Sinead O’Connor, Felt-Truths, and Media Propaganda

May 21, 2021 Updated: May 21, 2021

Commentary

A puff piece on Sinead O’Connor scheduled to appear in The New York Times on Sunday and timed to coincide with the publication of her memoir, with the Borat-like title of “Rememberings,” includes this little jog to the reader’s own rememberings.

“If you remember two things about her,” writes Amanda Hess for the Times about Ms. O’Connor, “it’s that she vaulted to fame with that enduring close-up in the video for her version of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’—and then, that she stared down a ‘Saturday Night Live’ camera, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and killed her career.”

But wait! What we all thought we knew about Sinead O’Connor turns out not to be true—at least not according to Shuhada Sadaqat, as Ms. O’Connor has taken to calling herself, off and on, since her conversion to Islam.

“O’Connor doesn’t see it that way,” writes Ms. Hess, reverting to her subject’s previous family name. “In fact, the opposite feels true”—and then she quotes from “Rememberings”: “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career … and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”

Of course she is entitled to her feelings, but why, we may ask, does the publication once known as America’s newspaper of record seek out such an opportunity to indulge them?

But then we already knew, didn’t we, that The New York Times has, during the last four years, also taken to reporting the news that “feels true” in addition to, and sometimes instead of, the kind that actually is true.

It felt true, for instance, to everyone from the top to the bottom of the paper’s editorial staff, that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. And so, for over two years, they reported on this felt-truth as if it were only a matter of time before it would be confirmed as truth indeed.

When it wasn’t, they didn’t stop believing in that felt-truth, however. They simply took up another felt-truth in the shape of what they called the “1619 Project.” It felt true to them to report that the country had been founded on racism, and so they sought out a putative expert, Nikole Hannah-Jones, to say so. At length.

Lots of other experts disagreed with her. Some of them have now cited the egregious historical errors in the 1619 Project as a reason for denying Professor Hannah-Jones tenure at the journalism school of the University of North Carolina.

What do you suppose The New York Times feels about this?

What else but that she has been the victim of a “conservative backlash”—against the felt-truth, aka falsehood, of America’s genetically programed racism?

Jake Silverstein, editor of The New York Times Magazine, told his New York Times colleague Katie Robertson that “Nikole’s journalism, whether she’s writing about school segregation or American history, has always been bold, unflinching and dedicated to telling uncomfortable truths that some people just don’t want to hear.”

It doesn’t occur to him that “some people” may not want to hear them not because they’re uncomfortable but because they’re untrue. They feel true and that’s good enough for The New York Times—which is as much entitled to its feelings as Sinead O’Connor is. And to just as much respect for them.

Its reporter Amanda Hess has her own felt truth, it seems, when she writes of Sinead O’Connor that she “is, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, irresistible”—which suggests that Hess doesn’t expect her piece to be read by those belonging to what must be that fairly considerable portion of the human race for whom O’Connor is very resistible indeed.

And yet it is true—and not just the truth of feelings—to say that the culture has changed, and lots of people have changed with it, since that fateful performance on “Saturday Night Live” in 1992.

Hess mentions this change when she writes that “‘Crazy’ is a word that does some dirty cultural work. It is a flip way of referencing mental illness, yes. But it’s also a slippery label that has little to do with how a person’s brain works and everything to do with how she is culturally received. Calling someone crazy is the ultimate silencing technique. It robs a person of her very subjectivity.”

These are deep waters, but the idea of robbing a person of her very subjectivity appears to be just another way of saying that she is entitled to her own truth, the truth she feels, which in turn is another way of saying she is entitled to her own reality—which is another way of saying she’s crazy.

Or rather it used to be so—back in the days when “reality” was something we all shared and the New York Times, with some lapses, at least purported to report on that public reality rather than the merely private kind that celebrities like O’Connor have since taught us to value more highly

Now it’s those of us who still expect the news to have some remaining tether to objective rather than subjective reality who are the crazy ones.

This is the moment that O’Connor, on her solitary mountaintop in Ireland, and others more strategically placed for a takeover of the culture have obviously been waiting for.

And guess what? We owe it all to Donald Trump.

Or, rather, to the excuse the former President’s candidacy provided to the Times and, subsequently, the rest of the media for shuttering their remaining news operations and going full bore and full time into propaganda.

Like “crazy,” that’s a word that used to have pretty unfavorable connotations for everybody; unlike “crazy,” however, “propaganda” still has them. This means that the Times and its media followers have to continue to keep up the pretense, at least most of the time, that their propaganda is really something else with the softer name of “narrative.”

And narrative is nothing if it is not another form of felt-truth. It’s the truth that you want so much to believe that you’ll accept any evidence, no matter how flimsy, for believing it—and dismiss any evidence, no matter how persuasive, for not believing it.

But that’s the beauty of felt-truths, as opposed to the old-fashioned kind: they can never be falsified by mere facts.

James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” Bowman is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.