Home Store In Memoriam Deborah Newsletter Forum Topics Blogfeed Blogroll Facebook MySpace Contact Us About

Orwell Missed It By Less Than 20 Years

Reported by Eleanor - June 23, 2004 -

On June 22, Buzzflash published an interview of Robert Kane Pappas, the director and producer of the documentary, "Orwell Rolls Over in His Grave." In this interview, Pappas details the premise of the video: That the corporate media is an extension of the republican party.

A summary of the key points in the interview:

Robert Kane Pappas: In Orwell's novel, 1984, a couple of things struck me. One had to do with the newest story obliterating the last story, so there was this public forgetfulness. A story runs its course, you see it day and night, and then it goes away. And then I started watching, and it appears that if you have the right experts speaking, and more importantly, choose the right moderator, it's quite easy to control the discussion. You can focus the people's attention here and then focus it there. With all the investigative tools of the news media, it seems that they never connect the dots. You may have a series of stories, all showing a pattern of behavior in government, and for some reason, the news media don't treat it as a pattern. It's each individual bit, each little dramatic thing, and then it goes away.

BuzzFlash: So there's no context?

Robert Kane Pappas: Right. It's so ubiquitous -- the mass news media, and the mass media in general -- that the public consciousness really is affected. It influences the way the public looks at things. Anecdotally, just talking to people, it's incredible how confused they are. They only hear around the edges of stories. They have the collective ability to remember what happened six months ago, but the ability to make any kind of connections seems to be diminished.

The other thing I wanted to say about Orwell that really struck me was the misuse of language that he goes into in 1984 primarily, but also Animal Farm, and the ability to name something or misname it. Watching the news over the last several years more carefully, I realized that complicated stories or concepts are boiled down to short euphemisms -- tag lines -- so the public's understanding of it is diminished. They don't know. This euphemistic use of language turns everything into either a two-word marketing phrase, or they name something the opposite of what it means. By lying first, or misnaming something first, you can define how people think about it, and quite strikingly.

Buzzflash: Take an example -- the phrase "tax relief" that the Republicans say -- and who's going to be opposed to tax relief? The very structure of the phrase makes it almost impossible to oppose because it uses the word "relief," which people associate in a positive way. You want to have relief. So if you're opposed to the so-called Bush tax relief, well, you're opposed to people feeling better, and less stressed and less burdened.

Robert Kane Pappas: It cuts off discussion. And, given the methodology of the mainstream news media, the time restrictions, the short audience attention span etc., rectifying these false impressions is difficult. We are now slaves to polls and focus groups.

Buzzflash: The media today are part of a corporate world that's in the business of making a profit and selling something, not necessarily in the business of serving the public interest. Let's say a newspaper in a mid-size city saw its primary goal as making money. But maybe it was family owned and it had a sense of "civic responsibility." At least, this is our image of the ideal kind of print paper in America. Today we have large corporations of which news divisions are only divisions within a television network that's owned by a larger parent company that, as you said, for ABC, may have many divisions, including entertainment, and even many other businesses. The news division is just a profit center for the larger company. As a profit center, it has to, in essence, sell things -- in this case, advertising -- in order to make money. So the news division just becomes part of that selling machine.

The reporters know that they have to report within a certain framework, and that framework means basically not doing investigative journalism to any great extent in the papers any more. It means not riding the Bush administration too hard. It means it's acceptable to follow up on a story that Karl Rove and the RNC planted -- that Kerry threw away his medals -- but not to emphasize the AWOL issue of Bush too much.

Robert Kane Pappas: And when an administration like the Bush administration has such connections to one of the three or four companies that can hire you and pay you these huge salaries -- as opposed to if there were 20 viable broadcast news services that had nationwide reach -- when there's only a few, you can be blackballed easily. You can be viewed as too much of a muckraker, which can kill your career.

Buzzflash: Let's look at the role of Fox. It's headed by Roger Ailes, a former GOP operative, and one could argue he still is a GOP operative, although not paid by the Republican party. Now he's paid by Murdoch, who is a backer of the Republican party. And talk about Orwellian -- here is a station that Cheney says he watches, and it's the only truthful station on television.

Robert Kane Pappas: It's a propaganda service.

BuzzFlash: It's a propaganda arm of the White House, more or less. In fact, they became involved in trying to discredit Wesley Clark. They distributed a videotape transcript the morning he was to appear at a Congressional committee meeting.

Robert Kane Pappas: I don't think people understand how much power that gives Bush and company, because they have a major worldwide news corporation that can not only disseminate what they want disseminated, but it can keep a story alive. It can set the focus on what part of the story we're looking at. And that's key because, if you focus on a certain part of the story to the exclusion of what was really important about the story, you can effectively hide in plain sight what a more rigorous news media would pick up on. Oftentimes, it's what the foreign press picks up on.

It's a very particular type of self-censorship on the part of reporters. Number one, you don't want to offend your boss. What happens in journalism is -- especially among the people on the tube -- you can make seven figures if you become a star reporter, or you could be working at a newspaper for $50,000 a year. As you get higher up in corporate journalism circles, the amount of money becomes exponentially more, so the tendency is to self-censor more.

Buzzflash: The most basic political technique of the right wing and the Republican party is character assassination. We've seen a shift perhaps from the discussion of politics into a dissection of personality. We saw that tellingly, of course, in the Clinton administration, with "Slick Willie" and so forth. Then we saw The New York Times and Washington Post adopt the Republican party attack on Al Gore -- that somehow he was a liar -- without really seriously questioning the massive deception and lies of the Bush campaign in 2000. They have started up with John Kerry, following the Republican line, saying he's a waffler.

Robert Kane Pappas: If you wrote or sold a product so deceptively, you'd be in jail or out of business.

BuzzFlash: What is it about television? Most of the right wing commentators attack personality and character more than they even attack public policy.

Robert Kane Pappas: But it's a technique. Some of this is real dark science. I remember in the run-up to the 2000 election, after the first debate -- and I believe it could have been planned because it was worked out so quickly -- one of the networks put together a montage of close ups of Al Gore expressing impatience with Bush's answers -- exhaling. They strung together these two- and three-second clips. And within hours, on all the news shows the debate centered on Al Gore's expressions, not the substance of the debate. They were able to absolutely change the discussion from what these guys were talking about, to a discussion about Al Gore's facial expressions, giving Bush a complete free ride. Bush was barely coherent in the first debate, but it was all about Al Gore. That shows the amazing power of video.

The same thing happened with Dean, when he exhorted his followers following the Iowa Caucuses.

The Republicans have taken a corporate marketing approach very akin to marketing a product on TV. They repeat the same phrase until people are sick of hearing it, but now they believe it. The Democrats actually think that there's information being transmitted here, and maybe more is better. Or let's see more than one side. Let's air this thing a little bit more. By definition, that is not going to be as good a marketing technique as repeating your same phrase. It just makes sense. And on that level, that's what the Republicans do. They have the discipline to sell that product. And then they have the choir repeating that same phrase. And that's how it works.

Go to Buzzflash Interview: Robert Kane Pappas. for the rest of the story.

Buzzflash can be found at Buzzflash.com