(EDITOR’S NOTE: In a week when Google, Facebook and Twitter all attacked free speech, it is worth revisiting a column I wrote in 2017 about Aldous Huxley’s warning against the propaganda machine he envisioned as one of the greatest “Enemies of Freedom.” I’ll update this concern in my column Monday at Real Clear Politics. BTW, the following essay is included in “The Media Matrix,” which is available on Amazon here.)
Donald Trump, Huxley and the ‘Enemies of Freedom’
March 12, 2017
By Frank Miele
Daily Inter Lake
It was the tweet heard round the world.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” —Donald Trump, via Twitter, Feb. 17, 2017.
Trump the counterpuncher had thrown a wicked jab at his favorite target, the “fake news media,” or what he calls “the opposition party.” And right on schedule, the fake news media responded by getting the story wrong.
The headline in the New York Times is one example of many: “Trump Calls the News Media the ‘Enemy of the American People.’”
Um, no, sorry. He didn’t. He called the “Fake News media” the enemy of the American people, and he specifically identified that as the N.Y. Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Yet for days, the story became that President Trump had declared war on “the media” or “the press” — all brought about by convenient and no doubt intentional omission of the word “fake.”
And let’s face it, the inability to accurately report the contents of a 22-word post on Twitter says volumes about the agenda-driven “reporting” that we have come to expect from the guiding lights of the mainstream media.
Of course, it wasn’t just the New York Times that got the story wrong. Virtually the same headline ran in the Washington Post, USA Today, thehill.com, slate.com, politico.com, the Daily Beast, New York Daily News — the list goes on and on, as if they were all eagerly self-inducting themselves into the “Fake News” industry.
This is one small example of a story that members of the national press corps got wrong (we used to call it lying), but there are dozens of them. Think of how many times you heard the president’s first travel ban called a Muslim ban, even though there was no reference to Muslims in it, and it demonstrably did not affect the vast majority of Muslims. Multiply that fake story by the dozens more than have been parroted by the mainstream media, and you can begin to gauge Trump’s frustration.
Add in the fact that every time the Associated Press gets a story wrong, it appears in hundreds of newspapers and is shared on thousands of websites and literally hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts. The impact on the American public’s perceptions of the truth is immediate, obvious and damning.
We are not legitimately talking about “news media” of any kind at this point; we are talking about a propaganda machine, or at the very least, an echo chamber whose purpose is to shape opinion, policy, and even morality.
It was eight years ago that I wrote a column highlighting the prophetic warning of author Aldous Huxley about the “enemies of freedom,” which the world would face as technology advanced in the coming decades.
One of the most important of those enemies was propaganda, and in a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace of CBS fame, Huxley laid out the case for how our freedom could be endangered by the mass media. The author of “Brave New World” proposed that the time might come when “television … is always saying the same things the whole time; it’s always driving along. It’s not creating a wide front of distraction. It’s creating a one-pointed ‘drumming in’ of a single idea all the time.” He calls this an “immensely powerful” tool of propaganda.
This “drumming in of a single idea all the time” is exactly what Trump has recognized to be an “enemy of the American people,” and anyone can see that he is right. If you hear the same refrain over and over again, you will eventually sing the song, no matter how horrible it is. The same goes for news: If you see and hear the same story over and over again, you will believe it, no matter how fake (or potentially fake) it is.
The news media celebrities on cable TV have appointed themselves the guardians of the public trust, but if you as an individual citizen are doing your duty, you must resist the “drumming in of a single idea all the time” and recognize that life in a democratic republic is binary, not singular. Question Trump, sure, but question the media, too. Question Obama. Question Congress. Question the Supreme Court. Never settle for one side of the story, and never assume that anyone in particular has your best interests at heart.
Most importantly, don’t blindly trust anyone to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you do, you have given away all your power.
Do you not believe there is any threat to your freedom? Listen to MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, who accidentally told the truth on the “Morning Joe” show recently by saying, “And it could be that while unemployment and the economy worsens, [Trump] could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that, that is our job.”
Yep, today, it is the members of the news media who stand between you and the truth. In that regard, they are now more powerful than the government itself. Mika was right. They shape our perceptions, and skew our reality.
But remember that no one elected Mika Brzezinski, or Jake Tapper, or Rachel Maddow, or the New York Times or the Associated Press to the position of guardians of truth. They are self-appointed, and unlike presidents they don’t go way in four or eight years. They have set themselves up to tell us what is right and wrong, and the only defense we have against them and their cupidity, arrogance and self-righteousness is eternal vigilance. Should we surrender to their dictates, we deserve the dictatorship that we get.
The Roman poet Juvenal summed up the situation aptly 1,900 years ago:
“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Who watches the watchmen?
Heartland Diary is solely operated by Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. If you enjoy reading these daily essays, I hope you will consider purchasing one of my books. They are available through the following Amazon links. My new book — “The Media Matrix: What if everything you know is fake?” — shows that Fake News has been around for years. The “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy tackles the politics of the last two decades: Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” As an Amazon Associate, I may earn referral fees for qualifying purchases through links on my website. Also consider subscribing to Heartland Diary on YouTube by clicking here for News Every Conservative Can Use. My goal is to reach 1,000 subscribers.