That’s an old Soviet maxim about state newspapers that became popular in the Brezhnev era. Leonid Brezhnev’s heavyhanded yet incompetent rule spanned what turned out to be the early stages of the USSR’s terminal decline. In a telling bit of industrial history, it was under Brezhnev that Ilyushin rushed the introduction of the Il-86, its ridiculous attempt to show up Western aerospace companies as a manufacturer of widebody civilian aircraft. Meant to serve as the widebody of the international proletariat and showcase Soviet aerospace glory at the Moscow Olympics, the Il-86 missed its promised launch date and forced Soviet diplomats to negotiate special refueling treaties to facilitate flights between Moscow and Havana. It was quite a nice-looking aircraft, but operationally it was a huge step down from the much uglier Il-62, which had been a perfectly respectable competitor with the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 in its day and was retained in regular overseas service for the duration of the Cold War because the Il-86 was so useless. For those neither lucky enough to be aeronautical engineers nor generally of the gearhead persuasion, the Brezhnev era was a great time to be institutionalized and forcibly medicated for the mental illness of political dissent. Brezhnev’s low credibility was further depressed by his worsening image as he aged. He looked like hell on television, and as Yakov Smirnoff would surely have it, television looked like hell on him.
Notice that the Soviet authorities tried to hold together their shambling empire with a state newspaper called “Truth.” That’s exactly how “Pravda” translates into English. That kind of blunt self-seriousness can be quite a liability. Think about how ridiculous American centrists and leftists regard Fox News’ assertion that it is “fair and balanced.” Now imagine psychopathic versions of Walter Cronkite telling a nation that, regardless of what its people are personally witnessing of an ever-more sclerotic economy and a bloody quagmire in Afghanistan (the Red Army beat us to it, and got its pink ass whupped with our help, channeled through the proto-Taliban; God bless America), enduring Soviet prosperity and Comintern glory under the dictatorship of the proletariat (oddly, imposed by a junta of wealthy and privileged gerontocrats) is in fact the way it is. Da troof. It might make for some cynical citizens of Soviet Russia.
America’s ruling-class scumbags learned decades ago, in fact before the Soviet Union had even been hammered together from the wreckage of Tsarist Russia, not to be so aboveboard about their desire to fuck with the little people’s minds. They had to tone it down, or they’d have been ridden out of town on a rail like inadequately armed revenuers on the Appalachian frontier. For one thing, the United States was founded in opposition to colonial tyranny, and not colonial tyranny by an unmitigated autocrat in the Continental mold, but by England’s limited monarch, who was constrained and directed by Parliament to an extent that the Bourbons or the Romanovs would have found unconscionable. One must be careful to maintain at least a superficially credible pretense of self-government when manipulating such a citizenry. Otherwise, they might get insolent and rebel, like they did against the Redcoats, and the rebellion just might involve goofy-ass tricorner hats and little flutes the second time around, too. The trick is to convince semiliterate crypto-Brownshirts that they’re Patrick Henry. Wrap that fascism in Old Glory and you’re good to go. Even if the expressly fascist agenda doesn’t take root, putting the ground war on its behalf in the hands of a bunch of angry cosplay authoritarians should make the tacit fascism of the country’s nominal left look like it isn’t totally devious, especially to mushheaded yuppie “progressives” who are too hypocritical to admit that what they really are is self-dealing social climbers.
Under this regime, the sociopathic interests get more or less what they want either way. They don’t care whether they get it through latter-day Minuteman theater of the absurd or through the politics of the aspirational top quartile dishonestly repackaged as a political philosophy that gives a shit about the poor, the marginalized, and the underrepresented. Actually, the overclass quite likes the bickering because it deflects attention from their own deviousness onto irrelevant sideshows that keep the goobers divided and yelling at each other.
American mainstream media seem less tautological and manipulative and propagandizing than their old Soviet counterparts. This is little more than a carefully crafted illusion. As a rule, the mainstream media provide absolutely no explanation for why they consider things newsworthy or not. They never explain why they consider consumer confidence surveys, housing starts, and stock prices critical indicators of economic health; instead they just spew out the numbers like liturgical chants. Why is the “recovery” (i.e., reinflation) of housing prices, which excludes the poor and middling from large parts of the market, a good thing? Because they say so. Are gross, mean, or aggregate measures of economic output or some shit more important than whether individuals are able to afford adequate housing, deal with reputable landlords instead of criminals, not live under freeway overpasses because they’re broke, afford medical care and medicine, find decent work at a decent wage, and so forth? Judging just from television news coverage, one would think that these numbers make everyone prosperous. We’re to believe that total volume of trade with this, that, and the other country means that offshoring electronics factories to China, busting unions at meatpacking plants so that illegal immigrants can be hired to work overtime at barely above minimum wage, brutalizing a town’s working class to the point of methamphetamine addiction, and consigning a generation (or more) of formerly middle-class proles to government dependency and cashiering jobs at Walmart doesn’t matter because the aggregate economy grew 4.3% or something. This facially bizarre, Asperger’s-spectrum worldview is routinely presented by the mainstream media as gospel truth.
The Soviet authorities at least claimed to be concerned with the welfare of the working class rather than that of an inanimate macroeconomy. On any examination, our leaders look really, really bad.
And who the hell are our pundits? Most of them can’t even write a logically and morally sound essay. Ruth Marcus is basically a professional pearl-clutching scold. Nick Kristof is an unctuous white knight with a creepy interest in pubescent Cambodian prostitutes. Maureen Dowd, one of the less devious ones, is little more than a peddler of sex war invective. Tom Friedman looks for all the world like a recreational Adderall user who won’t stop namedropping, bugging corporate and political celebrities for soundbites, and using pastiches of irrelevant and goofy anecdotes to support his pat neoliberal theory of flat everything when he takes too many pills. George Will is a hangdog scold who always looks like he’s sucking lemons as a home remedy for constipation, as well as a known chronic adulterer whose wife put all his stuff out on the lawn at a time when he was chastising Bill Clinton for his sexual laxity. David Brooks is a faux milquetoast who advances a deceptively vicious plutocratic agenda with mashups of Burkean conservatism, pop psychology and neuroscience, class bigotry, and gentlemanly racism. (N.B.: Edmund Burke was a whinging coward, in debt up to his eyeballs and fearful of dying in a debtor’s prison, who privately used his political connections to secure a peerage and the attendant pension. He blazed the trail for soi-disant conservatives looking to privatize (and, in a different sense, publicize) their gains and socialize their losses.)
These people are clowns. They’d be innocuous enough if they were universally regarded as entertainers, but they’re widely regarded as great oracles. This gives them immense destructive power.
It isn’t enough to eschew mainstream, or, if you wish, “lamestream” media in favor of some major competitor that advertises itself as an alternative. Fox News is too deeply enmeshed in the politics of the Republican Party (may I remind you, one of the two major political parties in the United States) to be anything but mainstream. Regardless of how kooky and nasty the Republicans are getting, they haven’t gone the way of the Whigs yet, and until they do they’ll be in a position to gum up the works for the rest of us.
Self-described “Christian” media are barely any less mainstream than secular right-wing media. They’re eccentric by secular standards, but they’re part of a massive, coordinated social control program involving major churches in a majority-Christian country. They also have cordial and productive relationships with Republican leaders, many of them extremely influential. Their poor persecuted underdog act is total bullshit. Their agenda largely dovetails with the agenda of the secular right, and by extension with much of the agenda of the scumbag yuppie left (mainly the economic parts). Bogus persecution stories are classic cult tactics to build in-group solidarity and raise money. SRN News does not look out for the welfare of the faithful, but for the welfare of right-wing churches and their political lobbies, some of which operate as rackets preying on the faithful and all of which are angling to usurp the franchise from individual voters by bullying them into voting as directed on behalf of communal sectarian agendas. The ultimate political goal of these shysters is to become ayatollahs for Jesus.
The thing about all of these media outfits–CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, NBC, SRN, ad nauseam–is that they decide what is and is not newsworthy. They rarely give their viewers any explanation of how they came to their decisions (in the cases of CNN and SRN, I’m inclined to say that they never do). They rarely even admit that they made any sort of arbitrary decision about what was and was not worthy of coverage. The unnews just disappears.
We have to stop simply believing them. We have to trust but verify. Yeah, I know Ronald Reagan was the one who said that, and that he could be a real shithead and that many of his admirers today are total cult wackos, but he was right. Our news organs will be every bit as Soviet as we allow them to be.