Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How did journalists make themselves associates of the state?

Back in 2011, I wrote about how George Creel's plan with the Committee for Public Information (CPI) was to make journalists associates of the state. Here is in part what he wrote: (page 17)
With the nation in arms, the need was not so much to keep the press from doing the hurtful things as to get it to do the helpful things. It was not servants we wanted, but associates. Better far to have the desired compulsions proceed from within than to apply them from without.

And from page 18:

My proposition, in lieu of the proposed law, was a voluntary agreement that would make every paper in the land its own censor, putting it up to the patriotism and common sense of the individual editor to protect purely military information of tangible value to the enemy. The plan was approved and, without further thought of the pending bill, we proceeded to prepare a statement to the press of America that would make clear the necessities of the war-machine even while removing doubts and distrusts.

This begs an obvious question, how can the journalists defend us from ambitious men in government if they don't even keep an eye out and defend themselves(or their institution) from ambitious men in government? First off, Creel was himself a journalist, so who better for government to hire than a fellow journalist to do all of this co-opting. Second, Creel was not the only one. The CPI was virtually staffed wall to wall with journalists. Well, if the government is going to hire that many journalists, surely we can trust it, right?

There's still a lot of gaps to fill in here. What was going on on the ground? Why would the journalists, those who are supposedly our defenders of liberty, let this happen? Walter Lippmann gives us a good idea of how this happened. The journalists got lazy. In chapter 23 of Lippmann's "Public Opinion", he writes the following: (page 338)

ALL the reporters in the world working all the hours of the day could not witness all the happenings in the world. There are not a great many reporters. And none of them has the power to be in more than one place at a time. Reporters are not clairvoyant, they do not gaze into a crystal ball and see the world at will, they are not assisted by thought-transference. Yet the range of subjects these comparatively few men manage to cover would be a miracle indeed, if it were not a standardized routine.

Newspapers do not try to keep an eye on all mankind. They have watchers stationed at certain places, like Police Headquarters, the Coroner's Office, the County Clerk's Office, City Hall, the White House, the Senate, House of Representatives, and so forth. They watch, or rather in the majority of cases they belong to associations which employ men who watch "a comparatively small number of places where it is made known when the life of anyone... departs from ordinary paths, or when events worth telling about occur. For example, John Smith, let it be supposed, becomes a broker. For ten years he pursues the even tenor of his way and except for his customers and his friends no one gives him a thought. To the newspapers he is as if he were not. But in the eleventh year he suffers heavy losses and, at last, his resources all gone, summons his lawyer and arranges for the making of an assignment. The lawyer posts off to the County Clerk's office, and a clerk there makes the necessary entries in the official docket. Here in step the newspapers. While the clerk is writing Smith's business obituary a reporter glances over his shoulder and a few minutes later the reporters know Smith's troubles and are as well informed concerning his business status as they would be had they kept a reporter at his door every day for over ten years.

When Mr. Given says that the newspapers know "Smith's troubles" and "his business status," he does not mean that they know them as Smith knows them, or as Mr. Arnold Bennett would know them if he had made Smith the hero of a three volume novel. The newspapers know only "in a few minutes" the bald facts which are recorded in the County Clerk's Office.

Consider the gravity of what he just admitted to. He says "stationed at certain places", look at what he lists. What do they all have in common? They are all government buildings. It's 100% true that newspapers and journalists do not have the manpower to cover everything. But then consider the converse: somewhere along the line the journalists decided that government could be trusted. Consider the story he tells. The journalist gets tired of chasing down all of these details at this or that location, so instead he or she can just wait for the details down at city hall, where the information is filtered along the government's line.

The interesting thing about this, is that the concept of government censors is one that Lippmann covers in this very book, yet he does not make the connection.

This is why they were so easy to bring into line. They had already found government as a primary source of information to be acceptable.

We see this in action today in our time. Do they ever question the government's unemployment numbers?

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