The Media as seen from 1948

Graham Hill's picture
Submitted by Graham Hill on Tue, 2021-01-19 18:31

Richard Weavers was an academic from The University of Chicago and in 1948 wrote a book called Ideas have Consequences. A book that should sit alongside Orwell's 1984.

I set an extended quote by Weavers which speaks to our modern media as well:

In any case, for Plato, truth was a living thing, never wholly captured by men even in animated discourse and in its purest form, certainly, never brought to paper. In our day it would seem that a contrary presumption has grown up. The more firmly an utterance is stereotyped, the more likely it is to win credit. It is assumed that engines as expensive and as powerful as the modern printing press will naturally be placed in the hands of men of knowledge. Faith in the printed word has raised journalists to the rank of oracles; yet could there be a better description of them than these lines from the Phaedrus: “They will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome, having the reputation of knowledge without the reality”?

If the realization of truth is the product of a meeting of minds, we may be sceptical of the physical ability of the mechanism to propagate it as long as that propagation is limited to the printing and distribution of stories which give “one unvarying answer.” And this circumstance brings up at once the question of the intention of the rulers of the press. There is much to indicate that modern publication wishes to minimize discussion. Despite many artful pretensions to the contrary, it does not want an exchange of views, save perhaps on academic matters. Instead, it encourages men to read in the hope that they will absorb. For one thing, there is the technique of display, with its implied evaluations. This does more of the average man’s thinking for him than he suspects. For another, there is the stereotyping of whole phrases. These are carefully chosen not to stimulate reflection but to evoke stock responses of approbation or disapprobation. Headlines and advertising teem with them, and we seem to approach a point at which failure to make the stock response is regarded as faintly treasonable, like refusal to salute the flag. Especially do the journals of mass circulation exploit the automatic response. So journalism becomes a monstrous discourse of Protagoras, which charms by hypnotizing and thwarts that participation without which one is not a thinking man. If our newspaper reader were trained to look for assumptions, if he were conscious of the rhetoric in lively reporting, we might not fear this product of the printer’s art; but that would be to grant that he is educated. As the modern world is organized, the ordinary reader seems to lose means of private judgment, and the decay of conversation has about destroyed the practice of dialectic. Consequently the habit of credulity grows.

There is yet another circumstance which raises grave doubts about the contribution of journalism to the public weal. Newspapers are under strong pressure to distort in the interest of holding attention. I think we might well afford to overlook the pressure of advertisers upon news and editorial policy. This source of distortion has been fully described and is perhaps sufficiently discounted; but there is at work a far more insidious urge to exaggerate and to colour beyond necessity. It is an inescapable fact that newspapers thrive on friction and conflict. One has only to survey the headlines of some popular journal, often presented symbolically in red, to note the kind of thing which is considered news. Behind the big story there nearly always lies a battle of some sort. Conflict, after all, is the essence of drama, and it is a truism that newspapers deliberately start and prolong quarrels; by allegation, by artful quotation, by the accentuation of unimportant differences, they create antagonism where none was felt to exist before. And this is profitable practically, for the opportunity to dramatize a fight is an opportunity for news. Journalism, on the whole, is glad to see a quarrel start and sorry to see it end. In the more sensational publications this spirit of passion and violence, manifested in a certain recklessness of diction, with vivid verbs and fortissimo adjectives, creeps into the very language. By the attention it gives their misdeeds it makes criminals heroic and politicians larger than life. I have felt that the way in which newspapers raked over every aspect of Adolf Hitler’s life and personality since the end of the war shows that they really have missed him; they now have no one to play anti-Christ against the bourgeois righteousness they represent.

In reviewing the persistent tendency of the newspaper to corrupt, I shall cite a passage from James Fenimore Cooper. Though Cooper lived before the advent of yellow journalism, he seems to have stated the essential situation with a truth and eloquence impossible to improve on when he said in The American Democrat: “As the press of this country now exists, it would seem to be expressly devised by the great agent of mischief, to depress and destroy all that is good, and to elevate and advance all that is evil in the nation. The little truth that is urged is usually urged coarsely, weakened and rendered vicious, by personalities; while those who live by falsehoods, fallacies, enmities, partialities and the schemes of the designing, find the press the very instrument that the devils would invent to effect their designs.” A hundred years later Huey Long made a statement of impolitic truth when he called his tax on newspapers a “lie tax.”

The Russians, with their customary logical realism, which ought to come as a solemn admonition to the Western mind, have concluded that freedom to initiate conflicts is not one of the legitimate freedoms. They have therefore established state control of journalism. If newspapers can do nothing but lie, they will at least lie in the interest of the state, which, according to the philosophy of statism, is not lying at all.

We see this silently arising in the appearance of the press agent and the public-relations officer."

The reference to PR as an aside mention must be made to Edward Beynars as a Mark Levin recently paralleled Beynars ideas to MSM. Edward Beynars, 1891-1995, the US founder of PR and Spin. He worked in the Theodore Roosevelt administration but importantly he fused social science and psychology. He wrote books on opinion manipulation and propaganda. His book Crystallising Public Opinion (1928) which was translated into German and used Goebel's use.