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American Pravda: Reality Television

The early reaction to my “American Pravda” [1] article has been quite encouraging, with the piece attracting more traffic during its first week than nearly any of my others and with several websites discussing, excerpting [2], or even republishing [3] it. Furthermore, the average time spent on the page by readers steadily rose to nearly a full hour as the days went by, seeming to indicate that visitors were carefully absorbing and digesting my material rather than merely flitting away after a casual glance or two. Tens of thousands of individuals have now apparently read part or all of my arguments, though whether they will have any lasting impact is difficult to say.

After all, we live in the Age of Television, when the images we see on the small screen—or its cinematic big brother—define our known world with far greater force than does the printed word or sometimes even the direct evidence of our own senses. Television may not be reality, but for all too many Americans, Reality is often Television [4].

Consider one of the most copiously sourced of the unreported scandals that I described, namely the long Vietnam POW cover-up [5] so exhaustively documented by Pulitzer Prize-winner Sydney Schanberg. The evidence is overwhelming, the supporters include individuals of the highest credibility, and the governmental denials have largely been perfunctory. But since the story has not been widely featured on popular cable news chat shows, the events remain almost entirely “unreal” to the vast majority of today’s American journalists and the public they purport to inform.

Certainly at times the unreal has almost crossed the barrier to suddenly becoming real. For example, after the end of the Cold War when American scholars gained access to the Soviet archives, a Harvard researcher discovered a Politburo document confirming that Vietnam had kept back hundreds of American POWs until America delivered the billions in promised financial reparations, promises that were never fulfilled [6]. The resulting expose made the front page of the New York Times in early 1993, and with the longstanding cover-up apparently about to unravel, former National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared together on the Jim Lehrer Newshour, confirmed the likely authenticity of the document, and admitted that “men were left behind.” But most of the media continued to repeat bland governmental denials, and the story quickly vanished from the headlines.

Similarly, one of the weightiest “debunking” articles, a 1992 cover story in The Atlantic [7], presented overwhelming evidence that President Ronald Reagan personally accepted the reality of the POWs and that his Administration had explored various efforts to either rescue or ransom the survivors. But the author, a leftist cultural historian specializing in film criticism, merely cited these facts as proof of Reagan’s ignorance and idiocy.

Thus, American presidents, former National Security Advisors, New York Times Pulitzer-Prize winners, members of Congress, and other highly reputable sources all indicate that the scandal is true, but the absence of ongoing television coverage persuades our journalists and pundits that it is must be false.

 

Individuals from less trusting societies are often surprised at the extent to which so many educated Americans tend to believe whatever the media tells them and ignore whatever it does not, placing few constraints on even the most ridiculous propaganda. For example, a commentator [8] on my article described the East German media propaganda he had experienced prior to Reunification as being in many respects more factual and less totally ridiculous than what he now saw on American cable news shows. One obvious difference was that Western media was so globally dominant during that era that the inhabitants of the German Democratic Republic inevitably had reasonable access to a contrasting second source of information, forcing their media to be much more cautious in its dishonesty, while today almost any nonsense uniformly supported by the MSNBC-to-FoxNews spectrum of acceptable opinion remains almost totally unquestioned by most Americans.

Such blatant dishonesty inevitably makes it quite difficult for cautious individuals to distinguish surprising reality from sheer nonsense. For example, another commentator [9] on my article alleged that the Federal Reserve was refusing to return the gold it held for the German Central Bank, and claimed this was because America’s own gold reserves had long since vanished.

Now I’ve personally never spent even ten minutes fretting about the gold at Fort Knox and always vaguely assumed that the official amount of American bullion—whatever that total might be—was absolutely safe and secure, at least after James Bond foiled the dastardly plot of Goldfinger to steal it in the 1964 film of that name. But on the other hand, given the demonstrated factual unreliability of our government and our media, I must also fully admit I might be mistaken. For all I really know, all of America’s gold was sold or stolen years before I was born, and the handful of officials aware of this unfortunate fact have spent decades pretending otherwise for the most obvious reasons. How many honest Americans can truly argue the contrary?

To the extent that our media scrupulously avoids investigating numerous massive scandals and our pundits steer clear from even acknowledging their possible existence, they steadily embezzling whatever credibility might remain in the American media infrastructure, until one day the whole system of established belief will simply collapse as surely as did Madoff’s enormous financial empire.

 

Meanwhile, on other matters I was pleased to see that the The Economist’slengthy cover story [10] on Affirmative Action in American university admissions included a favorable mention of my own Meritocracy [11] article, while The New America Foundation has now officially released its American Social Contract symposium [12], including my own article [13] advocating a large increase in the federal minimum wage.

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#1 Comment By spite On May 6, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

Like I already said in the previous Pravda article, if you want to get proper news, you cannot simply only follow what the US media is saying. Stories about the surveillance state, wikileaks, the coupling of business to government – the silence is truly deafening. One needs to find non US sources to follow, even if those sources have tons of blatantly anti US propaganda like Russia Today, if one only gets what Fox or NYT is telling you, you really are missing out.

#2 Comment By reflectionephemeral On May 6, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

hey steadily embezzling whatever credibility might remain in the American media infrastructure, until one day the whole system of established belief will simply collapse as surely as did Madoff’s enormous financial empire.

Or the world spins on, with the truth coming to light occasionally and unevenly.

When I was in college in the 1990s, it seemed to me that history was progressing in a positive direction. I thought we’d learned from Vietnam that we have to be really careful to honestly assess the facts before we get into a war, and that we’d learned from Watergate that excessive executive power and secrecy were bad things.

Whoops! Actually, we learned that sometimes we aren’t careful with information before we start a war, and that sometimes the executive is secretive and abuses its power.

Sometimes cover ups work, sometimes they don’t. There’s no guarantee that the just will be rewarded, the truth will out, and all that.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 6, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

I too had disbelieved the story about POWs left behind – for just all the unexamined reasons Ron had cited in his earlier article.

I had long disbelieved – almost against my own intuition and own senses of observation – that a living minimum wage was desirable or possible.

This was possible, only because of the almost universal ideology bubble factor, that tends to have us disbelieve anything that doesn’t buttress what we already believe authoratative, or might be seen as a belief only held by those we disagree with generally.

Kudos to Ron for his necessary iconoclasm. An unexamined life may still be worth living, but in proportion to its incuriosity, it will be a misguided one.

#4 Comment By Mightypeon On May 6, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

Concerning the eastern block:

There was not only eastern and western media, apart from “stalinist without mustaches” rumania, and even weirder albania, most Eastern Block nations had some measure of access to most other eastern block publications (including the North Korean “Korea” Propaganda magazine, which was so hilarious that it was largely used as a running political joke), with Yugoslavian publications being the most factual/sought after ones.
One could often glean information concerning East Germany out of Czecheslovakian or Polish news too.
For East Germany at least, this kind of access was kind off an student/elite thing because it required significant proficiencies in slavic languages (while everybody did learn Russian at school, one has to be fairly good at russian to get czech or polish newspapers).
In addition, information was a lot more monopolized in the Soviet Union/china than on the periphery.

Bear in mind that all of this applies only to Post Stalin times, during stalins times, possession of anything yugoslav got you a gulag stay.

#5 Comment By TomB On May 6, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

Kudos to Ron Unz indeed; the problem is where to go to shame our herd-like journalists.

Oh, here and there you find someone trying to do so, but almost invariably *they* turn out ideologically infected too, believing that The Herd only stifles Left or Right things.

This is all wrapped up in why I slammed Ken Burns in the recent post here about his new documentary about police/prosecutorial misconduct: It ain’t so much that The Herd is wrong about what it focuses on, it’s the selectivity of *what* they focus on, robbing us of anyone we can trust to just simply be fair-minded.

Right on again, Mr. Unz: Now all we need is some mechanism by which to take The Herd to task. Some sub-set of journalists whose job it is to *cover* journalists and journalism and aren’t beholden to those who employ The Herd either. I don’t know where or how to get to this point, but my God the wealth and importance of subjects to go after.

And here’s a suggestion for one: Anyone notice the increasingly open blatancy of the incestuous nature of major-media political reporting and the subjects they report on? Is there *anyone* anymore reporting from Washington who doesn’t have a spouse in the Administrations they cover? Or in the lobbying/law groups or otherwise in just the “Government, Inc.,” circle today? And the ease with which things such as … Time reporter Carney becomes Obama flack Carney …?

Just how tight and closed does the Deciding And Influencing Class have to get before we start noticing and doing something about it?

I for one believe that even just a modicum of sunshine directed at the situation would be nothing less than shocking, and wouldn’t leave the major media any room but to make some big changes. The present situation is just simply vomitous.

#6 Comment By Scott Lahti On May 6, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

“one of the weightiest ‘debunking’ articles, [7], presented overwhelming evidence that President Ronald Reagan personally accepted the reality of the POWs and that his Administration had explored various efforts to either rescue or ransom the survivors. But the author, a leftist cultural historian specializing in film criticism, merely cited these facts as proof of Reagan’s ignorance and idiocy.”

Since the specialties of the author in question also included, a few years after his Maoist phase, the attempted [14] (I can only assume the shade of Adolf Hitler was still out [15] and, far away thus from the green quadrangles, missing his turn on the lists of tenured totalitarian touchups), you’re going to have to bear with me to the extent that the good professor’s ten thousand syllogisms attempting to claim the moral and cognitive high ground over Ronald Reagan, bordering in the instance on black ( [16]) humor, lead me to little more than one great fit of [17].

#7 Comment By Annek On May 6, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

“Furthermore, the average time spent on the page by readers steadily rose to nearly a full hour as the days went by, seeming to indicate that visitors were carefully absorbing and digesting my material rather than merely flitting away after a casual glance or two.”

As an FYI, I usually print off articles I’m interested in, and I’m guessing other people probably do, too. So, the time I spend online with your column is not indicative of how much time I actually spend reading it. 🙂 Thanks for provocative articles!

#8 Comment By Montanareddog On May 6, 2013 @ 8:02 pm

“after James Bond foiled the dastardly plot of Goldfinger to steal it in the 1964 film of that name”

Don’t you employ any factcheckers at TAC? Goldfinger did not try to steal the gold in Fort Knox. He tried to destroy it with a Chinese nuclear weapon in order to increase the value of his existing holdings. A common or garden attempt to corner the market.

#9 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 6, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

” Goldfinger did not try to steal the gold in Fort Knox. He tried to destroy it with a Chinese nuclear weapon in order to increase the value of his existing holdings. A common or garden attempt to corner the market.”

Hey Cubby Broccoli and Miss Moneypenny knew this!

#10 Comment By Aaron Gross On May 7, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

“Today almost any nonsense uniformly supported by the MSNBC-to-FoxNews spectrum of acceptable opinion remains almost totally unquestioned by most Americans.” Yeah, we’re always being told that, but we’re also being told that lots of Americans believe all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories, like that Obama was born outside of America or 9/11 was an inside job. So I don’t think televised indoctrination can explain why people don’t believe those other, less crazy, conspiracy theories, about the POWs.

This MSNBC-to-FoxNews claim contradicts other claims as well. For one thing, it implies that the Internet doesn’t affect people’s thinking very much, except within the perimeter set by TV. If true, then why? The Internet provides a broad range of news and opinion, from David Duke to the Nation of Islam. No one, not even paleos, can complain that their message is suppressed. Why do people, the ones interested in politics, stay within the MSNBC-to-FoxNews range when they’re exposed to so many opinions outside of that range?

#11 Comment By David Naas On May 7, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

“Why do people, the ones interested in politics, stay within the MSNBC-to-FoxNews range when they’re exposed to so many opinions outside of that range?”
Elementary, my dear Watson, …err Aaron Gross, it has been my clinical observation that most of my fellow Americans do not think, and will fight you to the death if you attempt to force them to do so. This, on which I am preparing a small monograph, applies whether one is contemplating the Left Wingnuts, the Right Wingnuts, or the Bovine Middle.
Wait until after the Collapse, when the Gods of the Copybook Headings have returned, it one expects any strong tie between “public opinion” and Reality.

#12 Comment By Andrew On May 7, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

Why do people, the ones interested in politics, stay within the MSNBC-to-FoxNews range when they’re exposed to so many opinions outside of that range?

Because they naturally want to feel cozy and self-righteous.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 8, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

I want to feel self righteuos and cozy . . . maybe I should . . .

Never mind — don’t need the TV for that.

#14 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 8, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

The entire news world has lost its import for me 9/11 to Iraq and beyond —

My housemate will yell at me to catch a story or roust me to catch a look at Miss Coulter . . . value of news from most outlets has left me. I get the Wall Street Journal and would tolerate whatever little bugs came flying to my eyes in the morning — but eventually even the these stories seemed filled with arguments and positions that just made no sense to me . . . at least sense that I could stomach or agree with.

The level of partisanship not left or right — but seemingly personal clouded so much my journal just pile up in the bin rarely even opened.

my once crazed news junkie voraciousness died during the last four years of my party’s presidency

— are there still news junkies?

Vietnam —- sad and sad and sadder still that I am unable to say much more than: if true, we should go get them . . .?

#15 Comment By Andrew On May 9, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

I want to feel self righteuos and cozy . . . maybe I should . . .

Never mind — don’t need the TV for that.

I believe Direct TV has something like 600 channels–plenty to go around to reinforce one’s desires to be right all the time. That will create the feeling of coziness and self-righteousness–I, meanwhile, am not experiencing any of that, despite having a good Direct TV package. But then again–there is Barnes & Noble as the last resort..or Amazon.

#16 Comment By Aaron Gross On May 10, 2013 @ 12:03 am

But the answers I’m given here just beg the question. Obviously – too, too, obviously – there are plenty on the paleo or alt right who don’t think either. They just mindlessly repeat the talking points they hear in vdare.com, isteve, takimag, etc. (Not to imply that those are only talking points.) These people commenting at takimag, isteve, etc. don’t think any more than your average Fox News or MSNBC viewer. And they feel cozy there, too.

So you can be unthinking and cozy outside of that range. Why, then, aren’t more people like that?

#17 Comment By john nevin On May 11, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Paul Craig Roberts says: “Unz is a national resource.”

I agree. I am not a conservative, but I salute you sir. You take the facts as you find them, something much too rare in the U.S. political/economic and cultural realms.

Thank you.

#18 Comment By LA Independent On May 13, 2013 @ 12:16 am

An excellent book on this topic is Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman. From the book’s Forward:

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture…As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, the are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

#19 Pingback By They Say They Want a Revolution | CITIZENS MILITIA of MISSISSIPPI On June 6, 2013 @ 10:35 am

[…] the population, economic growth has remained stagnant or gone backwards since 1970. The egregious lies and omissions of our mass-media politburo are so bad, Larry King has gone to work for Pravda. The […]