An Essay By Our Member William:
That phrase was of course first famously used by Winston Churchill in a speech in 1946. He was referring to the fact that the Soviet Union had consolidated power in Eastern Europe, and was setting up satellite regimes. Churchill said that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” It was a powerful and chilling image; that of a very large totalitarian state completely shutting out all dissenting influences. The power of that image has not diminished with time, though the focus has changed.
I grew up in a small and politically conservative suburb of Los Angeles. Most of my elementary school teachers, and then my junior high school social studies or government teachers, seemed pretty conservative, though they were not usually overtly political. They certainly emphasized the horror of the totalitarian communist state, where the government had complete control of the information disseminated to the public. We learned about Pravda, Tass, and Izvestia, the written and broadcast arms of the state. We were told that the people of Russia had no access to the actual truth, and could not help but believe the propaganda that they were fed daily. This was undoubtedly true for the most part, and it was a chilling thing for me to contemplate then.
The idea that the people of a nation would have no opportunity to learn what was actually going on; that the “news” was fed to them; that facts were censored, and no dissenting opinions were even voiced, was horrifying. Of course, the USSR was not the first totalitarian state, but it was the most geographically far-reaching. The Nazi propaganda fed to the Germans and all the people in the countries they conquered, was of course even more horrifying. How do we get the truth through to such people, I wondered? We learned about Radio Free Europe, and how some brave people were trying to tell the citizens of the Eastern Bloc what was really happening in the world.
Inherent in all of this was of course the pride that we had in America being a free country, where people could question their leaders, and where the news journalists were dedicated to telling the facts, so that people could make up their minds about things. And surely it was true that the history of America was mostly a winning fight for the forces of open journalism. Of course there were the yellow journalists; and the powerful Hearst empire, whose founder may well have caused the sinking of the Maine because he wanted the U.S. to fight a war with Spain. And there was later the red-baiting, and the smears and innuendoes against people who were loyal Americans, by certain segments of the media. But there was always a strong counterforce; you always got the other side, even though in the McCarthy witch hunt days, much of it was intimidated. But for the most part, the truth seemed to prevail.
When I was a young boy, there were four major newspapers in Los Angeles, and they fought for readers. Of course there was some headline hunting; but that many competing journalistic entities was a great thing, because one powerful person or newspaper chain could not control the news cycle. Those days are long over, of course, along with most of the fictional competition of the “free marketplace.”
Now we are in an age where the newspaper, as we used to know it, is all but gone. And this is a tragedy. How many of us enjoyed picking up the paper in the morning, and perusing it carefully at breakfast or lunch; reading all the various articles and editorial pieces? I know that my family did. And our major paper was the Los Angeles Times, which evolved from a pro-Nixon journal in the ’50’s, to one of the world’s great newspapers in the ’70’s. But even at its worst, I remember my parents always being able to find a few opinion piece writers whom they respected. In other words, it was never completely one-sided; nor did most of the important news not get through. And then of course there were the three major networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC, where you felt that you were getting the news, even though of course there might have been some bias among the various anchorpersons or even the entire network, at various times. My parents watched them all, even though they were all on at the same time, during one period. If there were a positive story for our liberal Democratic side, my father, who usually had the remote, would try to catch the different versions of it on all three networks. Sometimes he and my mother would be upset at the way some anchor presented a story, but most of the objections were more about semantics, than any attempt to ignore or misrepresent the story.
And my parents watched virtually every single news show on the weekends. I didn’t quite have their love of it; I got sort of tired of hearing the same people say the same things. But there would often be spirited debates, even on a show like the McLaughlin Group, where at least you could always cheer on Eleanor Clift and Jack Germond. So while none of this debate really got anybody anywhere, at least it allowed both sides to come through; and so one did not feel as if one were being spoon-fed propaganda.
Well now I really fear as if those days are all gone. Year after year, I would watch less of the news channels, because I felt that the presentations and even the subjects were biased. When Fox came along, with their Orwellian, “We report, you decide,” slogan, it was very disconcerting. CNN in the Ted Turner days was adequate. Then MSNBC came up, and was even liberal for a time, but is no more. And CNN has become as bad as Fox, at least from everything I have read. My brother, who was and is a big Obama supporter, was complaining about CNN a few years ago; and of course CNN is far worse as regards Hillary Clinton. I do not know exactly what happened to them, but clearly their corporate ownership has no qualms about distorting the news in order to achieve its ends. In other words, “news” not as facts about whose implications people can debate, but “news” as fabricated or vastly slanted, because the goal of the media entity is not to provide information, but to control the minds and opinions of the public.
How can one think it is otherwise now? When virtually all semi-neutral observers have noted the absolute bias against Hillary Clinton in this very early campaign? I thought that they would have waited a while, but the media is engaged in preemptive strikes, trying to poison the minds of voters, by inventing a ludicrous “e-mail scandal,” which is no scandal at all, not even a mistake. The media does not start with some facts and then try to unravel their meaning. They start with a prefabricated conclusion, and then try to create or omit facts in such as way as to try to trick people into believing what the media wants them to believe. This was done against Gore, and against Kerry; it is not new. But it has steadily gotten worse, to the point now where there is not even a nod to the actual truth of matters, just a pervasive and relentless bias in every story.
Somehow the concept of jounalism as conceived by people like Montaigne, Addison, and Zenger, has been completely lost. In its place is an unholy combination of entertainment and propaganda. The entertainment part of it is determined to make every presidential race close, so as to draw viewers. Further, the political news is presented with an eye toward “sexy” stories: the personal; how someone dresses, how they talk, tone of voice, a particular word or phrase that the media latches onto Things that people who are conditioned to watching “The Bachelorette” can easily grasp. And then the propaganda, which is fed to people along with the entertainment aspects, is virtually as insidious and totalitarian as anything fed to the Russian people under Stalin or Brezhnev.
I could write much more about this, of course. The estimable site HIllary Men has written insightfully about how Karl Rovian tactics of inserting various tested phrases are used in every story, so as to completely color the narrative about HIllary Clinton,. The powerful right-wing think tanks concoct these phrases each day, and fire out the stories to the news networks, who very readily spew them out to the public. It used to seem that perhaps the networks were foolish dupes in this, but now it is apparent that they are very willing participants.
People who always feared that America would become a totalitarian state, always had an erroneous take on it, I felt. The danger is very real, but it is not the government per se which would clamp down the iron curtain on all dissenting or questioning. It would be the ultra-powerful trillionaire corporations, which have virtually taken on the image of a ravenous monster existing beyond even the venal desires of their corporate leaders and boards. They must be fed, they want all the wealth and all the power. Anything that stands in their way must be destroyed. Truth is of no significance to them whatsoever. They will create whatever stories help them to control the populace, and keep someone who might pose a threat to them from being elected. They want to control every branch of government, and any impediment to their corporate mergers, stifling of competition, the laws passed by their bought legislators which have only one intent: to allow them to consolidate and increase their power. Corporations were always that way, of course, but we used to have a free press; and the “muckraking journalists” of the early 20th century exposed much of their dark side. Now we have no free press, as the corporations own virtually all of it. One can still write a book, I suppose; but there would be no corporation to back it, and insure it remains on the shelves, as they do with the anti-Clinton books which they regularly subsidize.
This is a dire picture. I do not like dire pictures; I prefer to think at least somewhat optimistically. But people just have to realize what is going on here. This is about far more than this election, or even about Hillary Clinton, as wonderful a candidate as she is. She is undoubtedly being damaged by the almost breathtaking lies being told about her by the media each day, every day. That is the goal of the lies, of course. To destroy her candidacy; to damage her favorability numbers to the point that she cannot recover. Does anyone see any interest by the media in actually covering issues in this race? I don’t think that the media has any intention of actually discussing anything relating to a real issue, at least not until they can destroy the Hillary candidacy, which is the only goal they have. I suppose they would like ratings, but the corporate ownership will gladly take a small temporary loss, to be able to vastly enhance their profits under a right-wing president who will let the corporations run wild. And the only Democrat who can defeat a right-wing Republican is Hillary Clinton. So they lay off Sanders now, because if he is somehow nominated, they can then bring out the “would you vote for a Socialist?” theme, which would destroy his candidacy. And with Biden, they’ve got all sorts of things stored up, from plagiarism, to age, to many more. They hold off on these now because those two candidates are easy targets. Hillary is the big target, the one they fear; so they are fixing all their guns on her.
Hillary could win even despite this, though I was not prepared for the extent of the shameless and vicious media tactics. But even if she wins, how does she manage to govern, if this is going to be the template for how they cover her presidency? Of course she can speak directly to the people on occason. But how much of her narrative will be ruined by unceasing media attacks, which of course were so effective in helping the Republicans to destroy the Democrats in the last two midterm elections? We are so used to assuming that the media, both journalistic and broadcast, is actually telling us real facts, that if we start to believe that they are not; that everything they say is carefully concocted, where are we then?
Do we now have our own iron curtain clamping down on the ability of our citizens to discern what is actually happening with regard to governmental or political affairs? Oh, certainly we will still get our “entertainment stories” of car crashes and violent acts, and what one celebrity said to another. Those are the equivalent of the “bread and circuses” which the Roman historian Tacitus described as the methods by which the Roman emperors kept the population amused and quiescent. But with regard to the really important matters, those that will affect virtually every person for the next four years and more, can we rely on anything the media now tells us? And even if you or I can still find out things for ourselves; if we live in a country where the majority rules, and most of the voters have been brainwashed or stifled by the corporate media iron curtain which does not allow anything but what they choose to come through, how do we manage to reach enough of those voters to enable them to break through it?