What Happens to Truth in an Age of Delusion (Part 12)
How the Mainstream Media Distorts the News
May 28, 2014
Friends of the Soviet Union
Liberal minds flocked to the USSR in an unending procession, from the great ones like [George Bernard] Shaw and Gide and Barbusse and Julian Huxley and Harold Laski and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, down to the poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons, all utterly convinced that, under the aegis of the great Stalin, a new dawn is breaking in the world, so that the human race may at last be united in liberty, equality and fraternity for evermore .
These liberal minds are prepared to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thoroughgoing, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth can be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good Liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives .(Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim, 1988, p. 87)
One of the biggest challenges we face is how to make sense out of the avalanche of information about world and national affairs. Who is able and willing to distinguish and tell the truth about what is really going on? The army of reporters and commentators all claim to be objective and fact-based. The problem is that much of what the mainstream media produces is determined by the ideological biases not dissimilar to what Malcolm Muggeridge (1903 –1990 ) encountered when he served as the correspondent for the Manchester Guardian in Moscow in 1932-3.
Travelling to the Promised Land
His story is an account of his and his wife Kitty’s initial enthusiasm for the communist revolution in Russia that promised to build a new society where capitalism and injustice are eliminated. Muggeridge writes that they wanted to live there for the rest of their lives so that their son will “grow up in a sane world with a future instead of in our crazy run-down one with only a past…. Where we were going, we assured ourselves and one another, there was hope and exhilaration. It was the wave of the future – a phrase even then current.” (The Green Stick: Chronicles of Wasted Time, 1972, p.227)
Of all the fellow travellers, the Muggeridges came with superb credentials. They had the blessing of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who was Kitty’s aunt. The Webbs were ardent admirers of communist Russia and published sycophantic books about the Russian Revolution, including The Truth About Soviet Russia and Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (The question mark was dropped from later editions.)
Travelling on the Soviet ship Kooperatsia to Russia, Muggeridge thought back to the time he sailed for India on his way to “tired imperial glory,” but this time they are headed for “the veritable future of mankind.” He describes the other passengers as follows:
These fellow- passengers provided my first experience of the progressive elite from all over the world who attached themselves to the Soviet regime, resolved to believe anything they were told by its spokesmen. For the most part, they were academics and writers…; all upholders of progressive causes and members of progressive organisations, constituting a sort of Brechtian ribald chorus in the drama of the twentieth century….The fall guys of history… who throw themselves under the wheels of the great Juggernaut. I was to speculate endlessly about them, rail against their credulities and imbecilities, ridicule their absurdities and denounce their servility before the nakedness of Soviet power. The more so because I knew inwardly that I was one of them; in my heart, too, the same death-wish. (TGS, p.235-6)
Muggeridge found it easy to be a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian as long as he stayed within the rules enforced by the state censors. Those rules required that they never write anything that would reflect unfavourably on the regime. In other words, the only source of news was the Soviet press, which was preoccupied with reporting the many “successes” in all the major sectors of the economy.
Being of a critical if not cynical mindset, Muggeridge was no fool and soon discovered the truth about Russia. Unlike many other communists, he turned against his erstwhile belief and then became a convinced and eloquent opponent of the Soviet Union. When he sent his last dispatch to the Guardian in which he wrote the truth about the murderous Stalinist regime, he realized that his career as a correspondent in Moscow would be over. The Green Stick is a fascinating explanation of the author’s change from admirer to bitter critic of communist ideology and practice.
The change of mind was not long in coming because Muggeridge saw close-up the lies used to prop up a system that squeezed every ounce of honesty and freedom out of life. He and his fellow journalists in fact were enablers of the lies they were fed by the state-controlled media. He summarized: “In the beginning was the Lie, and the Lie was made news and dwelt among us, graceless and false.” (TGS, p.240)
Muggeridge toyed with the idea of telling the head of the Press Department of the Soviet Foreign Office, Oumansky, that he was not really a foreign correspondent but a comrade who had come to the USSR to help build Socialism. But by this time his desire for citizenship in the “Kingdom of Heaven on Earth” had begun ebbing away. Instead, he began to wrestle with basic questions about the validity of the Soviet regime often while walking at the Red Square or passing through Lenin’s tomb, ironically, at the centre from which the monstrous Soviet ideology emanated.
He was fascinated by the massive Kremlin buildings, an extravagant fortress then housing not an anointed king or emperor, not an elected president, or a chosen Pope, but the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. This represents a new abstraction that transcends Louis XIV’s claim to be the embodiment of the state and the people. That’s what the ruler in the Kremlin claimed for himself. Muggeridge writes:
“All the toiling masses everywhere, their will, their purpose, their very being, embodied in this one man, who spoke and acted, and even lived, on their behalf. And everyone else… must be abolished.” Then at last history would be over, paradise would have come to earth, and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in the person of the man in the Kremlin, would reign forevermore.
Walter Duranty (1884-1957) was the New York Times correspondent in Moscow whom Muggeridge described as “a little sharp-witted energetic” and controversial person. Muggeridge writes that there was something “vigorous, vivacious, preposterous, about his unscrupulousness which made his persistent lying somehow absorbing. No one else followed every shift and change in the Party Line as he did. Oumansky constantly held him up to the rest of the foreign correspondents as an example that they should imitate. Muggeridge once called Duranty “the greatest liar I have met in journalism.”
Duranty served as the Moscow Bureau Chief of the New York Times from 1922 -36; thereafter he was on retainer until 1941. He excelled in concocting glowing stories about the communist revolution in Russia where, as he reported, the collectivization of agriculture was going well, with no famine conditions anywhere.
He also thought that the harsh treatment of those accused of undermining the Russian state and spying for the enemy was deserved, and that the judicial procedures were fair. Duranty’s acquiescent attitude about the monstrous lies and most ridiculous charges against the accused earned him a privileged position so that he had no difficulty in getting a visa, or a house, or other favours.
Muggeridge thinks that in some strange way, Duranty’s favourable depiction of the Soviet regime was a response to some need of his nature; not that he believed in the Revolution or in its beneficial outcome for Russia, or for mankind. No, he admired Stalin and the regime for its strength and ruthlessness. “I put my money on Stalin,” was one of his favourite sayings. In their last conversation, Duranty admitted that the agricultural situation was a disaster and there was a severe famine, although he told his readers of the New York Times the very opposite. For that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
A Man-made Catastrophe
During his years as a reporter for the New York Times in Moscow, Duranty came to be seen as the great Russian expert in America whose views influenced President Roosevelt in his policies towards Russia. (Might this explain how Eastern and mid-European countries ended up under the Stalinist boot after World War II ?)
Muggeridge writes that Duranty’s reports were nonsensically untrue, yet the Times accepted them because it wanted to be deceived and Duranty provided the necessary cover for that deception. This kind of treasonous denial of the murder of millions and the destruction of civilized life has been repeated in many other countries, such as in Cuba, in Vietnam, and in Latin America.
Rumors of famine in the Ukraine, though a forbidden topic, were reaching the expatriates in Moscow. Muggeridge decided to see for himself, and he travelled by train through the Ukranian countryside. He had to be careful not to attract the attention of the authorities, which is the reason that he travelled without any prearranged stops. He did however manage to stop at various villages where he saw not just a famine, but a deliberately planned and executed calamity that he can never forget.
It was not just a famine due to any natural catastrophe like drought or floods. This particular famine was brought about by the forced collectivization of agriculture, “an assault on the countryside by party aparatchiks… supported by strong-arm squads from the military and the police.” In March 1933, Muggeridge managed to send three articles to the Guardian in which he told the truth about this man-made famine in one of the most fertile parts of Russia. There was not only a famine but “a state of war, a military occupation.” He tried to describe all the horrors he saw.
“(T)he abandoned villages, the absence of life stock, neglected fields; everywhere famished, frightened people and intimations of coercion, soldiers about the place, and hard-faced men in long overcoats. One particularly remarkable scene I stumbled on by chance at a railway station in the grey early morning; peasants with their hands tied behind them being loaded into cattle trucks at gun-point…; all so silent and mysterious and horrible in the half-light, like some macabre ballet. (TGS, p.286-7)
No other foreign journalist had visited the famine areas in the USSR except under official auspices and supervision, so Muggeridge’s account stood all by itself, and he was accused of being a liar in the Guardian correspondence columns and elsewhere. Meanwhile Duranty’s voice in the New York Times trumpeted a very different story of granaries overflowing with grain, apple-cheeked dairymaids and plump contended cows, not to mention George Bernard Shaw and all the other distinguished visitors who testified that there was not, and could not be, a food shortage in the USSR.
Muggeridge once attended a Sunday church service in Kiev that made a deep impression on him. The church was crowded, but he managed to squeeze into a spot where he had a good view of the worshippers. He writes:
Never before or since have I participated in such worship; the sense conveyed of turning to God in great affliction was overpowering. Though I could not, of course, follow the service, I knew little bits of it; for instance, where the congregation say there is no help for them save from God. What intense feeling they put into these words! In their minds, I knew, as in mine, was a picture of those desolate abandoned villages, of the hunger and the hopelessness, of the cattle trucks being loaded with humans in the dawn light.
Where were they to turn for help? Not to the Kremlin, and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, certainly; nor to the forces of progress and democracy and enlightenment in the West…. Every possible human agency found wanting. So, only God remained, and to God they turned with a passion, a dedication, a humility, impossible to convey. They took me with them; I felt closer to God then than I ever had before, or am likely to again. (TGS, p.288)
After leaving Russia in April 1933, Muggeridge wrote that his mind “was endlessly preoccupied with thoughts of the Soviet regime. I felt furious about the whole experience, as though I had been personally cheated…”
A Profound Mystery
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was born in times of great upheavals. It began seven decades of a murderous regime led by men with hearts of steel, such as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, who cared not for God or men. They exploited the existing confusion and rudderlessness to fight their way to the top by brute force and indescribable cruelty.
In contrast, Walter Duranty, denied that the communists were ruling with an iron fist that destroyed the lives of millions of terrified people. Stalin honoured him for assisting in establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He was widely perceived as an expert on the Russian Revolution and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
All of this came crashing down when the truth of the Stalinist regime could no longer be hidden. The New York Times fired Duranty, and there were growing public demands to strip him of his Pulitzer. In 2003, the Times appointed one of its editorial board members, Karl Meyer, to write a signed editorial in which he called Duranty’s articles “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”
Subsequently, the Times issued a statement about this shameful episode in which it put all the blame on Duranty and on the Pulitzer board’s refusal to withdraw the award since it found “no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception” in his reporting.
It is hard to find the right words to describe the role of the New York Times for allowing its pages to be used as a propaganda tool for one of the most evil and cruel dictatorships in the history of mankind. In one sense, Duranty is a small bit player in the Revolution inspired by Karl Marx, whose ideas fired the imaginations of millions of followers –and victims. Instead of the promised land of peace and brotherhood, we get what the Soviet Union, China and North Korea created, saturated with the blood and tears of millions.
Their blood still cries out, but the Times has never owned up to its responsibility in furthering the cause of such evil. Instead, it blamed its underlings, and subsequent events show that it has learned nothing.
It continues to promote the cause of the Revolution now re-named as progressivism.
Many on the Left still revere the late Cuban mass murderer Che Guevara as a hero. And the Times correspondents’ reports at a crucial phase in the Castro-led revolution may well have been the decisive turning point that has condemned the Cuban people to a life of slavery and squalor. (More about that later.)
I find it a profound mystery that the liberal progressives, so well described in all their banality and foolhardiness by Malcolm Muggeridge, have embraced the worst tyrants of our time. Do they not know that the Revolution they so admire will devour them too? (Think Leon Trotsky, and the 1938 Moscow Show Trials.)
Their wilful blindness may have something to do with C.K. Chesterton’s famous saying: “When men no longer believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, but they will believe anything.”