Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sept. 22: The headline as propaganda...Almost

It's common in journalism. Headlines often reflect the prejudices (or the ignorances) of their writers - usually news editors. Take, for example, p.1 of NewsToday. "Violent Protests kill 15 in Pakistan". (This  was in reaction to the film about Mohammed.) In effect, this is a headline that screams "all them there Moslems is crazy. They's all fanatics and extremists." You'll find that tone  reflected in most of the American press, in which the usual term that features is "Moslem rage".

That headline is important. For a high proportion of readers, the headline is all they will read; so that's their whole impression of what's going on. The headline can be the most effective propaganda in a newspaper.

But now take a look at the sub-head. "Demonstrations peaceful in most of Muslim world". Gee, that's quite different.

And now read the story. Almost all of it is about violence and death. (With no mention that most of the deaths have been caused by police and soldiers.) Of course. The story is from Reuters. Some other news sources are quite different, emphasizing how most Moslem leadership has tried to calm the situation, and how the ones fanning the flames are those who want to establish Islamist states - people very similar to some fundamentalist Christians in Canada and the US who want our government to become a ruling arm of their version of Christianity.

Who gains from all this? Extremist Moslems who want a state controlled by their religious leadership - and extremist Christians who want a state controlled by their religious leadership. The only difference between them is that our press always calls the Moslem ones extremists. The Christian ones, no matter how nutbar and dangerous they get, are never called extremists.

Indeed, this is a film apparently made by the Christian right.  They, as so often, constitute a major factor  in this drift to holy war. So how comes Reuters (and the TandT) and the North American news media in general pay so little attention to the Christian right? Gwynne Dyer has an excellent column about this on the op ed page.

So here's a story that effectively lies. Those big, black letters of the headline tell one story. And that's the one that has reader impact. The subhead, which tells the truth, has little impact.

In fairness, that headline may not be entirely due to deliberate lying. It could be, it could very well be, a TandT editor who is - well - a typical TandT editor.

In NewsToday, as on the oped  page, Dr. Parrot's expulsion from the Conservative caucus is the big scoop. (And it's nice to see Brent Mazerolle writing a column that isn't trivial.) But it's hard to see what the fuss is about.

I don't question Dr. Parrott's integrity or his commitment to those who voted for him.  But - Dr. Parrott joined a political party. That indicates a belief in the principles of that party. He was, I take it, a member of that party for many years. He knew the people in it. And, being a big boy, he must have known what the party and its members stood for. And he not only joined that party, but ran and won for it.

Dr. Parrott says he is a tory. I don't know of any clear and generally understood meaning of the word tory. I doubt very much whether Dr. Parrott does. (It's often connected with the Church of England (the high version) and with aristocracy; but I expect Dr. Parrott means neither of those.)

Nor, I thnik, does he understood the correct meaning of the word conservative. If he did, I would dearly love to know what he has ever seen anything conservative in the conservative party - or how he has ever seen it in any way as arising from any principles whatever. Nor can I understand what difference it is he can have seen between liberals and conservatives in this province.

Nor does he seem to understand the basic workings of our political system. Getting elected does NOT give anybody the right to sit in caucus, not any more that Mr. Irving had a right to declare himself in coalition with the government or the right to appoint economic advisers to the government. (However, I'm sure that if Mr. Irving demanded the right to sit in caucus, Premier Alward would roll over to have his belly scratched.) That's the way the political system of New Brunswick works. Dr. Parrott surely knew that when he entered the game.  (If he didn't, then he is too naive to be let out by himself.)

Dr. Parrott has NOT been silenced. He can still say what he likes whenever he likes.

Prermier Alward, unlovely though he may be in general, has done nothing that wrong or anti-democratic or even unreasonable in this case.

And, no, Brent. I don't think we should change the whole political system of Canada just because of this, one case. The issue here is a system that is fundamentally corrupt,  dominated by two parties of no principle whatever - and a doctor who appears to be politically naive.

The editorial is about a poll that shows, among other things, that a majority of Moncton residents want an events centre (hockey rink) at a hundred borrowed million for the city. And that just proves what a relentless newspaper campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and no information at all can do.

Meanwhile, this city is getting close to one hell of a transit crisis. Indeed, the whole province is. It might be difficult to deal with that in a world in serious and unpredictable recession, with a city and province hopelessly in debt, and with a city council and planning staff that has yet to notice there is any crisis. Add to that the certainties that the cost will go well over estimate - and that the land deals will be highly suspect.

And why this cry to revive Main St.? Main street was born in an age when one travelled by foot to shop. Then it lingered on, with difficulty in the age of the bus and the tram. The car killed it. Shopping centres took over. Reviving Main St. today makes as much sense as reviving the outhouse for downtown. Main Streets are gone for the same reason hitching rails for horses are gone. They are obsolete.

If it must be revived, the fundamental change it needs it to get rid of the cars and replace them with mass transit, preferably in the form of a subway. I have never even heard of any city in the world that tried to revive a main street by building an events centre. For that matter, I've rarely heard of a city that wanted to revive a main street in the first place.

Oh, I've sent in my right to information request for information about pollutants under Highfield Square. So far, no answer. Not even an acknowledgement. But I have faith.

Some years ago, while teaching a class on World War One, I suggested they might be interested in a musical called Billy Bishop Goes to War.  There as a long silence. At last, a hand went up.

"What's an LP?"

I felt a hundred years old. If you want to feel even older, go to the youth section, F p.2. There's a column by Jessica Melanson. If you're forty of more, this will boost you to a hundred and fifty. If you are under thirty, you won't even understand what the fuss is.


  1. Still repeating the LIE about Jim irving DECLARING himself in coalition with government, huh?

  2. Can't read, huh? If it's a like, it's not mine. Jim Irving said it in a column for the op ed page of The Moncton Times And Tribune.
    Are you calling Jim Irving a liar?
    I wouldn't dream of doing that.

  3. It would be interesting if you could one day, define the different political movements : Ie: define what is liberalism, conservatism, and so on.

    So, how bout it?

  4. Okay. I'll do it pretty briefly because there are whole books written about both - and the definitions were well known to Canadians of a hundred and fifty years ago.

    Liberal - the liberal perception of society is that it is made up of individuals each of whom needs maximum freedom. They support human rights (as rights for individuals), democratic elections with a wide voting base (not restricted, for example, to land owners or to rate payers of any sort). Because of their emphasis on the individual, they believed in small government - and in free trade as a part of individualism and individual choice.
    Their first real stretch in government didn't come until 1896, when they promptly abandoned all of the above.

    Conservative - sees all society as a group (or groups) rather than as individuals. that is - we do not have a right to freedom in all we do because what we do affects others. Government, then, my play a very large role in society to ensure that freedoms do not intrude on the lives of others.
    Unlike the liberal model, then, government must have considerable authority.

    In practice, only fools would call themselves either liberal or conservative. the reality is that almost all of us are some mixture of the two. Our first PM, John A., recognized this, and always referred to his party as the Liberal-Conservative party.
    In religion, you can see the same factors at work. Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism are essentially conservative - with hierarchical authority structures - and limitations on the religious freedoms of congregants.
    Protestant churches are more liberal, with weaker authority structures and, usually, more tolerance of divergent opinions within the church.
    Neither the Liberal nor Conservative party has anything I could define as any consistent philosophy. When it comes to business, both tend to be liberal, allowing wide freedom to corporations. (The corporations tend to be the opposite, being based on rigid authority structures.So Mr. Irving is a liberal in politics but a conservative in business.)
    When it comes to dealing with the average citizen, both political parties tend to be more authoritarian - and even secretive.

  5. socialism is a blend of liberalism and conservatism.

    Soviet communism was an extreme form of conservatism. Marxist communism was a highly idealistic and never practical ---form of liberalism, I guess. It was based on a very unrealistic assessment of how people behave, and was bound to break down into a Stalinism.

    Similarly, our current form of capitalism (which is not really capitalism at all) is based on the highly theoretical and even foolish idea that greed is good because it creates ambition and wealth for all. In fact, it doesn't and it never has. It has always relied on the exploitation of poverty. And we are now watching it break down under its own contradictions.

    Both liberalism and conservatism have sensible features. In practice, most societies arrive at a blend.

    The systems make sense. the trouble is they are run by people. so they all eventually get warped (as we see in the Libs and Cons of New Brunswick), and they break down.

    if you ever want a good dictionary for all this, go to a library for the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language - the big one of twenty some odd volumes.

  6. It's always interesting to hear others' opinions on what is happening in our society, so thank you for explaining the differences of the Liberal and Conservative modes of philosophy.

    What I don't understand however, and call me naive if you wish, is the steadfast refusal by neo-fundamentalist Christians to accept the damage they are causing not only in the political arena, (think Just War Theory), but also to the environment when they side-on with big business through 'Prosperity Preaching'.

    After all, one could easily argue the overall damage being done by their 'service to the Lord' is tantamount to crimes against humanity.

  7. There are at least a couple of factors here.
    One is that new-fundamentalist Christians are very earth-bound people. Their God is quite human in both appearance and behaviour. Their idea of heaven resembles a first-rate spa, complete with streets of gold. Their heaven isn't a heaven so much as a damn fine property in one of the better sections of town.

    This suggests that what they are really after is not the spirit. That they are after is earthly respectabiity in the eyes of those who "count".

    They want to appear as solid and reliable citizens in the eyes of the rich. You will find very, very few of their clergy who have ever challenged the world order as defined by the rich. A friend of mine served some thirty years as a fundamentalist missionary in the Congo without ever notices the abuses inflicted on that country by wealthy mine-owners.
    In Guatemala, the CIA and Guatemalan army slaughtered a quarter million innocent people as a favour for the mining companies. They also killed Roman Catholic missionaries and nuns. But, to the best of my knowledge, they never touched a hair on the head of a neo-fundamentalist Chrstian.

    To that is now added another factor. Many fundamentalists are overjoyed at the disorder in the middle east. To them, it is a sign of the imminent return of Christ. Indeed, thousands of them are now in Israel, pestering the locals to convert in time for the great day.

    Wars? Rockets? Nuclear attacks? Millions killed? Hey. clap hands for Jesus. the great day is almost here. I can't wait to walk on those streets of gold - and see all those United Church people get tormented by scorpions.

  8. Great explanation and examples as usual Graeme. Thanks again.

    I guess I'll always find it difficult (as many others will) in reconciling how the neo-Christians believe the return of Christ can only be accompanied by a trail of bloodshed and violence.

    And yup, I'm aware of biblical prophecies with relation to the 'End Times', but what I've always wondered; is how so many individuals can totally divest themselves of any critical thinking especially in the call to bomb Iran, etc. knowing that another million or so innocents will suffer horrible injuries and deaths?

    I mean, where's the critical thinking in any of this?

    If they were to pause for a moment to consider they could be wrong (sic), they could then begin to consider the consequences of their belief system.

    When do you suppose the world will begin to discuss the inherent dangers of this particular religious viewpoint?

    When do you suppose the world will begin to discuss how the neo-con Christians' belief system is analogous to hate crimes against humanity?

  9. Well, it's very human.
    For a start, few if any of us think of "the others" as real people at all. There's a good deal of mourning for the dead of 9/11. Of course. They're a lot like us, and they live near us.
    If anybody called for a day of Canadian mourning for the half million or so civilians killed by American terror bombers over Cambodia, he'd been seen as a freak, possibly a trouble maker.
    If Omar Khan had been visiting family in Baltimore and killed a soldier (or medic) who belonged to an invading Afghanistan force, we'd be fighting with the US over which should give him the first medal.
    "we" are "people". "They" are not. Civilians captured by the other side and help captive are "hostages" held by "terrorists". People, even the most innocent ones, that we capture and torture - well, we don't even mention them.
    we're all guilty of it. And some of us can muster a bit of a feeling of guilt.
    But neo-fundamentalists are interested in respectability - and that comes by favour of those who are behind the mass murders and torture.
    Billy Graham would never talk with a Fidel Castro. But he had no problem sharing prayer breakfasts with presidents who killed innocent people by the million. (all foreigners, of course, and therefore not real people.)
    If might happen. But I have never heard an fundamentalist evangelist criticize an oil company. When the CIA was murdering Guatemalans, fundamentalist missionaries in that country certainly knew about it. But they didn't mention it. And they still don't.
    But, oh, if it's one of them there foreigners doin' the killin', why, they'll speak out fearlessly.
    They want respectability. Guess which side they would have been on when Jesus was taken to the cross.