,' you may say. We'd be tempted to say it ourselves. To all such people, we here at Those Who Can See can only ask: Won't you take our hand, Comrade, and come with us to the back of the four-hour toilet-paper queue as we seek out just where the parallels may lie?

V.I. Lenin famously said, 'The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses.'

Alden Benton, U.S. senator who visited the USSR in 1955:

Objectivity as we in the West idealize it--the reporting of relevant facts and of both sides of every controversy--is alien to the Soviet publishing system, which is based on the doctrine that "impartiality results in the distortion of historical truth." (1)

Or, as sociologist Alex Inkeles put it in 1950,

The press in the Soviet Union is viewed as a major social force that must be harnessed and adapted to facilitate attainment of the society's defined goals. And since it is the Communist Party that determines the goals of Soviet society, it is the party that controls the press. (2)

I. Reality, through the lens of ideology

Eager to share the Soviet 'news' style with his western audience, Inkeles chose the January 7, 1948 issue of Pravda as a random example of the genre:

[...] there were eleven items on the first page, all of them reporting varying degrees of success in fulfilling the then current quarterly plan in production, and promising greater efforts in the future.
Another column of space, under the title, "To Equal the Leaders in Repair Work," was devoted to a story from Pravda's correspondent in the Novosibirsk Region, in which he described the work of an outstanding Machine-Tractor Station in repairing agricultural machinery and urged other Tractor Stations to do likewise. (2)

Nothing could be better than repairing farm machinery for a pittance, then retiring to your concrete barracks in the evening after having stood on line two hours for a loaf of bread. May everyone know such happiness!


The Economist is a preeminent western newsmagazine for the prosperous and forward-thinking, a real 'opinion leader.' Among other things, it has for years told us that according to its complex calculations based on Japan's desire to save rather than spend, refusal to borrow massively from foreigners, shunning of immigration, and failure to push mothers into the workforce, this East Asian country has become a a desolate hellscape.

Oddly enough, despite this 'tragedy' (to use The Economist's term) in which they live, the Japanese are some of the most emigration-averse people on the planet. Their businessmen routinely turn down assignments to foreign countries; ex-patriating holds no attraction. They cannot be found in the immigration queues snaking around European, Australian, or American embassies. Whether one looks at the Human Development Index, the Freedom House Index, the World Democracy Index, the Corruption Perceptions Index, or GNP per capita, one is struck by how well these 'stagnant, suffering' people seem to actually live.

Back to January 7, 1948:

On the second page, three of the six columns were occupied by an article on "Monetary Reform and the Advantages of the Soviet Monetary System," in which the main burden of the argument was that capitalist countries were going ever further along the road of inflation, crises, and hardships for the masses, while the Soviet ruble had been adjusted to insure ever higher real wages for the population. (2)

Painting a distorted view of reality in order to further an ideological agenda?


The New York Times, April 2012:

While researching a book on the politics of diversity..., I encountered not only the exclusionary attitude prevailing in metropolitan Paris, but also the more tolerant worldview epitomized by the port city of Marseille — a worldview that the rest of France would be well served to embrace.

[...] Hence the contrast one experiences in Marseille, France’s second largest city. Its 840,000 inhabitants include an estimated 240,000 Muslims (more than any other European city). Yet it is famously welcoming. ...a tranquil atmosphere... Can and should the Marseillais spirit of civilized tolerance spread northward?

Unlike our Soviet brethren of yore, we do at least have the possibility of finding out the truth behind such soothing prose:

Marseille, a 2,600-year-old Mediterranean port and France's second city, has long been plagued by a reputation for gang crime, drugs and lawlessness....In December, a 37-year-old policeman died after being shot by burglars with Kalashnikovs, a teenage dealer died in a hail of bullets and the bullet-ridden corpses of three men were found in a torched car on Christmas Day.

Police say there were 20 drug-related murders last year. Armed robberies were up 28 per cent, violent robberies up eight per cent and burglaries up six per cent.

... Marseille, a city of around 860,000 people, is among the poorest urban areas in France. Official unemployment is around 13 per cent, the highest among France's urban areas, but Madrolle said nearly 40 per cent of people are actually jobless.  Marseille also holds the records for the country's lowest higher-education levels and the highest number of single-parent families on state benefits.

Not only Marseille but London, our journalistic class tells us, is a multicultural Utopia...

London was invented by foreigners. The Romans established a colony in 43AD on an easily bridged bend in the Thames. Boudicca, leader of the Iceni tribe and an early opponent of immigration, burnt it to the ground 17 years later. But it grew back; and thereafter it became a magnet for foreigners.

...English is not the first language of 22% of Londoners and 42% of London children. ...[Immigration] has transformed London's food: a city once famous for its inedible cuisine now has better restaurants than Paris or Rome. ...The LSE study concluded that immigration had probably increased productivity...  Foreigners may well have helped to mitigate the impact of the recession on London....

...Were we to turn over the same stones as in Multicultural Marseille, we would be here all week. Let us simply point you to the places from which we would draw our data:

Paul Weston: One Week in the Death of Britain

The U.K. Enrichment News: Keeping you informed on the benefits of multiculturalism

Larry Auster: Britain is Dead, a collection

II. To work, Comrades: A Glorious Future Awaits

Aside from calls to be better socialists, the Soviet press was often used to announce Great New Plans. Left unmentioned was how many citizens had to suffer or die for such projects to take form, or even if they were feasible at all.

Arthur Goodfriend delved too into a random edition of Pravda, October 9, 1949:

Page two begins with a two column article (left) captioned "A Collective Farm Village Being Built to an Architect's Plan." Development of this village, the Molotov Collective Farm in the Altai Territory, is reviewed since the introduction of collectivization. (3)
 And in 1948, we saw
...eleven items on the first page, all of them reporting varying degrees of success in fulfilling the then current quarterly plan in production, and promising greater efforts in the future.

The Western press is no stranger to such Big Announcements, which have become increasingly grandiose these last thirty years:

"Apart from an African Einstein, we want to find the African Bill Gates and the Sergey Brins and Larry Pages of the future," said [cosmologist Neil] Turok.

Reality, comrades:


On planet Earth:

III. The truth cloaked in secrecy

W.H. Chamberlin:

The Soviet brand of censorship, like all others, not infrequently makes itself ridiculous, as when it solemnly lays an interdict on the mention of some incident of diplomatic negotiations which is already well known abroad,... or refuses to permit the news of the departure of Foreign Commissar Litvinov for America (Litvinov's departure was veiled in the most ludicrous atmosphere of college-fraternity mystery) to be sent from Moscow, or forbids the sending of the news of a fire in the tall Gay-PayOo building, which is directly across the street from the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. (4)

The insatiable need to withhold information in order to toe an ideological line?

Portland police shorten hours at Laurelhurst Park after reports of group of teen boys attacking others

Portland's bureaus of Police and Parks will join forces this weekend to increase security in Laurelhurst Park after reports of two large-scale fights there Wednesday and Thursday nights.

According to those who reported the incidents to police, both assaults involved a large group of teenage boys who attacked either an individual or a small group.

[...] Officers found the [injured] boy, who said he'd been with a friend when he was attacked by five to 10 other boys who seemed to be randomly attacking others, including at least one transient.

One thing in blue is not like the other thing in blue...and nowhere in this article, in 94% non-black Portland, is anyone's race mentioned.

Many blacks beat white couple, media bury attack

There’s outrage in Norfolk, Va., today after a white couple was attacked by dozens of black teenagers, and the local newspaper did not report on the incident for two weeks, despite the victims being reporters for the paper.

“Wave after wave of young men surged forward to take turns punching and kicking their victim." ...  A crowd of at least 100 black young people was on the sidewalk at the time

“The victim’s friend, a young woman, tried to pull him back into his car. Attackers came after her, pulling her hair, punching her head and causing a bloody scratch to the surface of her eye. She called 911. A recording told her all lines were busy. ... Washington says neither suffered grave injuries, but both were out of work for a week.

Chicago's Unreported Race War

The latest epidemic of violence was centered around the Blues Festival on June 9. Shortly after a concert ended at 9:30 p.m., a mob attacked an out-of-town visitor and left him with a broken jaw. Six juveniles and one adult – all black – have been charged in connection with the assault.

Thirty minutes later, another mob in a nearby subway attacked a man trying to protect his wife from theft and assault. The Chicago Tribune said he suffered a “concussion, a fractured orbital bone under his left eye, two cracked teeth and a cut over his left eye that required six stitches.”

The next night, a doctor at Chicago’s Northwestern hospital was beaten by a mob, the second attack on a doctor in that area in 10 days, says the CBS affiliate in Chicago. All the suspects are black.

When Chicagoans complained that the Chicago Tribune was withholding racial information, editor Stephen Chapman replied:

“There are good reasons not to identify the attackers by race. It’s the newspaper’s sound general policy not to mention race in a story, whether about crime or anything else, unless it has some clear relevance to the topic. My question to readers accusing us of political correctness is: Why do you care so much about the attackers’ race? If you fear or dislike blacks, I suppose it would confirm your prejudice. But otherwise, it tells you nothing useful.”

Why no, Comrade, the Turksib express train has had no problems whatsoever, Foreign Commissar Litvinov is not travelling at this time, and the Gay-Payoo building has absolutely not caught fire.  Unequivocally not.  And in any case why should it matter to you if it has?

*       *       *

However infuriating she may be, one cannot equate The Gray Lady with Pravda.  The journalistic class may have an agenda, a dogma, an insatiable urge to propagandize; but it does not do so under the thumb of a ruler.  To the extent that such proselytizing sells papers, there is a populace hungry to read it and be comforted by its cooing.  The Soviet man read Pravda or Izvestiya because there were no other choices. Deluded as it may be, our press does remain free.

But complacent Westerners' biggest mistake has been in imagining that a one-party totalitarian state is a necessary condition for 'thoughtcrime' to come about.  It is not. It can't happen to us.  We're immune to such folly.  As it turns out, a free people in a free country are perfectly capable of erecting a thoughtcrime regime, from the bottom up, through the organs of a free press and a free academia.

And it's not just the U.S. An orwellian sickness seems to have descended on Northwest Euros wherever they can be found, from Scandinavia to Oceania to the New World. 

Even more oddly, the kernel of our sickness--absolutist egalitarianism--is one we share with the long-lost Soviets we so love to look down on.  How is this so?  Weren't liberty-loving Westerners supposed to be immune to such a malady? Where have we gone wrong?


(1) Benton, William, The Benton Reports of 1956-1958 on the Nature of the Soviet Threat. NY: Associated College Presses, 1958.
(2) Inkeles, Alex, Public Opinion in Soviet Russia:A Study in Mass Persuasion. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950.
(3) Goodfriend, Arthur, If You Were Born in Russia. NY: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1950.
(4) Chamberlin, William Henry, Russia's Iron Age. Boston: Little, Brown, 1934.


luke2236 said...

"Deluded as it may be, our press does remain free."
Surely you jest ; the US or European press is no more 'free' than the soviet one. The MSM is totally controlled and operates on diktat. To claim otherwise is absurd.

Anonymous said...

The fact of the matter is that our press has decidedly free elements, but is tempered by corporations who seek to craft a liberal or conservative narrative. So, no, it is not "totally controlled and operates on diktat". It is noticeably easy to make that assumption and then base everything thereafter on it, as no critical thought is required.