Anyone who read 1984 in high school should know that the target of propaganda can turn on a dime. But we tend to forget this lesson whenever the media’s real-life Big Bros crank out their version of “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia,” as they’ve being doing of late.
It’s worth quickly revisiting Orwell. “On the sixth day of Hate Week,” he wrote,
when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces—at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.
There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place…. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.
We’ve recently gone through a Hate Week or two ourselves. Only months ago, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last POW in Afghanistan, had been valorized by the right. Senators McCain, Ayotte and Inhofe, Sarah Palin and Allen West and right-wing websites wanted Bergdahl freed at all costs, and blamed Obama for leaving him behind.
Then, of course, Obama did free Bergdahl. You can argue that the deal struck was mishandled, but there’s no excuse—none—for the rightwing pillorying of Bergdahl into a one-man Eastasia. With no evidence and “no admission that any change had taken place,” they’ve recast him, variously, as a deserter, a traitor, a jihadist or, as Fox News reporter James Rosen bizarrely put it, “a kind of modern-day Lee Harvey Oswald.” Death threats were made against his parents; his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, canceled a celebration of his return for fears of public safety. Fox News’s Kimberly Guilfoyle declared that he was “lucky” US forces didn’t find him earlier because “he would have come home either in a body bag or come home and gone straight to jail.”
Bergdahl is back now in the United States, being treated at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, and God help him when, weeks or months or years from now, he meets the media. (This cartoon puts it succinctly.)
Then, faster than you can switch a long beard from signifying good ol’, homo-hatin’ Duck Dynasty boys to signifying that you look like a Muslim (as Bill O’Reilly said of Bergdahl’s father)—quicker than that, you can make a pair of right-wing cop killers cease to exist.
The same Fox News that usually torches not only cop killers but lawyers who defend them and singers who rap about them had almost nothing to say about Jerad and Amanda Miller, the couple who executed two police officers as they were eating at a Las Vegas pizzeria. The Millers had attended rallies at the Cliven Bundy ranch and thus hated law enforcement in the right way, in the way Fox had helped to foment. As Eric Boehlert wrote last week:
Primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity both ignored the shocking cop-killer story [the day after the killings], while Megyn Kelly devoted four sentences to it. (By contrast, the story covered extensively during CNN and MSNBC’s primetime.) Fox talkers on Monday were still far more interested in debating the prisoner swap of Bowe Bergdahl than they were examining the political ambush in Las Vegas….
In the 36 hours after the shooting, Fox News tread lightly around the Las Vegas story, producing regular news updates about the crime spree. But Fox provided almost no commentary, no context, and certainly no collective blame for the executions.
And that’s how Fox News deals with right-wing domestic terrorism in America, when it even bothers to acknowledge the killings and the crimes…. on Fox the perpetrators are always portrayed as lone gunmen (and women) who do not represent any cultural or political movement.
This sort of media-manufactured amnesia goes beyond a mere “flip-flop.” In a well-oiled propaganda machine, who’s lone and who’s representative, who’s a hero and who’s a heel, even good and evil themselves, are interchangeable. Anything can be instantly reframed as circumstances dictate.
As we’re already hearing from some quarters: “We have always been right to go to war in Iraq.”