American Pravda: Reality Television
The early reaction to my “American Pravda” 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, or even republishing 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.
Consider one of the most copiously sourced of the unreported scandals that I described, namely the long Vietnam POW cover-up 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. 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, 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 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 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 on Affirmative Action in American university admissions included a favorable mention of my own Meritocracy article, while The New America Foundation has now officially released its American Social Contract symposium, including my own article advocating a large increase in the federal minimum wage.