December 9, 2004
Time Traveling Author Jonathan Greenberg Turns Up Disquieting Truths, and Distruths, from 1984, 2004 and 2014
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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BuzzFlash: The protagonist in America
2014 makes ads for an Orwellian American government, not unlike
the current one. How important is the mass media in terms of achieving
an Orwellian world, where lies are truth and the truth is perceived as
That's why in America 2014, the government, under the rewritten Constitution of the renamed "God's United States," has absolute power to determine which media corporations are "sufficiently patriotic" to deserve to use the public airwaves "in Time of War." Imagine if the parent company of Fox News acquired Clear Channel, and that this was the only company that the President and Homeland Security General deemed worthy of using the public airwaves and the internet.
That's the world of America 2014. It's all about the absolute control of all information, about the role of the media to disseminate "patriotic" lies instead of "treasonous" truths. So in America 2014, the most subversive and treasonous act of all is when the Resistance hacks onto the government's mandatory "Always On" satellite channel, which every citizen must watch, by law, during periodic "emergency broadcasts." The Resistance takes over the channel and simulcasts an updated movie version of 1984, set in America that the protagonist Winston Smith has scripted for the BBC, along with infomercials spreading messages of dissent.
BuzzFlash: Isn't there something ironic that we are
in an age when the American mass media, a so-called "free market independent"
media, is really sort of one big Pravda as it functioned in the old Soviet
Union? In short, the American mass media, for the most part, toes the
There is less media courage to independently report the truth in our country than there has ever been before. I see the increased ownership of once independent media by mega corporations as the chief contributor to this. The ideals of informing the public are only upheld when they serve the legal purpose of the corporation, which is to maximize short-term profits to shareholders.
So what is the return on investment in trying to get behind the scenes and report the truth of a situation? I've been an investigative reporter, with feature articles published in more than a dozen national magazines during the past 20 years. It was far easier two decades ago to get magazines behind "tough" stories than it is today. An old colleague of mine, who is the best award-winning reporter I know, is viewed as nothing but trouble by the mega-news corporation that he works for, because they've been sued a few times, and they don't see the "return" on such lawsuits, even though he has reported nothing but the truth each time. If reporting facts gets you on the wrong side of this Administration, it means less "'access" for your whole parent corporation and no interviews with "'political celebrities." In our celebrity-driven culture, where's the profit in questioning authority?
So instead of seeing themselves as obliged to spend some tiny portion of their billion dollar budgets to actually uncover and report the truth for the public, media companies typically cop out, and take the "two sides to every story" approach to journalism. This happens simultaneously with the dumbing down of all news to 30-second sound bites. Context and truth become meaningless, and we don't have to imagine ten years into our country's future to see how this plays out.
Look at the Karl Rove-inspired, relentlessly repeated "news" of Kerry "voting against the $87 billion for body armor for the troops," or "allowing the U.N. to tell us when the U.S. should go to war." Both these statements are fabrications, but instead of reporting what Kerry actually did, or said, the 30-second campaign news coverage that perhaps 80% of Americans saw or read went something like this: "Vice President Cheney said today that John Kerry was wrong about how to best defend the country from terrorist attacks. 'President Bush would never give the U.N. veto power over defending our country from enemy attack,' he stated. A Kerry campaign spokesman denied that Kerry ever intended to submit to a U.N. litmus test before ordering American troops to defend the U.S."
Simplifying all news to 30 seconds of 'he said/she said," then marrying your corporation's profits to the "goodwill" of a government to provide access to what ought to be public information, plays right into the hands of a Big Brother. Because then it's simple for a government to control the media labeling of all information, in "Time of War," into two simplistic buckets, one labeled "patriotic, the other "treasonous." It's a pretty small step, "in Time of War" (and as long as the Republican right maintains its grip on power, we will be in a time of perpetual, lobotomizing war), to go from the power to label information as "patriotic" or "treasonous," to the power to outlaw "treasonous" information.
The antidote to this is an independent media with a mission to inform the public of the truth. Instead, we have truth that isn't censored like Pravda, but self-censored by the market forces of a journalist's career, an editor's career, a broadcaster's career, or a company's profits. And who is left to report on how the electronic voting machines impacted the 2004 Presidential election?
BuzzFlash: The original 1984 was a fictional
vision of Stalin's Soviet rule. Your America
2014 is about an unending, thinly veiled Bush administration
conducting an unending "War on Terror." Isn't it a bit ironic that we
have the appearance of a democracy, but reality of a totalitarian state?
Modern America as a totalitarian state is what is depicted in my book, which takes place ten years from now. I would say we are marching slowly, deliberately and quietly in the direction of the Nazi goose step. And it troubles me to say that believe it would not take all that much to get us there.
Since completing the book just six months ago, it's been amazing to me that some of its futuristic scenarios have already started to take place. Bush's re-election was one, but this was not unexpected. Yet today I read that Fox News will be the primary news source for all Clear Channel radio stations. There's a reference to something like that in America 2014. And also, a few weeks ago I read about a Senate bill being considered that would make any federal drug offense punishable by a mandatory minimum of ten years imprisonment. Presumably this includes any quantity of marijuana possession on federal property, or at airports. In the book, I foretell the totalitarian state disenfranchising 15 million voting citizens on Election Day 2006 by applying a ten year federal mandatory minimum sentence for a positive marijuana hair snippet test at select polling places. Imagine, ten years, no judicial discretion. For any drug offense. A friend of mine read that in my book and said, "that could never happen." But the foundation of it is already there in a Senate bill. Ten years, with a felony record that never lets you vote again in many states.
One of the books of primary interest to me in writing this novel was I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1945, by Victor Klemperer. It is an incredible work, and it details the incremental steps the Nazis took to suppress and snuff out dissent in their rise to totalitarian power.
I see a number of troubling similarities between our time and the period in which fascism rose to power. This Administration has made clear that it sees our Constitution as more of a hindrance than a foundation of nationhood. The Bush gang has denounced international institutions and international law as virtually un-American, and effectively become the first major signatory ever to withdraw from the Geneva Conventions. Bush supporters have effectively proclaimed themselves unbothered by torture at Guantanamo Bay, at Abu Ghraib, or in American prisons, while the civilian lives taken by American soldiers in Iraq are apparently inconsequential as long as we can wrap such murder in the flag. And virtually every major act Bush takes is justified by the "divine providence" that leads his holy crusade. Bush, like Hitler, answers to no one but the God that has made him infallible.
If you buy this package, as millions of fundamentalists have, then you either believe in Bush and everything he does, or you don't believe in God. This, in a country founded upon the separation of church and state.
I am saddened by how little regard many Americans have for our Constitution's powerful First Amendment, which enshrines this separation, and protects our freedom of speech and press and assembly. I've read of polls in which more than half our fellow citizens would be willing to suspend the First Amendment entirely in time of war.
So what would it take to bring a totalitarian state to our shores? In my book, I refer to a major biological terrorist attack on America called "Dirty Friday." This is the catalyst for a huge stock market crash, the launching of a larger war against Islamic countries, and the gutting of all civil liberties. I truly hope that this type of attack never happens, here or anywhere. But I think that if it did happen on our soil, the U.S. Constitution and the checks and balances that protect us from a Big Brother Government would really come under siege.
Do I believe that this Administration would use such a tragedy, or maybe a few such tragedies, to create a Big Brother police state? Do I believe that most "Red State" Americans would support such a power grab after a major terrorist attack? Do I believe that any remaining independence among the mainstream media would fold if threatened with legal action in a time of "crisis?" Do I believe that this Supreme Court would uphold virtually any new "emergency" Executive branch powers that Bush, Cheney, Rove and Gonzales decided that it needed to "defend America"?
Sadly, my answer to all these questions is yes.
BuzzFlash: As with the Soviet Union, America, in your
novel, belongs to a privileged set of elitist insiders who are valued
for their loyalty, service and financial contributions to "the party."
If you are not a loyalist to "the leadership," are you an enemy of the
When my stomach is not too queasy, I'll listen for ten minutes to radio hate-mongers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. To them, to dissent is to become a traitor--in fact, to question is tantamount to treason. During the Vietnam War, the Neanderthal right used to say, "America: Love It or Leave It." You would think they believe that our country is ruled by an infallible king ordained by God.
To me, that's not what democracy is supposed to be about. I think that to dissent is patriotic, and that our country was founded on the questioning of authority.
BuzzFlash: In a Guest
C ommentary you wrote for BuzzFlash, you talked about cognitive dissonance
and Orwell's concept of "Doublethink." Are Americans victims today of
Only "Dubyathink" could explain how nearly 60 million people were willing to re-elect Bush on his record of failure.
BuzzFlash: In that commentary for BuzzFlash, you also
quote Orwell as saying, "The heresy of heresies was common sense." Ouch!
That struck home. That seems to sum up what BuzzFlash has been covering
since we started in May of 2000. The Republicans have created some parallel
universe where common sense seems to have been jettisoned out of the window
of a careening democracy, like an empty beer can from a pick-up truck
driven by a drunken con man. In America
2014, is there any room for common sense?
In the book, common sense also manages to persist among secret "Resistance" communities, in the walled-in urban ghettos. Some freedom of thought is also tolerated among government-registered "Subversives," who have to go around wearing a glowing "S." These heretics serve as an example to those who would dare question authority. They can't hold jobs or speak to Patriotic Citizens. And for most Subversives, it's just a matter of time before Homeland Security finds a conduct or speech violation that merits execution.
BuzzFlash: Yet, there is some hope in America
2014. There is an underground band of rebels, patriots for democracy
and truth. Tell us a little about them and how they manage to evade the
totalitarian Orwellian state created by the designers of the endless "War
In America 2014, our government has no money left to fund social security, Medicaid or food stamps, having siphoned off trillions to pay off cronies, finance wars, and float the rising debt load. So Homeland Security ships off the have-not's with a tiny one-time block grant and walls them off in overcrowded urban ghettos, leaving them to fend for themselves. Among those living on the "outside" of Big Brother's controlled state are the orphaned children of dissidents executed by Homeland Security, as well as many of the dependents of the 20 million Americans who have been arrested and shipped off to work in prison labor camps.
Most people in the ghettos are elderly or very young. The young people are pissed off, and technically very savvy. They've found a way to keep the deadly Homeland Security drones out of the ghetto, but they need to become tough to co-exist among the drug dealers and gun runners and Homeland Security bounty hunters. They hijack computers to act as slave servers to pick up freeware from millions of multinational political activists trying to help from outside "God's United States."
BuzzFlash: Is there any hope of avoiding America
2014 if the mainstream news media, particularly television, continues
to serve as an extension of the White House propaganda machine? After
all, you point out that the majority of Bush supporters didn't know the
truth about circumstances around the Iraq War. Were they willingly deceived,
or just deceived?
I wouldn't simply blame a compliant mainstream media for the way people vote. This information is available to anyone willing to consider what our government has been doing in our name, and our fellow citizens have to bear responsibility for the politicians they vote in, and especially those they re-elect.
So although the White House propaganda machine and a docile media make the ugly reality of our government's actions easier to overlook, I would say that a majority of Bush supporters were willingly deceived, not simply deceived.
BuzzFlash: Technology has a pervasive presence in America
2014. A totalitarian regime can know everything about its citizens
and follow them anywhere, it appears. Does advanced technology provide
more sophisticated tools of oppression?
Then there are deadly security drones equipped with laser guns, which act as sentries in federal buildings, and also hunt down Homeland Security-designated "fugitives" that are marked for death.
It's a tough world to be a dissident. But advanced technology also allows sophisticated means to hijack and pirate Internet servers and satellite broadcasts, which the Resistance hackers use to their advantage.
BuzzFlash: It appears that while the Bush Administration chronically lies about almost all of its policies, the mainstream press never finds fault with Bush or his loyalists for that. In fact, their credo is, "if you tell a lie five times, it becomes the truth." And for at least half of this country, the strategy appears to work. How come the Bush administration is not held accountable for its lying?
Jonathan Greenberg: First, I think we've got to acknowledge the sinister brilliance of Karl Rove. He is the modern heir to propagandist Joseph Goebbels, with modern technology at his fingertips and unlimited money.
I know that others have referred to this quote in recent months, but I think it bears repeating here. In 1946, while awaiting trial at Nuremberg, Nazi ReichsMarshall Herman Goering told an interviewer: "Of course the people don't want war...but...the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country."
I think this applies to the mainstream press. This Administration has used the holy war on terror to justify everything from tax cuts for the rich to evading the Geneva Conventions. Members of the media do not want to be perceived by their corporate superiors as "partisan," and certainly not perceived as treasonous. Most simply don't see it as their job to investigate or even point out the lies of the administration. They're entertainers trying to make money for their shareholders and themselves.
BuzzFlash: You have a new Orwellian American Constitution
that you wrote to end your book. Why did you feel this was necessary?
How close is the United States to reflecting that document?
All they would need to do is change a handful of words in each Amendment comprising the Bill of Rights, then everything changes. For instance, to say that people have certain rights, unless the "President or his agents, in Time of War" decide that they don't, means that people only have rights when it suits the state not to take them away.
How near is that? Again, we're not there yet. But you can see small steps in that direction. Elements of the Patriot Act are frightening, especially its wholesale disregard for the centuries old legal tradition of requiring judicial warrants for searches. And the "Commander in Chief" exception to the Geneva Conventions, written by our new Attorney General, sets a very dangerous precedent for what other exceptions our Commander in Chief might be empowered with, by Executive decree, especially if there was another terrorist attack.
BuzzFlash: One final big question. You wrote a book, but reading books and newspapers is on the decline. Orwell described a world where truth was primarily defined by visual propaganda. Have we crossed the threshold into a post-literate age, where television and computer-generated images hold the key to defining "the truth" at any given moment -- and the individuals who control mass communications control the definition of "the truth," even if it is based on lies?
Jonathan Greenberg: In 1984, Orwell wrote, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
We're getting closer to a post-literate age. That's where the dumbing down of TV news, and the 30-second sound bites comes in. A good example of defining "the truth" using lies is the Swift Boat "veterans" situation during the Presidential campaign. This well-financed smear campaign, built upon nothing but lies, successfully redefined, for tens of millions of voters, John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as an opportunistic traitor who betrayed his country and prolonged the war. Meanwhile, Bush, whose powerful family indisputably pulled strings so that he could avoid combat, is treated with kid gloves by the media bosses because of one tiny falsified memo that appeared mysteriously a week before Bush's National Guard records were released under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Of course, the ultimate redefinition of truth has been the "smooth success" of electronic voting machines in last month's elections. There are at least half a dozen highly questionable elements begging for a thorough investigation here, one that could question the outcome about what had been billed as the most important election in modern American history. Everything from the blocking of a congressional bill that would have mandated auditable voting machines, to the suspicious exit polls, to the blocking of electronic voting machine access to technologically examine the machines, to the highly suspicious coincidence that virtually all the malfunctions in important regions seemed to favor Bush.
But where is the "fourth estate" on this, where is our cherished independent media, the multi-billion dollar media conglomerates with the resources, the personnel, and the clout to do the work needed to find out if this election has been rigged?
Not only are they refusing to independently investigate the electronic voting machine story, but they are refusing to report on those that have looked into it. Meanwhile, the literate minority, those who read journals and books and websites like this one, get pushed further beyond the fringe of what the mainstream media frames as "our national debate." If this is to change, we cannot bear this in silence.
For the post-literate majority, those who get their news from 30-second sound bites, minute-long TV ads and the rants of hate radio shockmeisters, there is news about the phenomenal success of the new electronic voting machines in the presidential election of 2004. So there is little pressure to change anything the next time, and certainly none whatsoever from corporate media. Which means if this election was stolen, the next one might be as well, and it will just get worse and worse as a rigged Republican majority grows, bringing us to that one party-dominated state that some Republicans envision, for the rest of our lives.
Will it bring us to the Orwellian world of America 2014 ten years from now? I really hope not.
BuzzFlash: Thank you for your insights.
Jonathan Greenberg: Glad to comment.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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America 2014: An Orwellian Tale, a BuzzFlash Premium
Why Bush's America Feels Like Orwell's 1984, A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION by Jonathan Greenberg
The Revised Constitution of God's United States, A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION by Jonathan Greenberg
The Literature Network, on Orwell's 1984: http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/