Friday, October 12, 2007

"Media Bias"

Both Republicans and Democrats believe the media is biased. Democrats complain that on an hour of "Hannity & Colmes," Alan Colmes gets only 12 minutes of air time while Sean Hannity gets 19. (A few complain that corporations get the rest.) Pro-lifers complain that a protest involving 150 pro-abortion advocates gets front-page coverage, while an anti-abortion rally of 100,000 is covered on B-12.

From a libertarian perspective, "media bias" is far more widespread and more profound.

"Media bias" is not measured in minutes of air time or column inches of newsprint. Media bias is about the creation of an alternative reality. An extra-terrestrial anthropologist, travelling from planet to planet studying various civilizations, could look at a libertarian report on an event, then look at a report from the "mainstream media," and conclude that these two reports describe events on entirely different planets.

And the difference is not just "the facts." The difference is a deeply moral difference.

The difference can be seen by comparing this and this.

But this issue has me too anxious to trust you to click the links. I want to make sure you experience this exercise for yourself. So please keep reading. This is a long post.

The first of those links, by Lew Rockwell, was re-published in the free newsletter of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, "The Free Market." You can (and should) get a free subscription here. The title of the essay is "The Mass Murderer of the Century." Pretty opinionated, right? The first paragraph sets the stage for our consideration of "media bias":

A student searching for the conventional wisdom on Mao Zedong will find that he was a controversial figure who modernized China but at some cost, and thus does his legacy remain undecided. And so books reciting his "wisdom" can be found in most bookstores, and shirts with his image still sell in countercultural bookstores. Every department of modern history hosts at least one faculty member who will defend Mao and attack his accusers. And the debate rages.
Fortunately we have some "debate" at all. But the first sentence is critical: a student searching for reality will not find it in the establishment media.

I take that back; perhaps the pieces of the puzzle can be found and put together by a diligent and dedicated student, but 99.99% of students will not get the big picture. Most students will only read the first two paragraphs of the mainstream media report. Most students may even be unaware of the "debate." They live in an alternative reality. They will be used to help perpetuate the alternative reality of the Establishment and its Media. They will willingly don the uniform of the government to bring it about.
Now, I want you to read the rest of Rockwell's essay. For some reason, the Mises Institute hasn't put any issues of "The Free Market" online since 2006. So here's the rest of the article:

This is exceedingly strange, given the indisputable facts about this man and the extreme communism he tried to establish in China. How many died as a result of persecutions and the policies of Mao? It could be as low as 40 million. It could be as high as 100 million or more. In the Great Leap Forward from 1959 to 1961 alone, figures range between 20 million to 75 million. In the period before, 20 million. In the period after, tens of millions more.

As scholars in the area of mass death point out, most of us can't imagine 100 dead or 1,000. Above that, we are just talking about statistics: they have no conceptual meaning for us. And there is only so much ghastly information that our brains can absorb, only so much blood we can imagine. And yet there is more to why China's communist experiment remains a hidden fact: it makes a decisive case against government power, one even more compelling than the cases of Russia or Germany in the twentieth century.

The horror was foreshadowed in a bloody civil war following the Second World War. After some 9 million people died, the communists emerged victorious in 1949, with Mao as the ruler. The land of Lao-Tzu (rhyme, rhythm, peace), Taoism (compassion, moderation, humility), and Confucianism (piety, social harmony, individual development) was seized by the strangest import to China ever: Marxism from Germany via Russia.

It was an ideology that denied all logic, experience, economic law, property rights, and limits on the power of the state on grounds that these notions were merely bourgeois prejudices, and what we needed to transform society was a cadre with all power to transform all things.

The communization of China took place in the usual three stages: purge, plan, and scapegoat. First there was the purge to bring about communism. There were guerrillas to kill and land to nationalize. The churches had to be destroyed. The counterrevolutionaries had to be put down. The violence began in the country and spread later to the cities. All peasants were first divided into four classes that were considered politically acceptable: poor, semi-poor, average, and rich. Everyone else was considered a landowner and targeted for elimination. If no landowners could be found, the "rich" were often included in this group. The demonized class was ferreted out in a country-wide series of "bitterness meetings" in which people turned in their neighbors for owning property and being politically disloyal. Those who were so deemed were immediately executed along with those who sympathized with them.

The idea was that there had to be at least one person killed per village. The number killed is estimated to be between one and five million. In addition, another four to six million landowners were slaughtered for the crime of being capital owners. If anyone was suspected of hiding wealth, he or she was tortured with hot irons to confess. The families of the killed were then tortured and the graves of their ancestors looted and pillaged. What happened to the land? It was divided into tiny plots and distributed among the remaining peasants.

Then the campaign moved to the cities. The political motivations here were at the forefront, but there were also behavioral controls. Anyone who was suspected of involvement in prostitution, gambling, tax evasion, lying, fraud, opium dealing, or telling state secrets was executed as a "bandit." Official estimates put the number of dead at two million with another two million going to prison to die. Resident committees of political loyalists watched every move. A nighttime visit to another person was immediately reported and the parties involved jailed or killed. The cells in the prisons themselves grew ever smaller, with one person living in a space of about 14 inches. Some prisoners were worked to death, and anyone involved in a revolt was herded with collaborators and they were all burned.

There was industry in the cities, but those who owned and managed the firms were subjected to ever tighter restric­tions: forced transparency, constant scrutiny, crippling taxes, and pressure to offer up their businesses for collectivization. There were many suicides among the small- and medium-sized business owners who saw the writing on the wall. Joining the party provided only temporary respite, since 1955 began the campaign against hidden counterrevolution­aries in the party itself. A principle here was that one in ten party members was a secret traitor.

As the rivers of blood rose ever higher, Mao instigated the Hundred Flowers Campaign for two months in 1957, the legacy of which is the phrase we often hear: "Let a hundred flowers bloom." People were encouraged to speak freely and give their point of view, an opportunity that was very tempting for intellectuals. The liberalization was a trick. All those who spoke out against what was happening to China were rounded up and imprisoned, perhaps between 400,000 and 700,000 people, including 10 percent of the well-educated classes. Others were branded as right-wingers and subjected to interrogation, reeducation, then kicked out of their homes, and shunned.

But this was nothing compared with phase two, which was one of history's great central planning catastrophes. Following collectivization of land, Mao decided to go further to dictate to the peasants what they would grow, how they would grow it, and where they would ship it, or whether they would grow anything at all as versus plunge into industry. This would become the Great Leap Forward that would generate history's most deadly famine. Peasants were grouped into groups of thousands and forced to share all things. All groups were to be economically self-sufficient. Production goals were raised ever higher.

People were moved by the hundreds of thousands from where production was high to where it was low, as a means of boosting production. They were moved too from agriculture to industry. There was a massive campaign to collect tools and transform them into industrial skill.

Mao had the idea that he knew how to grow grain. He proclaimed that "seeds are happiest when growing together" and so seeds were sown at five to ten times their usual density. Plants died, the soil dried out, and the salt rose to the surface. To keep birds from eating grain, sparrows were wiped out, which vastly increased the number of parasites. Erosion and flooding became endemic.

Tea plantations were turned to rice fields, on grounds that tea was decadent and capitalistic. Hydraulic equipment built to service the new collective farms didn't work and lacked any replacement parts. This led Mao to put new emphasis on industry, which was forced to appear in the same areas as agriculture, leading to ever more chaos. Workers were drafted from one sector to another, and mandatory cuts in some sectors were balanced by mandatory high quotas in another.

In 1957, the disaster was everywhere. Workers were growing too weak even to harvest their meager crops, so they died watching the rice rot. Industry churned and churned but produced nothing of any use. The government responded by telling people that fat and proteins were unnecessary. But the famine couldn't be denied. The black-market price of rice rose 20 to 30 times. Because trade had been forbidden between collectives (self-sufficiency, you know), millions were left to starve. By 1960, the death rate soared from 15 percent to 68 percent, and the birth rate plummeted. Anyone caught hoarding grain was shot. Peasants found with the smallest amount were imprisoned. Fires were banned. Funerals were prohibited as wasteful.

Villagers who tried to flee the countryside to the city were shot at the gates. Deaths from hunger reached 50 percent in some villages. Survivors boiled grass and bark to make soup and wandered the roads looking for food. Sometimes they banded together and raided houses looking for ground maize. Women were unable to conceive because of malnutrition. People in work camps were used for food experiments that led to sickness and death.

How bad did it get? There are first­hand reports of parents swapping children in order to eat them. How many people died in the famine of 1959-61? The low range is 20 million. The high range is 43 million. Finally in 1961, the government gave in and permitted food imports, but it was too little and too late. Some peasants were again allowed to grow crops on their own land. A few private workshops were opened. Some markets were permitted. Finally, the famine began to abate and production grew.

But then the third phase came: scapegoating. What had caused the calamity? The official reason was anything but communism, anything but Mao. And so the politically motivated roundup began again, and here we get the very heart of the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of camps and detention centers were opened. People sent there died there. In prison, the slightest excuse was used to dispense with people—all to the good, since the prisoners were a drain on the system, so far as those in charge were concerned. The largest penal system ever built was organized in a military fashion, with some camps holding as many as 50,000 people.

There was some sense in which everyone was in prison. Arrests were sweeping and indiscriminate. Everyone had to carry around a copy of Mao's Little Red Book. To question the reason for arrest was itself evidence of disloyalty, since the state was infallible. Once arrested, the safest path was instant and frequent confession. Guards were forbidden from using overt violence, so interrogations would go on for hundreds of hours, and often the prisoner would die during this process. Those named in the confession were then hunted down and rounded up. Once you got through this process, you were sent to a labor camp, where you were graded according to how many hours you could work with little food. You were fed no meat nor given any sugar or oil. Labor prisoners were further controlled by the rationing of the little food they had.

The final phase of this incredible litany of criminality lasted from 1966 to 1976, during which the number killed fell dramatically to "only" one to three million. The government, now tired and in the first stages of demoralization, began to lose control, first within the labor camps and then in the countryside. And it was this weakening that led to the final, and in some ways the most vicious, of the communist periods in China's history: the period of the Red Guard. They roamed the country in an attempt to purge the Four Old-Fashioned Things: ideas, culture, customs, and habits. The remaining temples were barricaded. Traditional opera was banned, with all costumes and sets in the Beijing Opera burned. Monks were expelled. The calendar was changed. All Christianity was banned. There were to be no pets such as cats and birds. Humiliation was the order of the day.

A massive party purge began, with hundreds of thousands arrested and many murdered. Artists, writers, teachers, scientists, technicians: all were targets. Pogroms were visited on community after community, with Mao approving every step as a means of eliminating every possible political rival. But underneath, the government was splintering and cracking, even as it became ever more brutal and totalitarian in its outlook.

Finally in 1976, Mao died. Within a few months, his closest advisers were all imprisoned. The reform began slowly at first and then at breakneck speed. Civil liberties were restored (comparatively) and the rehabilitations began. Torturers were prosecuted. Economic controls were gradually relaxed. The economy, by virtue of human and private economic initiative, was transformed.

Today China is one of the greatest economic success stories ever recorded. In three decades, the society went from domination by communist poverty, prisons, and killing fields to a thriving font of production, all due to a change in ideology that freed people from socialist tyranny. Socialists today would like us not to notice this transformation, but anyone concerned about human freedom cannot afford to forget it.


At a Press Conference on May 2nd, 1945, President Truman was asked,

Mr. President, would you care to comment on the death of Adolf Hitler reported, or Mussolini?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, the two principal war criminals will not have to come to trial; and I am very happy they are out of the way.

On April 27th, Truman had said,

THE ANGLO-AMERICAN armies under the command of General Eisenhower have met the Soviet forces where they intended to meet -- in the heart of Nazi Germany. The enemy has been cut in two.

This is not the hour of final victory in Europe, but the hour draws near, the hour for which all the American people, all the British peoples and all the Soviet people have toiled and prayed so long.

The union of our arms in the heart of Germany has a meaning for the world which the world will not miss. It means, first, that the last faint, desperate hope of Hitler and his gangster government has been extinguished. The common front and the common cause of the powers allied in this war against tyranny and inhumanity have been demonstrated in fact as they have long been demonstrated in determination.

In announcing the death of FDR, Truman said that the purpose of WWII, "the United Nation's war," was succeeding:

The armies of liberation today are bringing to an end Hitler's ghastly threat to dominate the world. Tokyo rocks under the weight of our bombs.

The grand strategy of the United Nations' war has been determined -- due in no small measure to the vision of our departed Commander in Chief.

If FDR had not died the same month as Hitler, we can well imagine more attention paid to Hitler's death and a more forceful anti-eulogy against this "ghastly" "gangster."

It's hard to find Mao described as a "gangster."

Here are President Gerald R. Ford's Remarks on the Death of Mao Tse-tung on September 9th, 1976:

THE PEOPLE'S Republic of China announced today the passing away of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Chairman Mao was a giant figure in modern Chinese history. He was a leader whose actions profoundly affected the development of his own country. His influence on history will extend far beyond the borders of China.

Americans will remember that it was under Chairman Mao that China moved together with the United States to end a generation of hostility and to launch a new and more positive era in relations between our two countries.

I am confident that the trend of improved relations between the People's Republic of China and the United States, which Chairman Mao helped to create, will continue to contribute to world peace and stability. On behalf of the United States Government and the American people, I offer condolences to the people of the People's Republic of China.

Thank you very much.

Before Mao died, Bishop James Walsh, in Rome, praised the Chinese regime for three great advances it is supposed to have made: equality of women, equality of races, and, in particular, "an absolute ban and prohibition on all manifestations of immorality and indecency in regard to theatrical displays, or publicity, or action." (New York Times, August 27). The Libertarian Forum, Vol. 2, No. 21, November 1, 1970

TIME magazine lists Mao in "The TIME 100," "The Most Important People of the Century," and appropriately so. But he is not portrayed as a truly horrific and evil dictator. Here is the first page of TIME's biography of a mass murderer:
Mao Zedong loved to swim. In his youth, he advocated swimming as a way of strengthening the bodies of Chinese citizens, and one of his earliest poems celebrated the joys of beating a wake through the waves. As a young man, he and his close friends would often swim in local streams before they debated together the myriad challenges that faced their nation. But especially after 1955, when he was in his early 60s and at the height of his political power as leader of the Chinese People's Republic, swimming became a central part of his life. He swam so often in the large pool constructed for the top party leaders in their closely guarded compound that the others eventually left him as the pool's sole user. He swam in the often stormy ocean off the north China coast, when the Communist Party leadership gathered there for its annual conferences. And, despite the pleadings of his security guards and his physician, he swam in the heavily polluted rivers of south China, drifting miles downstream with the current, head back, stomach in the air, hands and legs barely moving, unfazed by the globs of human waste gliding gently past. "Maybe you're afraid of sinking," he would chide his companions if they began to panic in the water. "Don't think about it. If you don't think about it, you won't sink. If you do, you will."

Mao was a genius at not sinking. His enemies were legion: militarists, who resented his journalistic barbs at their incompetence; party rivals, who found him too zealous a supporter of the united front with the Kuomintang nationalists; landlords, who hated his pro-peasant rhetoric and activism; Chiang Kai-shek, who attacked his rural strongholds with relentless tenacity; the Japanese, who tried to smash his northern base; the U.S., after the Chinese entered the Korean War; the Soviet Union, when he attack ed Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist policies. Mao was equally unsinkable in the turmoil — much of which he personally instigated — that marked the last 20 years of his rule in China.
There are two more pages in TIME's entry. There are vague clues that Mao was the most evil man in the 20th century. He is not described as a "mass murderer" or even a "gangster." Millions of students will live their lives in the alternative reality created by TIME magazine.

Here's the entry in Wikipedia:
Mao Zedong pronunciation (help·info) (Simplified Chinese: 毛泽东; Traditional Chinese: 毛澤東; Pinyin: Máo Zédōng; Wade-giles: Mao Tse-tung; December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) was a Chinese military and political leader, who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory against the Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War, and was the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976. Regarded as one of the most important figures in modern world history, Mao is still a controversial figure today, over thirty years after his death. He is held in high regard in China where he is often portrayed as a great revolutionary and strategist who eventually defeated Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, and transformed the country into a major power through his Maoist policies. However, many of Mao's socio-political programs such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are blamed by critics from both within and outside China for causing severe damage to the culture, society, economy and foreign relations of China, as well as enormous and unnecessary loss of lives, a peacetime death toll in the tens of millions. Although still officially venerated in China, his influence has been largely overshadowed by the political and economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and other leaders since his death. Mao is also recognized as a poet and calligrapher.
Some evidence of "the debate" is here, but imagine Harry Truman lamenting the death of Hitler as "a recognized artist and painter."

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press was designed to protect the freedom to criticize the government. The Press should not be neutral. It should denounce evil. The Establishment's media uses their power to protect the Establishment, not denounce it.

Perhaps the most grizzly evidence of "media bias" -- of creating an alternative reality -- is the New York Times' obituary of Mao: Mao Tse-Tung: Father of Chinese Revolution. If you read Lew Rockwell's report, you should now read the New York Times.

In this obituary, Mao is not a "gangster," and certainly not a "mass murderer." The word "murder" is not found. Nor is the word "evil." The word "guerrilla" is used 11 times. The word "peasant" is found 33 times. If there is such a thing as good and evil (a big "if" for the New York Times), Mao is probably closer to "good," because he was surely on the side of the "peasants," a "guerrilla" fighting those nasty powerful capitalists.

Here's a classic line:
It was at this time that he made his second trip to Moscow in November 1957, and created a sensation by declaring that there was no need to fear nuclear war. "I said that if the worse came to the worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed to the ground, and the whole world would become socialist: in a number of years there would be 2.7 billion people again and definitely more."

This accorded with his deeply held belief that men, not machines or weapons, were the decisive factor. In 1947, in an interview, he had declared: "The atom bomb is a paper tiger used by the U.S. reactionaries to scare people. It looks terrible, but in fact it isn't. Of course, the atom bomb is a weapon of mass slaughter, but the outcome of a war is decided by people, not by one or two new types of weapon." It was a guerrilla's view.
Well that explains everything. We certainly should understand Mao's willingness to obliterate a billion people in a nuclear exchange. "It was a guerrilla's view."

An average of 10,000 human beings were murdered every single day during the 20th century by politicians like Mao. People who write about these mass-murderers in the New York Times are eager to see an additional 15,000 human beings exterminated every hour in the 21st century.

Anyone who really wants to understand the world around us should place Rockwell's essay next to the New York Times obituary and ask if these two journalists are from the same planet. Then ask if the next generation will keep the 21st from becoming an even more horrific blood bath.

Another example of alternative reality, less grotesque, but still illustrative: The British Empire placed a tax of 3 pence per pound on tea. Ben Franklin reports that the colonists consumed ten pounds of tea a year. Sam Adams and John Hancock threw the tea in the Boston Harbor rather than pay the tax. Today's empire taxes gasoline at 40 cents per gallon. Nobody says a thing. The politicians who levied these taxes all took an oath to "support the Constitution" that was supposed to protect the liberties won in the American Revolution, and most Americans believe that we live under the Constitution. America's Founding Fathers would say we live in an alternative reality.

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