Another History Rhyme
Vol: 106 Issue: 24 Saturday, July 24, 2010
In our discussion of NYTimes’ columnist Walter Lippmann’s role as the father of modern propaganda, we noted that Lippmann’s work was in great demand following the First World War.
In his youth, Lippmann was an ardent socialist who founded the Harvard Socialist Club.
Later, he remade himself as a Progressive and became a supporter of Theodore Roosevelt and later Woodrow Wilson. Lippmann later went on to become a Pulitzer-Prize winning NYTimes columnist whose dispatches from the 1920’s Soviet Union painted the socialist republic as a worker’s paradise.
But in 1917 Lippmann was appointed an assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker. Lippman worked with Woodrow Wilson and Colonel Edward Mandel House in drafting Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points Peace Program” that led to the creation of the League of Nations.
(Wisely, the US Senate refused to ratify the League of Nations Treaty, saying it was an unconstitutional abrogation of US sovereignty so the US never joined the organization).
In 1919, Lippmann attended the Paris Peace Conference with Wilson, House, Paul Warburg, etc. It was at the Paris Peace Conference that Warburg, first Governor of the Federal Reserve, hammered out the crippling war reparations to be imposed on the Germans.
Warburg’s brother Max, head of Germany’s wartime secret service, was at the Conference with the German delegation.
Negotiation committees headed by the two brothers concluded that the transfers should be overseen by neutral Switzerland’s Bank of International Settlements – headed by a third Warburg brother, Fritz.
(Thanks to Walter Lippmann, the “world’s most respected journalist” the Warburg story never became more than an interesting historical footnote.)
Socialists world-wide became ardent students of Lippman and Bernays. Lippmann’s techniques were studied, cited and often quoted by leaders of the German National Socialist Party (NASDAP – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – or Nazi).
Already one of the world’s most influential journalists by 1933, Lippmann was himself an early admirer of Hitler, writing in a review of one of Hitler’s speeches;
“We have heard once more, through the fog and the din, the hysteria and the animal passions of a great revolution, the authentic voice of a genuinely civilized people.”
Goebbels was particularly influenced by a book published in 1929 by Lippmann’s wartime partner, Edward Bernays, entitled “Propaganda.” In it, Bernays explained the principle of “engineering consent” using the “invisible government” that is the “true ruling power of our country.”
Expanding on the techniques developed by Lippmann and Bernays, by 1930 the Nazis had developed the basic institutional framework necessary so when Hitler seized power in 1933, it was simply a matter of pulling it all together under the umbrella of a government ministry under his control.
In an early 1933 address, Goebbels decreed that the government was “placing the radio in the service of our ideology,” and that “no other ideology will find expression here.” Any broadcaster or newspaper journalist that didn’t parrot the Party Line was unemployed by mid 1933.
The Nazis employed three main policies aimed at gradually coordinating Nazi control over the German media. Note that it was a gradual effort — much like the effort now ongoing here.
First, the Party publishing house gradually acquired the bulk of the German media. The Nazis had already introduced their own form of ‘political correctness’ and then, as now, journalists who wanted to keep their jobs had to keep their editors happy, so self-censorship became a matter of economic necessity.
Some news organizations tried to prevent a completed Nazi takeover by voluntarily ridding themselves of “all politically obnoxious” members, replacing them with loyal Party members. The Reich Association of the German Press (a sort of German ‘Journolist’ group) purged their own ranks as well.
Nazi Press Chief Otto Dietrich announced a “new standard of racial and political reliability” before passing the Nazi “Editor’s Law” in October 1933.
The law made all editors responsible for the “intellectual content” and “stance” of all texts in the publication. The word “public” is used repeatedly, referring to the “public professional duties of an editor,” the “public good,” and the “public” status that the Reich Association was granted by the law.
Furthermore, Goebbels was appointed President of the Association, so he had control over who was admitted into it and who wasn’t.
With a law passed in September 1933, a Reich Chamber of the Press was created, along with Reich Chambers of literature, radio, theatre, music, and creative arts. Anyone who maintained a profession in any of these spheres of culture had to join these new organizations.
Think of it as a kind of journalist’s union under a kind of Nazi ‘card check’ law. You can’t be a journalist without joining the union and you can’t join the union unless you agree to the rules.
Many philosophers have noted history’s pattern of repeating itself. Mark Twain probably got it closer to right with his observation that “history doesn’t repeat itself — but it rhymes.”
One of the very first targets of the Obama administration’s ‘fundamental transformation’ was — and still is — what Obama’s FCC calls, “the reinvention of journalism.”
In the FCC’s talking points memo, it concluded that nobody every made money publishing the news and argued that the federal government should subside “legitimate news organizations.”
“History in the United States shows that readers of the news have never paid anywhere close to the full cost of providing the news. Rather, journalism always has been subsidized to a large extent by, for example, the federal government, political parties, or advertising.”
Lippmann and Bernays might recognize this technique. They called it “argumentium ad nauseum” — Hitler called it the “Big Lie.” Hitler theorized that the more obvious the lie, the more likely the public is to buy into it on the premise nobody would dare to tell such an obvious lie — so it must be true.
“Readers of the news have never paid anywhere close to the full cost of providing the news” so that justifies a government takeover?
How many ‘publishing empires’ exist in the United States? Why do we have so darned many ‘newspaper heiresses?’ (I’m a bit worried about how poor Rupert Murdoch will make ends meet. Or Ted Turner)
Am I just a bit too paranoid? An article published last week in the American Thinker also looked at what the government has in mind as part of its campaign to control the media.
Discussions underway at the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission point toward a dangerous new effort to regulate what Americans read and hear. The takeover under discussion would apply across the board to print media, radio and television, and the internet. The result of proposed regulations would be nothing less than an end to free speech in America.
Under the proposed changes, government would have the right to impose taxes on selected media (including internet service providers and internet sites) and redistribute funds to traditional liberal news media. Government could impose a fairness doctrine on the internet as well as on radio — thus forcing conservative media to “balance” their programming by including liberal commentary. Government would also be granted a wide range of options for subsidizing liberal media, including perpetual grants of taxpayer money to left-leaning publications like the New York Times and to increase funding for “progressive” media such as National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System. No wonder the Nation magazine has lavished praise on the FTC and FCC proposals: Based on its longstanding liberal bias, the Nation might qualify for a generous handout.
For years, there has been an unwritten rule among journalists about making comparisons to Adolf Hitler. Called “Godwin’s Law” it was intended as a humorous jab. Godwin’s Law states that, given enough time, all discussions eventually end up making comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis.
But what does it say about the situation when that is the only comparison that is relevant? When it comes to the Obama administration, even the Atlantic Monthly piece had no choice but to defy Godwin’s Law to make its point about Obama’s obsession with the media.
“A crucial aspect of Hitler’s rise to power was control of the media. During the run-up to the March 5, 1933 elections — the last truly legitimate elections to be held until after the war — Goebbels employed every means of propaganda to ensure Hitler’s success. Mass meetings, prominently reported in the print media and dramatically broadcast on radio, were planned for maximum impact.”
America’s mainstream news organizations are already consolidated in the hands of just five mega-corporations. We warned back in 2003 of the dangers associated with putting too much power into the hands of so few.
Viacom owns CBS, UPN, MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime,Sundance Channel, VH-1, King World Productions, Infinity Broadcasting and Comedy Central. Viacom’s holdings also include Blockbuster Video, the world’s largest video rental chain, and Blockbuster Music; book publishing, including Simon & Schuster, Scribners and Macmillan; film, video and television production, including Paramount Pictures; a 50 percent interest in United Cinemas International, one of the world’s largest movie theater companies.
General Electric owns NBC, CNBC and MSNBC and GE’s CEO, Jeffery Immelt, is one of Obama’s closest advisors.
Obama has declared war on Fox News and in particular, on Glenn Beck. His obsession with Fox News was amply demonstrated when the administration fired Shirley Sherrod because she “was going to be on Glenn Beck at 5.” (She wasn’t, but that didn’t stop the administration from repeating the falsehood at every opportunity.)
And it also gave the administration and its propaganda corps a new chance to call for a “new standard of racial and political reliability” as part of the administration’s effort to “reinvent journalism” in America.
In April, a three-judge panel in Washington threw out the FCC’s attempt to impose “net neutrality” regulations on the internet, ruling the FCC does not have the power to do so. The FCC responded in a statement saying the decision did not “close the door to other methods for achieving this important end.”
In May, President Obama announced “technology threatens freedom” arguing before the graduating class of Hampton University that “too much information is a distraction”. As he told the students;
“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter.”
Can you imagine an American president saying out loud, let alone in public, that “being exposed to all kinds of arguments” threatens democracy? Or that the government should be the ones in charge of the ‘truth meter’?
I bet that some German thinker living in 1933 Germany probably asked himself that same question about his own newly-elected leadership.
No doubt he told himself the same thing we’ve been telling ourselves, even as we witness the whole rhyming episode unfold. “It can’t happen here.”
He was wrong, too. Yes. It can.