A decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hungarian journalist Paul Lendvai wrote the book “The Bureaucracy of Truth: How Communist Governments Manage the News,” a fascinating overview that revealed totalitarian methods of thought control.
He quoted an item from the USSR’s main newspaper, Pravda (which means “truth” in Russian), that mandated how news industry workers must carry out their duties: “A journalist is an active fighter for the cause of the party. It is not enough for him to have good intentions; he must also have clear views, a knowledge of life, and the ability to present his thoughts convincingly and brilliantly from Leninist positions.”
No room for argument there.
Pravda’s decree is better understood in the context of a stress-relieving practice inspired by the Soviet commitment to planning. The newspaper’s editors usually didn’t have to worry about annoying interruptions that required squeezing “breaking news” into their daily schedules.
Journalist Robert G. Kaiser wrote in his 1976 book “Russia: The People and the Power,” “When the editors of Pravda come to work each morning, the next day’s Pravda is waiting for them in proofs—tomorrow’s paper today.” Thus, Tuesday’s paper needed just a little tweaking, so the rest of Monday could be devoted to fleshing out Wednesday’s paper.
Now, that’s one handy way to manage the news cycle, and another advantage derived from journalists’ lifelong immersion in the official narrative—from the first time their fingers scamper across a keyboard to the point where they’re in a newspaper office putting finishing touches on the next edition of Pravda.
The Soviet Narrative
Specialists in Soviet studies learned from countless repetitions the main themes of The Narrative. These included affirming the Soviet Union as a rich and powerful country whose citizens were enthusiastically building communism, the aspiration of toiling masses throughout the world; that Vladimir Lenin, “a prince among men,” grasped history’s direction and built the Vanguard of the Proletariat, which embodies the will of the people and leads them into a future that will culminate in the earthly paradise of full communism; and opposing the Party makes you the enemy, deserving to be crushed by those whose progress can’t and won’t be hindered. Best simply to keep your mouth shut, get out of the way, and parrot points from the narrative’s template.
George Orwell based “Nineteen Eighty-Four” on the Soviet experience and fashioned Oceania’s Ministry of Truth—”Minitrue” in Newspeak—on the huge bureaucratic establishment whose work permeated every aspect of Russian life during Stalin’s era.
What was the narrative in Orwell’s dystopia? Big Brother had guided the Party since the 1940s, make that the ’30s—deep into time—when the world was dominated by greedy capitalists wearing strange cylindrical hats perched atop tilted heads, sporting faces that exuded smug expressions as their owners traveled inside flashy motorcars, parading their decadence throughout the streets of London.
The Revolution launched by Big Brother destroyed all that, ending exploitation forever and inaugurating an era of continuous prosperity—check Miniplenty statistics—in the face of constant war waged by Oceania’s jealous enemies, Eurasia or Eastasia. Throughout such time, the Party concocted marvelous inventions to protect the country—airplanes, tanks, guns, ships—everything. Loving Big Brother comes naturally to a grateful population, as does punishment for failing to do so—torture in Room 101, death, or worst of all, nonexistence.
All of this is depressing and familiar, of course, leading to the question, what do such examples tell us about America’s “mainstream” media? Certainly, these totalitarian horrors are irrelevant, aren’t they? After all, we’re talking about a free press, here—the freest in the world—and comparisons with the USSR and Orwell is beyond far-fetched—it’s insulting. America’s “Ministry of Truth?” I mean, really!
However, these reservations likely wouldn’t deter a former Soviet observer from marveling at the consistency of America’s so-called mainstream media in the conduct of journalists’ everyday activities. Indeed, Orwell’s Winston Smith might even raise an eyebrow in astonishment, especially considering that no central apparatus exists to enforce media commitment to a narrative. And what narrative are we talking about, anyway?
The American Narrative
It goes like this: America was never great. It is a country characterized by its horrible treatment of minorities, based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion. Indeed, America’s record of oppression has few parallels in history, from the era when European invaders waged war against indigenous peoples to the current time, dominated by assaults against minorities and women at home and innocent victims abroad. Forces of progress include all minorities, as well as women who pledge fealty to their own gender and reject cultural appropriation by non-members of self-described, exclusive groups. Progressives from all tribal interests emphasize inclusion, diversity, and respect for cultures who agree with such values, while excoriating those who don’t.
Enemies of humanity include Republicans, gun owners, Christians, nonconforming individuals from designated minorities, and white males. The current president is an illegitimate “deplorable” who acquired office by foreign machinations, and worst of all, he is a racist and white supremacist. In fact, white supremacism is the great issue of our time and whiteness must be abolished forever. Along with Fox News. And the Heritage Foundation. Throw in Hillsdale College, and we have a perfect trifecta.
Think this is an exaggeration? Perhaps it is; then again, perhaps not. Several avenues of inquiry allow us further to explore the power and reach of The Narrative fostered by America’s Ministry of Truth.
Which brings up the question, what do we mean by the term America’s Ministry of Truth? Further, what exactly is “the news?” Our next task is to address these questions.
Marvin Folkertsma is a retired professor of political science and a fellow for American studies with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a novel titled “The Thirteenth Commandment.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.