Reality in Soviet news was 100% binary, with all people either heroes or villains, and the villains all in league with one another … Other ideas were not represented, except to be attacked and deconstructed.
Also, since anything good was all good, politicians were not described as people at all but paragons of limitless virtue — 95% of most issues of Pravda or Izvestia were just names of party leaders surrounded by lists of applause-words, like “glittering,” “full-hearted,” “wise,” “mighty,” “courageous,” “in complete moral-political union with the people,” etc.
The gold standard
Some of the headlines in the U.S. press lately sound suspiciously like this kind of work:
— Biden stimulus showers money on Americans, sharply cutting poverty
— Champion of the middle class comes to the aid of the poor
— Biden’s historic victory for America …
We now know in advance that every Biden address will be reviewed as historic and exceptional. It was a mild shock to see Chris Wallace say Biden’s was the “the best inaugural address I have ever heard.” More predictable was Politico saying of Thursday night’s address that “it is hard to imagine any other contemporary politician making the speech Biden did… channeling our collective sorrow and reminding us that there is life after grief.” (Really? Hard to imagine any contemporary politician doing that?).
This stuff is relatively harmless. Where it gets weird is that the move to turn the bulk of the corporate press in the “moral clarity” era into a single party organ has come accompanied by purges of the politically unfit. In the seemingly endless parade of in-house investigations of journalists, paper after paper has borrowed from the Soviet style of printing judgments and self-denunciations, without explaining the actual crimes.
The New York Times coverage of the recent staff revolt at Teen Vogue against editor Alexi McCammond noted “Staff Members Condemn Editor’s Decade-Old, Racist Tweets,” but declined to actually publish the offending texts, so readers might judge for themselves. The Daily Beast expose on Times reporter Donald McNeil did much the same thing. Even the ongoing (and in my mind, ridiculous) moral panic over Substack ties in. Aimed at people already banished from mainstream media, the obvious message is that anyone with even mildly heterodox opinions shouldn’t be publishing anywhere.
Those still clinging to mainstream jobs in a business that continues to lay people off at an extraordinary rate read the gist of all of these stories clearly: if you want to keep picking up a check, you’d better talk the right talk.
Thus you see bizarre transformations like that of David Brooks, who spent his career penning paeans to “personal responsibility” and the “culture of thrift,” but is now writing stories about how “Joe Biden is a transformational president” for casting aside fiscal restraints in the massive Covid-19 bill. When explaining that “both parties are adjusting to the new paradigm,” he’s really explaining his own transformation, in a piece that reads like a political confession. “I’m worried about a world in which we spend borrowed money with abandon,” he says, but “income inequality, widespread child poverty, and economic precarity are the problems of our time.” …
He’s like a lot of people in the press who are searching out the safest places on the op-ed page, the middle of the newsroom middle, in desperate efforts to stay on the masthead. It’s been made clear that there’s no such thing as overdoing it in one direction, e.g. if you write as the Times did that Biden “has become a steady hand who chooses words with extraordinary restraint” (which even those who like and admire Biden must grasp is not remotely true of the legendary loose cannon). Meanwhile, how many open critics of the Party on either the left, the right, or anywhere in between still have traditional media jobs? …
What is this all going to look like in four years?
Today’s western media is a triumph of partisanship over truth.