Friday, September 25, 2009

Double exposure

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I can still hear the gruff timbre of his voice, a Polish immigrant for whom English was a second language. Asked his opinion of some televised current event or other, he replied: “I don’t vatch a TV. H’OK? Maybe some time joost to see what’s dey arr feeding the public.”

The phrase “what they are feeding the public” conjured up the image of a barnyard trough brimful of bland animal fodder where people lined up to uncritically consume a daily ration of “news” calories.

The phrase “what they are feeding the public” stuck with me. The man was a defector from behind the Iron Curtain, a physicist in the employ of the National Research Council in Ottawa. I thought: If you want to know about propaganda, this would be the fellow to talk to: An intellectual, a political refugee from an East European nation ruled by a communist regime, a diehard cynic and skeptic.

Now I, too, find myself watching TV network news to learn what it is they’re feeding the public nowadays. Not solely that, though. In this age of the Internet, a viewer is far better equipped than he’d been before to discern the different ways in which a news story is configured and presented. The attentive reader will be mindful of not only what's in the news, but also of what’s been left out of it.

James Baldwin had once described a writer’s capacity for listening this way: “[A] writer is never listening to what is being said, he is never listening to what he is being told. He is listening to what is not (italics) being said, he is listening to what he is not (italics) being told, which means that he is trying to discover the purpose of the communication.” (1)

What, according to Baldwin, is true of writers, is now also true for millions of news junkies who get their information online. Which may explain, in part, why it is public trust in the veracity of mainstream media ranks generally low. (2)

Their sins of ommission in reportage, which speak to "the purpose of the communication," are often glaring; the failure to adequately report on Israel's vicious assault on the Gaza Strip, last December and January, being a salient example.

Quote from Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star: “[Judge Richard] Goldstone's report is a condemnation not only of Israel but also its apologists in Canada, including the media. The latter are now busy burying the report under an orchestrated avalanche of negative reaction without ever properly reporting its contents.” (3)

The headline for Nathan Guttman’s article in the Jewish Forward: “A Quick Burial for Goldstone Report on Gaza.” (4)

A growing awareness of the news report as a product tailored to sell us on a given narrative makes it more likely that the holes in a current story will not go unnoticed; an insight that extends to the many forms of media; fewer things get past the informed citizen in today’s world.

Consider this passage from the autobiography of notorious fraud artist, Julius Melnitzer. In 1992, A Canadian court had sentenced Melnitzer to nine years in prison on 43 charges of fraud totalling more than $67-million. The disgraced lawyer used the two-and-a-half years he actually served time to pen his memoirs.

“I believed in criminal law,” he wrote. “I valued procedural justice in a meaningful, passionate, substantive way that filled an inner vacuum. The strong civil libertarian tendencies endemic to children of Holocaust survivors, the streak of antiauthorianism that got me tossed out of high school, my internal sense of not belonging, and my own victim mentality gave me the perfect psychological makeup for a specialty that pitted outcasts against the State.” (5)

Melnitzer penned those words in a prison cell in a country where Holocaust revisionists like Ernst Zundel have endured long and costly trials with the prospect of prison time hanging over them, all for peacefully expressing their views on a matter of history; with the charges against Zundel and others brought at the behest of Jewish groups that included both Holocaust survivors and their families, with the touted “strong civil libertarian tendencies endemic to children of Holocaust survivors” not being in any way toweringly evident.

Of all the civil liberties issues in matters to do with free speech, nothing so stridently calls forth the strong arm of intellectual repression by the State in our fair dominion as manifestations of Holocaust revisionism. If anyone needs the qualities Melnitzer has ascribed to himself -- the “strong civil libertarian tendencies,” the “streak of antiauthorianism,” and a “sense of not belonging” -- it’s a Holocaust revisionist, an outcast with often limited resources who is pitted against the limitless resources of the State, goaded by an unforgiving Holocaust lobby.

1. James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen, Holt, Rinehart and Winston: New York, 1985, p, 95.

2. “Public trust in US media eroding: Pew study,” Agence France Press, September 14, 2009.

3. Haroon Siddiqui, “Shining a light on Israeli aggression in Gaza,”
The Toronto Star, September 20, 2009.

4. Nathan Guttman, “A Quick Burial for Goldstone Report on Gaza,”
Jewish Forward, online September 23, 2009.

5. Julius Melnitzer, Maximum Minimum Medium, Key Porter Books: Toronto, 1995, p. 103.

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