On Cable News, “Truth” Sometimes Resembles “1984”

1984In George Orwell’s “1984,” the central character, Winston Smith, works at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting news items from the past so they support what the all-controlling inner Party asserts as present and past reality. The slogan that sums up this process is, “He who controls the past controls the future.” Past government reports, economic plans and projections, official accounts of battles fought in remote places against whoever is the enemy, all are made to align with what the Party is doing now.

If the people would be disappointed that chocolate rations are being cut, the Party tells them that they are being increased and changes historical records so that rations from past months have lower quantities than the current rations. If apartment buildings are dilapidated, plumbing clogged, food inedible, clothing poorly made and unaffordable, the Party claims that the standard of living has improved and predicts even brighter days ahead.

The Party controls the citizens of Oceania with fear of enemies abroad and at home. It keeps people focused on perpetual war in far off lands. Every dead soldier is a hero, so questioning the reasons for war is a crime.

It is hard not to feel we are living in an Orwellian age.

In “1984,” Smith briefly held in his hands hard evidence that the Party had lied about the activities of three political figures who had been accused, tried and convicted of treason. A news clipping accidentally came across his desk proving that the three traitors were at a conference in New York City on the very day they were convicted of being in Eurasia betraying Oceania.

Smith, frightened by what would happen to him if he makes known that he has, or has even seen, this hard evidence contradicting the Party’s version of reality, sends it down the ironically named memory hole, where it is instantly burned.

Hard historical evidence like documents housed in the LBJ Library or the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas makes true history possible, but it does not guarantee it. The art of history has been so marginalized that it is not making a dent in ongoing political discussions.

In the manufactured controversy concerning President Barack Obama’s citizenship and eligibility to be president, images shown on one news network of birth announcements in old Hawaiian newspapers are never seen by people who never watch that network.

Worse, last month on CNN, a guest anchor on “Lou Dobbs Tonight” reported that Factcheck.org, the Republican governor of Hawaii, and those very clippings established that Obama was born in Hawaii. Three days later, Lou Dobbs asserted on the same program, his own, that the questions had not been dealt with.

Worst of all, the ensuing coverage was all about the potential embarrassment to Dobbs, not about the harm done to our political process when such falsehoods are perpetuated.

palaimaWinston Smith realized that as time went by, the past would be rewritten so often that what once constituted hard evidence might no longer contradict the current version of history.

We have reached the point where truth in history is determined by whoever can buy a news network and get partisans to shout loud and long.

Hold onto your birth certificate, just in case.

Tom Palaima

Tom Palaima teaches classics at the University of Texas, Austin.

Republished with permission from the History News Network. Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman (8-21-09)


  1. in_awe says

    Some historically aware people know that the “newspaper of record” – the NY Times – reporter Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his unrepentant whitewashing of the Soviet famines in the Ukraine, the widespread purges and showtrials in the 1930’s. Finally, after decades of supporting Duranty, the NY Times admitted that he fabricated and wrote a (Soviet) government approved narrative of reality.

    I recall that in 1968, based purely on personal opinion, Walter Cronkite of CBS declared that the Tet Offensive proved conclusively that the US and S. Vietnam had lost the war militarily. All facts proved otherwise.

    As the North Vietnamese leaders later admitted, the Tet Offensive was militarily a major disaster for the NVA and was the last sizable effort ever undertaken by the Viet Cong. Yet, their “Hail Mary” offensive won the public opinion war due to the “dean of American journalism” declaring the war lost and that the the troops should be brought home.

    Fast forward over decades of untold thousands of untruths spoken in the MSM to September, 2004 when Dan Rather (another paragon of truth at CBS) gave us the “fake but accurate” take on “the news”.

    Of more recent vintage are the AP fauxtography hijinx using obviously Photoshopped images from the Middle East. These ranged from photos of the same wailing woman used in several different photographs purportedly taken in countries separated by hundreds of miles, to faked Israeli air attacks in Lebanon to tampered images of Iranian anti-aircraft missile launches.

    I dare say that the author’s grasp of mainstream media distortion is greatly attenuated and biased.

  2. jacksmith says

    NO CO-OP’S! A Little History Lesson

    Young People. America needs your help.

    More than two thirds of the American people want a single payer health care system. And if they cant have a single payer system 77% of all Americans want a strong government-run public option on day one (86% of democrats, 75% of independents, and 72% of republicans). Basically everyone.

    According to a new AARP POLL: 86 percent of seniors want universal healthcare security for All, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. And 79% of seniors support creating a new strong Government-run public option plan, available immediately. Including 89% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 61% of Republicans, STUNNING!! Senator Max Baucus, You better come out of committee with a strong government-run public option available on day one.

    The History:

    Our last great economic catastrophe was called the Great Depression. Then as now it was caused by a reckless, and corrupt Republican administration and republican congress. FDR a Democrat, was then elected to save the nation and the American people from the unbridled GREED and profiteering, of the unregulated predatory self-interest of the banking industry and Wallstreet. Just like now.

    FDR proposed a Government-run health insurance plan to go with Social Security. To assure all Americans high quality, easily accessible, affordable, National Healthcare security. Regardless of where you lived, worked, or your ability to pay. But the AMA riled against it. Using all manor of scare tactics, like Calling it SOCIALIZED MEDICINE!! :-0

    So FDR established thousands of co-op’s around the country in rural America. And all of them failed. The biggest of these co-op organizations would become the grandfather of the predatory monster that all of you know today as the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT health insurance industry. And the DISGRACEFUL GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT healthcare industry.

    This former co-op would grow so powerful that it would corrupt every aspect of healthcare delivery in America. Even corrupting the Government of the United States.

    This former co-op’s name is BLUE CROSS/BLUE SHIELD.

    Do you see now why even the suggestion of co-op’s is ridiculous. It makes me so ANGRY! Co-op’s are not a substitute for a government-run public option.

    They are trying to pull the wool over our eye’s again. Senators, if you don’t have the votes now, GET THEM! Or turn them over to us. WE WILL! DEAL WITH THEM. Why do you think we gave your party Control of the House, Control of the Senate, Control of the Whitehouse. The only option on the table that has any chance of fixing our healthcare crisis is a STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION.

    An insurance mandate and subsidies without a strong government-run public option choice available on day one, would be worse than the healthcare catastrophe we have now. The insurance, and healthcare industry have been very successful at exploiting the good hearts of the American people. But Congress and the president must not let that happen this time. House Progressives and members of the Tri-caucus must continue to hold firm on their demand for a strong Government-run public option.

    A healthcare reform bill with mandates and subsidies but without a STRONG government-run public option choice on day one, would be much worse than NO healthcare reform at all. So you must be strong and KILL IT! if you have too. And let the chips fall where they may. You can do insurance reform without mandates, subsidies, or taxpayer expense.

    Actually, no tax payer funds should be use to subsidize any private for profit insurance plans. So, NO TAX PAYER SUBSIDIES TO PRIVATE FOR PROFIT PLANS. Tax payer funds should only be used to subsidize the public plans. Healthcare reform should be 100% for the American people. Not another taxpayer bailout of the private for profit insurance industry, disguised as healthcare reform for the people.

    God Bless You

    Jacksmith — Working Class

    Twitter search #welovetheNHS #NHS Check it out


    Senator Bernie Sanders on healthcare (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSM8t_cLZgk&feature=player_embedded)

    American HEROES!! :-) Click replay to play http://bit.ly/j31oU

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbWw23XwO5o) CYBER WARRIORS!! – TAKE THIS VIRAL


  1. […] On Cable News, "Truth" Sometimes Resembles "1984" | The LA Progressive http://www.laprogressive.com/2009/08/28/on-cable-news-truth-sometimes-resembles-1984 – view page – cached We have reached the point where truth in history is determined by whoever can buy a news network and get partisans to shout loud and long. Hold onto your birth certificate, just in case. — From the page […]

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