Just recently I found my copy of 1984 by George Orwell, and decided to reread it for fun. Orwell’s bleak vision takes a number of sly pokes at the use of propaganda in a totalitarian state, including the names of ministries which represent the polar opposite of their true functions. The Ministry of Peace is the war department. The Ministry of Love wakes you in the night and drags you away for interrogation and death. The Ministry of Plenty manages the rationing of goods. The Ministry of Truth is charged with altering books and newspapers to make them agree with the current facts.

At the end of Hate Week, an Inner Party member is denouncing Eurasia and the horrible crimes it has committed during its protracted war with Oceania. Right in the middle of his harangue, he is handed a slip of paper, and his words immediately change to show that Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia: “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” For the next week, protagonist Winston Smith works overtime with his co-workers in the Ministry of Truth to rewrite all newspapers, magazines, and books to show that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. This rewriting of history is eerily successful with the people. Winston encounters 26-year-old Julia who does not remember that only four years earlier, Oceania switched from fighting Eastasia to Eurasia. He realizes that they have been successful in rewriting history and changing the way people think.

You might think that this doesn’t happen today, but the recently elected Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been a long-time Holocaust denier. He and others like him have so often made the claim that six million Jews didn’t really die in Hitler’s concentration camps, that many Palestinians now believe it to be the unvarnished truth.

Then, of course, there’s the Western media. Before the rise of Winston Smith-style journalism, where reporters rewrite history and work at molding and shaping the people’s attitudes, the media were once in the business of reporting the facts. Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine and its editor until his death, was a stickler for the facts. To this day, the magazine employs a group of fact checkers on the staff. James Thurber famously stated, “The New Yorker has a demon checking department and wouldn’t think of writing about the Empire State Building without phoning to see if it is still there.” You could look at Ross’ attitude as a forerunner of Joe Friday’s catch-phrase: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

But things are different now. On multiple occasions, I have heard college students state that they picked journalism as their major because they longed to “make a difference” or to “change the world.” I find this attitude both strange and telling, since it has radically departed from the mindset of just the facts and entered the realm of advocacy journalism.

Armstrong Williams’ career now lies in tatters because he received money from the government to promote the Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind Act” without mentioning it to his readers. Had he disclosed that information, he would still be a syndicated writer. His fall from grace came not from taking the money, but from his failure to announce the conflict of interest that arose from his taking the money. Now whenever someone writes an article or opinion piece, an idea will lurk in the reader’s mind: “I wonder if the author was paid to give this viewpoint.” This has made it necessary for me to state that I have never received any money for writing on this site.

I do not hide the fact that I write from a conservative viewpoint, and that these articles are my opinions. I do not try to offer a balanced or unbiased discussion, nor do I even attempt to play an impartial role. I am not a reporter, whose job is to give the facts without bias. Sadly, too many journalists have left the role of fact checker and entered into the realm of commentator without ever disclosing their own conflicts of interest.

When I started writing this article, CBS was still investigating the Memogate or Rathergate scandal. As of this posting, several days have passed since the final report was released, but the stink of the whole “fake but accurate” scandal just isn’t going away. The Thornburgh report’s bottom line is that there was no political bias in the use of fake documents to create a scandal story less than two months from a presidential election in an attempt to tar a sitting President. That’s what they claim, and that must be the truth. Editorial cartoonists Cox and Forkum do a grand job of summing up the report as a Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil parody.

So Dan Rather strikes out at calling President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service into question, and the memos he uses are almost instantly scrutinized and shown to be fakes — and not very believable fakes at that. Rather and CBS spent almost two weeks completely stonewalling and sticking to their story. Rather went so far as to say that the memos were vetted and deemed to be authentic, that the people attacking the story were mere political hacks, and that he had solid sources. His “solid sources” have since been revealed to be Bill Burkett, a man with a long-time Bush family hatred, who continues to change the story of how he obtained the memos. Writers on both the right and the left have revealed the memos as fakes; CBS’s own experts said that the memos were generated on a modern computer, not on a typewriter. The investigation gets away with discounting its own expert in a >weaselly footnote. And despite the years of anti-Bush feelings on the part of Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and Bill Burkett, the investigation finds that there was “no political bias.”

Oh, and by the way, Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Film at 11.

 

Addendum (1/15/2005): Got permission to use the Cox & Forkum editorial cartoon and not just link to it.

Addendum (1/17/2005): Dadgum! The Big Trunk over at Power Line shows the many parallels between Dan Rather and Rathergate and President Nixon and Watergate (the mother of all gates).

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