Children's Fantasy Writers
The work of America's press is best appreciated if recognized for what it is. One should not think of it as news and analysis for adults, but rather, in the most important areas, as writing for the unformed and impressionable minds of children. It is make believe; it is pretend; it is not to be taken as serious, literal truth.
As with the fantasies peddled to children, a certain suspension of the critical faculties is required of the reader. One must believe, for instance, that a gregarious, hard-bitten petty gangster who knew practically every policeman on the Dallas force was simply another "lone nut" turned maudlin sentimentalist who just wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of a trial, so he took it upon himself to slay her husband's assassin. It is like believing reindeer can fly. The presidential assassin himself, we are given to believe, was able to pull off his feat with an inaccurate rifle with a misaligned scope, squeezing off three rounds in record time with the bolt-action weapon. Each shot at the moving, retreating target, we are told, became more accurate than the one before, producing entrance wounds that looked like exit wounds and vice versa, with one bullet causing the head to snap toward the bullet that hit it instead of away, and another bullet changing direction and pausing in mid-air and shattering bone while experiencing no apparent harm to itself. It is no harder than believing that flying reindeer can pull a flying sleigh.
More recently, our press is telling America's children the bedtime tale of a young super-soldier gone bad, who took it upon himself to mastermind a grandiose plot to kill scores of innocent federal government employees and their dependents in retribution for the mass slaughter of religious innocents in Waco, Texas, by government agents. We are to overlook such things as the complete impossibility of the building damage from a fuel-oil/fertilizer bomb in a truck in the street and the failure of the prosecution to use the evidence of the numerous witnesses who saw the convicted mastermind in the vicinity of the bombed building on the fatal day, but in the company of others. If Santa Claus can pack enough presents into his sleigh to supply all the world's children, then Tim McVeigh could have easily masterminded the deed for which he was convicted.
Or, in the case of the mysterious death of a high-level White House aide, we are told the tale of a note torn into 28 pieces found without fingerprints on it in a briefcase that had been emptied out and inventoried several days previous. That discovery is no less amazing than the finding of two sets of keys in the pants pocket of the corpse at the morgue, keys that had not been discovered when the police rifled through the pants pockets at the park where the body was found as they looked for evidence as small as a possible suicide note.
Maybe it could happen and maybe all those people who saw a missile streaking up toward TWA 800 were all hallucinating simultaneously. It's really no harder to believe than that the jolly fat man delivers his Christmas presents by sliding down through chimneys. As with the Santa Claus story, there are no doubt quite a few of the smarter children out there who don't believe the press fairy tales. But most swallow their doubts and choose to believe them for quite similar reasons:
1. The stories are told with an air of authority and with virtual unanimity. If you can't trust your own parents and every other grownup you know to tell you the truth, whom can you trust? If you can't trust all the major newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news people to tell you the truth, whom can you trust?
2. All the other kids seem to believe it. Who wants to be the oddball? Those behind the American news media have learned that peer pressure doesn't stop when people grow up. Who wants to be made fun of for telling people that all the grownups are in one giant conspiracy to withhold the truth from us? You conspiracy theorist. You paranoid nutcase. You malcontent. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.
3. It is unsettling to believe that there is no Santa Claus. If you don't believe it you might not get any presents. And it means that your cozy little world is not what you thought it was. It means, for one thing, that grownups don't think a thing about lying to you when it suits their purposes. It is just as unsettling to think that about our news media, and it is quite comforting not to believe it. Furthermore, with the isolated exception of Oliver Stone who is treated as the very epitome of the unscrupulous scandal-monger, you don't see any prominent, successful people speaking out publicly about the covered-up outrages of our government, do you? The unspoken word is that if you want to get along materially, if you want to get your presents, you will suppress what skeptical thoughts you might have about the official line.
4. What good does it do to point out the truth, anyway? The grownups have all the power and preschool children don't have any. They're going to keep pushing the Santa Claus line whatever a few isolated smarty-pants kids might say. When the founding fathers exalted the press with the protections of the First Amendment it is doubtful that they envisioned its metamorphosis into a government propaganda organ totally disdainful of the truth and of the needs and wishes of the people, but that is, indeed, what has happened. The examples we have cited illustrate it. But a child might as well challenge the Santa Claus myth as to try to point this fact out for all the good that it does. At this moment in the history of the world's oldest experiment in democracy, corrupt power, as we see manifested in that nation's monopoly press, has it all over truth.
August 14, 1998