Big Lies

August 2004


How distortion affects the character of the nation, its real aims, goals, and direction.

Whenever I think about lies, I think about a comment I once heard about Nazi propaganda. The speaker was a person who had lived under Nazi rule, a perfectly ordinary German citizen. She said that it was very interesting that toward the end of the war, the Nazi newscasts continued to brag about the most recent stunning Wehrmacht victories, but that the flags on the map kept getting closer and closer to Germany. That is the limitation of even the best propaganda.

People will believe what they want to believe, even when confronted by a considerable body of evidence that proves facts contradicting their belief. Belief does not require truth. Belief requires only faith. When you have faith in an idea, the idea requires no substantiation or foundation. It does not need to be justified or reconciled with other ideas. The believed in idea stands, defended by the believer, past any rhyme or reason. If it is a person that isbeing believed in, they have an equal difficulty in being wrong.

The purpose of propaganda is to transfer ideas and people into the believed-in category. Once there, the originators of the propaganda are safe. They have no worries. They have disciples. It is very, very difficult to shake someone out of a belief. Successful propaganda confers virtually unlimited power by making enough disciples to drown out opposition. The people in power can then do as they please.

Propaganda does not always need to be overt. Often, it only needs to give a gentle push in the desired direction; or to avoid pointing so directly at what is obvious. It is so interesting to watch this process happen. Here is a brief example of "responsible journalism" from the New York Times. At 4pm, the following article was on page one of the online edition:

More Americans Are Living in Poverty, Census Bureau Says

Published: August 26, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 . The number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3
million last year, to 35.9 million, while the number without health insurance
climbed by 1.4 million, to 45 million, the Census Bureau reported today.

It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.

By 9pm of the same day, the article was relegated to page three status and had strangely morphed:

More Americans Were Uninsured and Poor in 2003, Census Finds

Published: August 26, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 - The ranks of the poor and those without health insurance grew in 2003 for the third straight year, the government reported on Thursday, in a sign of the lingering pain being caused by a long slump in the job markets.

Contrasted this with the Bush campaign's ceaseless refrain of "Four More Years" of progress, and we see that this is a case of remapping facts to fit the desired conclusion. The progress we're promised is diametrically opposed to the progress we receive, but if we can just explain the facts in the proper light, then the lie is softened and may even be believed. At 4pm, millions were in poverty, whereas at 9pm we learn that this is just a reflection of a long slump. The enemy armies are not getting closer, our forces are just in a long slump, from which they will doubtless recover. Nothing to fear then. All is well. We can't make the flags go away, so we'll change their shape, or better yet, we'll cover the maps with all kinds of other flags, so the real picture is harder to see.

And this news breaks in the same week that the current administration rams through legislation that will cause more than six million people to lose overtime pay. Of course, the popular media reassure us that this legislation may mean that some people will lose overtime pay, but that some other people, who were formerly ineligible, will now qualify for overtime pay they deserve. One news report (NPR) prefaced this by reporting that millions of people had not received overtime pay because their employers were breaking the law. Now, many fewer employers will need to break the law -- (unvoiced conclusion) fewer law breakers is a good thing, right?

It is discouraging to see such bald-faced lies taken seriously by legions of people. People do not want to recognize the problems that we face in this country. Our government has been tearing down our constitutional rights. Our government has been supporting the destruction of our environment on a planetary scale. Our government has been engaging in foreign wars which a very small minority of the electorate supports. We are facing a crisis of democracy in this country that rivals anything in our past -- and it is being studiously ignored by practically every news outlet. We are ignoring these facts publicly, just as consistently as the Nazi press ignored the movement of flags on the campaign maps of the Eastern front.

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