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U.S. POLITICS

Policing the Real.

Doublethink, Deception, and Election 2020.

In a recent 60 Minutes interview with President Donald Trump, journalist Lesley Stahl offered a typical example of the media’s determination to deceive the public about critical information that runs counter to the left’s political and cultural aspirations. When the President brought up the topic of Hunter Biden’s emails and the influence-peddling that they seem to reveal, Stahl said the news program wouldn’t discuss the story because it “can’t be verified.” Asked by the President why it can’t be verified, Stahl answered, “Because it can’t be verified.” 

This idea—“verification”—has been weaponized by the activist media to control the flow of information. The Orwellian implications of this effort cannot be understated: as Orwell’s Winston Smith learned at the Ministry of Truth, to control the circulation of information is to control the public perception of reality.

The concept itself begs some commentary. For something to be “verified” it means that it has been demonstrated as truth. The leftist concern with “verification,” then, is rather unexpected: the left usually celebrates “lived experience” and “emotional truth” in an effort to convince Americans that any claim to objective truth is indefensible. Truth, they insist, depends on one’s perspective, and to claim the universality of any truth is to “marginalize” the perspectives of those who experience the world differently. 

“Verification” operates as nothing more than a rhetorical cover for the partisan objectives of the media.

When it comes to advancing the left’s agenda, however, our institutions are perfectly willing to snap back to a rigid, empirical vision of objective truth, in which all political claims fit neatly into one of two boxes: “true” and “false.” This hypocrisy is most prominently displayed by the media’s selective concern with “verification,” and the ideologically-motivated manipulations that they publish under the guise of “fact-checking.” To the left and their media, your view of reality (and even your opinions) must align with their understanding of the “facts.”

But where was the concern for “verification” when the media attacked Nick Sandmann of Covington Catholic School? Where was this concern for “verification” during the years that major news outlets dropped report after bombshell report, insisting that the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia during the 2016 election? Where was the strident commitment to truth when the commentariat breathlessly reported that Brett Kavanaugh participated in gang rapes in college? And where is this devotion to “verification” as Adam Schiff (a man who can only be considered an unreliable source) insists, without evidence—and contrary to U.S. intelligence officials—that the Hunter Biden laptop story is a form of Russian disinformation?

In all those cases, it is clear that there was no concern with “verification,” and the reason is so plain that only an idiot (or devout ideologue) could miss it. It’s the same reason that an adamantine standard of “verification” re-emerged at precisely the moment credible accusations of sexual assault emerged against Joe Biden—accusations with far more corroboration than those against Justice Kavanaugh. “Verification” operates as nothing more than a rhetorical cover for the partisan objectives of the media.

The ancient Greeks had a concept called isegoria, which roughly referred to the equal access that citizens had to the space of public deliberation. They recognized that if citizens do not have equal access to the public debate, then it could not be truly said that the Greeks enjoyed the prerogative of “free speech.” In 2020, America faces an isegoric crisis. The space of our public debate is predominately digital, and the institutional authorities that “moderate” that space have stripped both dissenting citizens (e.g., Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Morgan) and organizations (e.g., the New York Post) of their access to the deliberative sphere. 

By excluding the voices of those who advance undesirable truths or different perspectives, the private entities that control our media don’t merely arbitrate what we can know—they control the public perception of reality itself. 

Laptop.

Laptop.

THE MECHANICS OF “VERIFICATION”

Our crisis of truth is worsened by the subjective trappings of “verification” itself. Something is “verified” when we can say it is true with certainty. Of course, what constitutes “certainty” is versatile, and can be changed as necessary to accommodate the left’s political objectives.

Something is “verified” when we can say it is true with certainty. Of course, what constitutes “certainty” is versatile, and can be changed as necessary to accommodate the left’s political objectives.

What more would it take to “verify” the legitimacy of the Post’s story on Hunter’s emails? We already have the direct testimony of the computer repair shop owner, who provided documentation with Hunter Biden’s signature. The Biden campaign, and indeed, the Bidens themselves, have not disputed the emails’ authenticity. The personal associations and meetings referenced in the emails are supported by outside documentation—documentation that wasn’t supplied by the repair shop owner or by Rudy Giuliani, who assisted in bringing the story to the public’s attention (or trying to). 

Taken together, these facts seem to offer strong “verification” that the story is legitimate, and the emails are authentic. If nothing else, the story should warrant further reporting and investigation to get to the truth—which, in a healthy democracy, is the primary purpose of journalism. Tellingly though, as award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour recently told a representative of the Republican National Committee in an interview, when the guest mentioned the Hunter Biden email story, the media is “not going to do your [read: opponents of the Democratic party] work for you.”

Put differently, Amanpour acknowledges that the media is a part of a team—one that opposes conservatives and the Trump campaign. As such, they will not assist in the circulation of news that hurts their team, regardless of its truth status or relevance to American life. 

What would it take for the media to grant the laptop story the “verified” status and permit coverage of this story? A joint press conference with Biden and his son during which they personally confirm the veracity of the emails? That seems to be what outlets like 60 Minutes are pretending to wait for, and they know it will never happen, so they can continue to ignore the story in perpetuity. Meanwhile, politically useful stories, the verification criteria relaxes—right down to hearsay, leaks, and the anonymous testimony of “sources familiar with the matter” which serve as sufficient material for the fabrication of “factual truth.”

Authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism.

DOUBLETHINK AND TOTALITARIANISM, AMERICAN-STYLE

The media’s capacity to curate American thought is made all the more menacing given the influence they have in not just which stories get told—but also whether those stories will be allowed to circulate. Until this weekend, the New York Post had remained locked out of its Twitter account for publishing an article that detailed the revelations obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop—an article which Twitter deemed “dubious.” The social media giant prohibited sharing tweets that linked to the Post’s story on the grounds that they were “potentially harmful.” (Harmful, we can only assume, to the Biden campaign.)

Though often leveraged for strawmanisms, 1984 is replete with ideas and concepts that can help us make sense of what’s happening to the world around us.

If such censorship weren’t so frightening the week of an election, the irony would be delicious: the same tech platforms that spent four years working to minimize the possibility of foreign election interference have themselves become agents of domestic election interference.

More and more, the media, both traditional and social, have the power to dictate the very contents of our reality. The stakes of our current moment are best illustrated by returning to the often-revisited classic by George Orwell, 1984, where he paints the inhumanity of totalitarian statism and makes explicit the role censorship plays in enabling these malevolent powers. Though often leveraged for strawmanisms, 1984 is replete with ideas and concepts that can help us make sense of what’s happening to the world around us.

Orwell’s main character, Winston Smith, is a secret objector of Big Brother’s regime in his home, Oceania—his dissent is sharpened as he sees first-hand the machinations of censorship and ideological control. Working in the Ministry of Truth, his job is to manipulate the past to sustain the power of the state. He does this by curating and revising the information that is accessible by the public. Specifically, he changes old newspaper articles (and writes new ones) to “correct” information—information that is “potentially harmful” (to use Twitter’s terms), but which he knows to be true. This ensures that public knowledge conforms to the state’s ideologically-approved vision of reality. 

In Oceania, the great enemy of the state is Emmanuel Goldstein, a dissident who wrote a heretical book detailing Big Brother’s methods of repression and control. By a dangerous turn of events, Smith gets hold of Goldstein’s banned book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. Smith is horrified as he reads an account of “doublethink,” a political concept that describes the psychological techniques demanded by Oceanic autocracy. Goldstein writes: 

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated.” 

This passage offers a clear explanation of how it is at once possible to believe that, because “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” the pursuit of objective truth must be the guiding light of our society—and to believe that revelations about a presidential candidate’s potential involvement with illegal influence-peddling should not even be discussed, let alone investigated

“Doublethink” also explains how the New York Times can justify publishing unverified accusations against Justice Kavanaugh, with no delay or due diligence, and to justify delaying any mention of well-corroborated claims that Joe Biden engaged in similar assaults for weeks.

Goldstein’s book continues: 

“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.” 

But necessary for what? Necessary to believe in the moral righteousness of lies, and to believe, as the Party insists, that “Ignorance is Strength.” Making people believe this fiction (in America and in Oceania) is a necessary prerequisite for the birth of a totalitarian state.

In Oceania, as in America, elites have succeeded in erasing the boundary that divided political power and cultural power. Each day, our media exerts more authority over who can speak, and which realities can be spoken. They aim to re-make the world in the image of the left. By ensuring the people remain ignorant of certain truths, they reinvent reality.

Google.

Google.

REINVENTING REALITY, REINVENTING THE HUMAN PERSON

This power to reinvent reality is on full display in documents from Google that were recently released by Project Veritas. The internal materials, leaked by a Google employee, discussed how the company would address “algorithmic unfairness.” The text provides an example of what is meant by the term “unfairness”: “Imagine that a Google image query for “CEOs” shows predominantly men. Even if it were a factually accurate representation of the world, it would be algorithmic unfairness because it would reinforce a stereotype of the role of women in leadership positions.” The document goes on to explain that Google may make “intervention[s]” by manipulating search results to “help society to reach a more fair and equitable state.” 

By reinventing reality, our media hopes to reinvent the human person.

In short, Google refuses to represent our reality because it does not reflect how they think reality should be. By representing how the world should be (but is not), Google incrementally displaces existing reality with its own ideal. It’s noteworthy that the document never concedes the reality that most CEOs are men. It only says that if that were the case (which it is), such a reality might call for algorithmic “intervention.” Here, the world’s most powerful and ubiquitous internet search engine service does more than simply deny the existence of a reality—they justify their efforts to change a reality that they simultaneously assert does not exist. 

“Doublethink” is not a fiction.

By reinventing reality, our media hopes to reinvent the human person. They aim to change the rural “deplorables” and the “bitter clingers” into the woke, rootless, cosmopolitan, secular code-writers of the future. As Michael Rectenwald notes in his recent book Google Archipelago, our media entities, with the algorithmic power of the internet, are increasingly playing the role of a state—and they play that role without the limitations that are imposed upon the government by the Constitution. They aim to use their technocratic cultural power to circumvent democratic political power. 

For now, the U.S. government can still restrict the ways that corporate and media elites are harnessing technology to achieve this authoritarian control. But not just any government will be willing to enact the urgent reforms necessary to reclaim reality from those who attempt to dictate it. And we are running out of time. With the election imminent, Americans face what might be their last chance to seat people in the government who will reassert the right of each individual to perceive reality for himself—the right to know an unmediated reality, and to speak its truth. 

As a tumultuous 2020 draws to a close, we find ourselves again at Election Day. The choice we face is greater than deciding which man will lead this nation. Anyone fact-checking at home knows that both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have spotty records when it comes to truth-telling. But we know this: Donald Trump has been a consistent champion of the truths that matter most: the truth about our nation’s great history, the truth about what America means, and indeed, the truth about the nature of the choice we face. It is nothing less than a referendum on which truths Americans will believe about ourselves and our place in the world. At this moment, we are called to decide whether those truths matter and whether we will pass them on.

When we head to the polls tomorrow to exercise our most cherished freedom, let us vote again for the light: the light of truth, and the light that America brings to the world.

Written By

Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston–Downtown, where he studies rhetoric, writing, and public discourse. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, is available now. Reach him at adamellwanger@gmail.com, on Twitter @DoctorEllwanger, or @TheHereticalTruth on Parler.

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