In his Cold War-era novel, “1984,” George Orwell’s character Syme explains to Winston the language of the totalitarian society: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? … Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think.”
Bill Moyers, who served in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration prior to his long career in public broadcasting, used Orwell’s story to illustrate a point: “An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only on partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, to ask questions, to be skeptical.”
We live in an era when many Americans don’t know the difference between news and spin.
It’s true there’s no such thing as as an objective journalist. It is the process, not the person, that is objective. Like scientists, journalists don’t start at the conclusion and edit the information to support their argument. They look at the evidence, corroborate the facts, and see where they lead.
Reporters are also conscious of their own biases and thus wary of how they might distort perception.
It’s all about the training. The idea that, in the Internet age, “We’re all journalists now” is horsefeathers. Thinking that an amateur with a blog and an opinion is a reporter is like thinking that a street-savvy kid with a gun and an attitude is a soldier.
Real journalism is in peril. One reason is that it has become too political.
Fox News, it seems, has had almost every prospective Republican presidential candidate on its payroll as a talking head, and the network helps bankroll the GOP. Its idea of “fair and balanced” is to have a far-left foil like Dennis Kucinich on Bill O’ Reilly’s show to provide “the other side.”
While most of those who work for newspapers and the traditional networks remain committed to genuine, public-interest reporting, it’s becoming harder for them to do enough. Newsrooms around the country are woefully understaffed, and there’s growing pressure by advertisers and executives to put more emphasis on what sells than on what matters.
That’s why we need public broadcasting, now more than ever.
When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in 1967, its purpose was to be fearlessly independent, offer a diversity of voices and provide programs to make people think, not tell them what to think. In addition to producing quality educational series, NPR and PBS pour millions of dollars into investigative journalism to compensate for the decline of watchdog reporting by their for-profit counterparts. Some of the funding comes from foundations, individual donors and, increasingly, business sponsors, but much of it comes from the federal government.
The CPB, however, is under assault in Congress by those who think it is an unnecessary expense and that it has a liberal bias. Really? The same PBS that gave us some of the most intelligent, articulate conservative thinkers, such as David Brooks and the late William F. Buckley? It’s good that there’s one source where thinkers can be heard above the loudmouthed, mindless blather of ideologues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
I believe that Moyers is right: The attacks on public broadcasting are not so much about budget deficits as silencing an independent alternative to contemporary “Newspeak.”