Solzhenitsyn True and False, Part II
By David Henderson
For Part I, see here.
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?
Here again, the main concern is to avoid infringing the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If he has misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases where the same journalist or the same newspaper has publicly recognized and rectified such mistakes? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.
I think he’s on target here. They occasionally admit mistakes but they bury the admission on page 16 or whatever. That’s why I was so optimistic–overly optimistic, it turns out–when the Fox News Channel came along. It holds some of the other media to account but often does so sloppily.
Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification? The press can both stimulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists turned into heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusions on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.”
Notice that AS switches part way through this paragraph. The first three sentences are spot on. I’m not sure about sentence 4, though. If he has Che Guevara and people like him in mind, then yes. But there wasn’t a whole lot of hero worship of Osama bin Laden. And it is true that there could be secret matters pertaining to our defense that are publicly revealed, but it’s also true that some of what is publicly revealed is that the government has been spying on us, wittingly. Of course, AS was speaking back in 1978 and he may have had the Pentagon Papers in mind. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of revealing them, I don’t recall anything revealed in the Pentagon Papers that harmed our defense. It simply made many of us more skeptical than otherwise about government motives. I applaud that; I gather that AS did not.
people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.
That’s true, but it’s also true that people with some will power have the ability to cut themselves off from most of this information or misinformation. I run into such people regularly.
Such as it is, however, the press become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?
What to say? I don’t think it’s true that the press is more powerful than the government. Again, he was writing in 1978, but President Obama was very hostile to press freedom, not necessarily in his words but in his actions. (President Trump is hostile too, but it appears to be mainly with words and not actions. He, unlike Obama, has not yet used the 1917 Espionage Act against the press.) And was AS even hinting that someone should elect the press with something other than dollar votes? Why bring the Communist East into the discussion? I’m virtually positive that he was not recommending that the government get to appoint the press. So what was he saying?
Enormous freedom exists for the press–but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give stress and emphasis to those opinions which do not too sharply contradict their own, or the general trend.
False. Readers are free not to read particular newspapers.
Without any censorship, fashionable trends of thought and ideas in the West are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researches are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot bear him because the media are not interested in him.
Lots of truth here. And colleges have even gotten worse. But here’s the good news, not that AS could have been expected to anticipate it when virtually no one else did: it’s not that way now. That person in a faraway college can start a blog.
I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system in order to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced applied socialism in a country where that alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death.
Say it, brother. I haven’t read the book, but AS has nailed this one.
This is getting overly long. So there will be a Part III.