We believe we have a free press. But what good is nominal freedom if the writers are liars, or are ill-educated, or feed the populace a lot of claptrap, or ignore important events because they don't like the people involved or the cause?
When George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, the novel describing a dystopia of mass stupidity and surveillance, he wasn't making a prediction. He was describing what he actually saw in England. His protagonist, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth, whose enterprise is to engage in massive lying, altering history by sending documents down the Memory Hole, where they will be lost forever. One of his colleagues, Syme, is a linguist with a passionate love for Newspeak, the official language of the regime. The purpose of Newspeak is to deracinate language so badly that crimethought, the doubleplusungood rebellion of mind against the regime, will be impossible. No one will be able to think of crimes, because nobody will be able to think.
Orwell modeled his Ministry of Truth after the British Broadcasting Corporation, where he worked.
When Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, another novel describing a dystopia of mass stupidity and surveillance, he wasn't making a prediction. He was describing what he actually saw in America. His protagonist, Guy Montag, is a "fireman" — note, denizens of the novus ordo saeclorum, not a "firefighter," since his job is to set fires, not to put them out. He's a book burner. Bradbury insisted that his novel was not about censorship, but about how contemporary media have made people shallow and inattentive, squandering their cultural heritage. Shortly after he wrote the novel, colleges all over the country held their own bonfires, gutting their curricula, so that now a graduate of Harvard is far more likely to have listened vacantly to a hundred 'songs' devoid of melody or sense, than to have read a single line of Dante.
Our founders believed that a free press was essential for a free society. We believe we have a free press. But what good is nominal freedom — the government does not censor our newspapers — if the writers are liars, or are ill-educated, or feed the populace a lot of claptrap, or ignore important events because they don't like the people involved or the cause? What happens, if the "teaching" of three hundred million Americans is in the hands of people who give headlines to a football player with a fictional girlfriend, or to the sleazy habits of a porn girl turned celebrity, or to "scientific" studies about when your "relationship" is going to end, rather than to anything of substance, anything that requires learning, listening, investigating, and thought? What happens, particularly, if the only stories about faith come from the category, "Benighted Believers"?
What happens is what we got for non-reportage on this year's March for Life in Washington. One would think that a colorful and peaceful demonstration, of between 500,000 and 650,000 people, the large majority of them quite young, braving the freezing weather in the capital in January, marching to uphold the sanctity of life rather than to secure material advantage to themselves, would warrant a little attention. If ten thousand of these people thronged the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception for Mass on the evening before, many with sleeping bags for spending the night on the floor of the chapel, you would think that some reporter would notice, and would ask them a question or two. If thousands of people from other parts of the world arrived to join in, at great personal expense and in bad weather, you would think that that would warrant admiration, if for nothing else than their sacrifice.
But the Ministries of Truth mostly ignored it. What they didn't ignore, they belittled or distorted. In doing so, however, they revealed their own ignorance. Here is the AP story, in News-speak, with my comments in brackets:
Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators
If a crowd fills the Rose Bowl, and the reporter calls them "hundreds," he should be fired. The March for Life is, year after year, the largest peaceful assembly of people in the nation. To know this, and to fail to report it, is to be a liar.
[That's a lie, right there. If 650 people show up at a town meeting, and the reporter says that "several" people showed up, that reporter is a liar, and should be fired. If 6,500 people show up at the State House to protest a bill, and the reporter says that "dozens" showed up, he's a liar, and should be fired. If a crowd fills the Rose Bowl, and the reporter calls them "hundreds," he should be fired. The March for Life is, year after year, the largest peaceful assembly of people in the nation. To know this, and to fail to report it, is to be a liar. Not to know this is to be a moron; no third possibility exists. Meanwhile, a gun control protest was held in the same place a few days later, and "thousands" were reported to have taken part in it, when the actual number was about 1,000. The two stories together show an exaggeration of 50,000 to 65,000 percent, in favor of what the reporter favors.]
marched through Washington to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to protest the landmark decision that legalized abortion.
[Ignorance on display. Abortion was legal in many states before the decision. The Court struck down every state law that placed some restrictions upon it.]
The annual event took on added significance for many in the crowd since it coincided with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that created a constitutional right to abortion in some circumstances.
[Another lie. "Some circumstances"? Exactly which have been ruled out? The decision made abortion on demand the law of the whole nation. But the writer is too inattentive or too dumb to notice that he's given the ballgame away. For the Court can, in justice, only recognize a constitutional right. This Court created one.]
The demonstrators, carrying signs with messages such as "Defend Life" and "Defund Planned Parenthood," shouted chants including [sic] "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go." They packed the National Mall and surrounding streets for the March of [sic] Life.
[Why the insertion of Planned Parenthood? Why include that chant? No other signs? No more powerful messages? Indeed there were many others. Some people sang songs, like God Bless America and, audaciously, John Brown's Body. The writer simply chooses what's easiest for him and his readers to dismiss.]
"I just felt this 40th year marked a huge anniversary for the law," said one demonstrator, Pam Tino, 52, of Easton, Mass, who also participated several years ago. "Forty is a very important year in the Bible as well, in terms of years in the desert. And I just felt like maybe this year that was going to be something miraculous that might happen. We might see something going forward with the cause."
With the re-election of President Barack Obama, she added, "we just have our walking papers. Now we just feel like we have to keep the battle up."
[Get that ineffectual Bible allusion in there, to let your readers know that they needn't think. Make sure you don't speak to a doctor or a professor or a priest.]
The large turnout reflected the ongoing relevance [sic] of the abortion debate four decades after the decision.
[Relevant to what? I'd say to the collapse of public morality, but the writer isn't thinking about what his words mean. All he wants to say is that people still argue about abortion.]
It remains a divisive issue with no dramatic shift in viewpoint on either side; a new Pew Research Center poll finds 63 percent of U.S. adults opposed to overturning Roe, compared to [sic] 60 percent in 1992.
[Another lie. You choose the poll you like, and report on it. You don't report that more than half of Americans agree with rather severe restrictions on abortion, which effectively means that they oppose the Roe decision, although many of them are so ill-informed that they are unaware of it.]
Earlier this week, abortion opponents marked the anniversary with workshops, prayers and calls for more limits on abortion rights [sic].
[Another lie. There are no limits on legal abortion in the United States. And the protestors do not say they wish to limit anybody's rights. They deny that the right exists. That is the issue. To use the phrase "abortion rights" is to beg the question. The sentence is also vague. What really would be impressive would be to note that thousands of the protestors came to Washington a day or two early, to pray in local churches.]
And even as Obama [sic] this week reaffirmed his commitment to "reproductive freedom," state legislatures continue to consider varied [sic] restrictions on a woman's ability [sic; ability is notthe issue; permissibility is] to receive an abortion. [sic; "May I present you, Tina, with this lovely abortion?]
Among the speakers at Friday's rally was Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and staunch abortion opponent who last year unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination.
He recalled the love and support the country showed for his young daughter, Bella, who was born with a serious genetic condition and whose illness led him to take some time off from the campaign trail.
[Another lie. Some time off? It caused him to suspend the campaign altogether. In other words, no political ambition of his was more important than his daughter.]
He cited his daughter's life — "she is joyful, she is sweet, she is all about love" — as a reason to discourage abortion even in instances when women are told that it would be "better" for their unborn children to have one. [sic; it is hard to imagine an unborn child having an abortion!]
"We all know that death is never better — never better. Really what it's about is saying is it [sic] would be easier for us, not better for her," he said. "And I'm here to tell you ... Bella is better for us and we are better because of Bella."
The writer simply chooses what's easiest for him and his readers to dismiss.
He said the anti-abortion cause was made up of people [sic] who every day advocate for their position [not, surely, for a position, but for lives] outside abortion clinics and at crisis pregnancy centers.
"This movement is not a bunch of moralizers standing on their mountaintop preaching what is right," Santorum said.
One demonstrator, Mark Fedarko, 44, of Cleveland, said he regularly stands outside of abortion clinics in hopes of discouraging women from going inside.
"There's God's law and man's law," he said. But I follow God's law first. Like it says right here, thou shall not kill. That's the end of the story. We need to protect these children."
[There were no other speakers? No mention of the huge numbers of young people in attendance? No mention of the whole culture of life? No mention of anti-euthanasia sentiment? All the arguments are proof-texts from the Bible? Why was Rick Santorum chosen as representative? Because the readers could equate him with the slanderous portrait the media had already painted of him, as an extremist. No mention was made of the young black man who was conceived after a rape? No mention of women who regretted their abortions?]
The irony is that it is easier than ever to do the job of a reporter, yet we rely on a couple of paragraphs of gabble and mendacity from a couple of wire services, and that's it. A free people require a free press. What sort of people settle for a stupid press?
Anthony Esolen. "Stupid Press, Stupid People: Non-Reporting the March for Life." Crisis Magazine (January 29, 2013).
Reprinted with permission of Crisis Magazine.
Crisis Magazine is an educational apostolate that uses media and technology to bring the genius of Catholicism to business, politics, culture, and family life. Our approach is oriented toward the practical solutions our faith offers — in other words, actionable Catholicism.
Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College. He is the author of Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, Reflections on the Christian Life, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Ironies of Faith: Laughter at the Heart of Christian Literature, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, and is the translator of several epic poems of the West, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things: de Rerum Natura, Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata, and the three volumes of Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. A graduate of Princeton and the University of North Carolina, Esolen is proficient in Latin, Italian, Anglo-Saxon, French, German and Greek. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife Debra and their two children. Anthony Esolen is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2013 Crisis Magazine
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