Conspiracy – Fact or Fiction? Part 2: The Hunger for Truth and the Role of the Media

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Part
1: Games People Play

So
what is it that makes the conspiracy theories continue to be fascinating,
why is there so much official and mainstream media fear of them,
and why are they again so much in the public eye? In the second
of this series of articles I shall look at some factors I believe
to lie behind the fascination of so-called conspiracy theories.

The
Hunger for Truth

If
you look at any of the conspiracy websites, it is quite clear that
what motivates and guides those who create and maintain them is
a passionate search for truth. Passionate may not always be right,
but it certainly is highly motivated.

In
some cases that search is all the more passionate because they themselves
have previously been government employees, or in the armed forces
or secret services. Being honest, open-hearted, and possibly idealistic,
and having become aware of the nature of what they were engaged
in, their spirit has rebelled: they have tried to do something about
it, and then have become whistleblowers. In some cases they may
have resigned voluntarily, in others they may have been hounded
out by those whose comfortable positions and privileges in the bureaucracy
would be undermined by their revelations.

This
situation is understandable if one recalls that public service in
the forces or in the government is marketed to young people from
an early age as an idealistic career path to embark on. Many who
do so go into it with the best of intentions to help their fellow
men, or to promote what they see as the common good, or to serve
their country. It is often precisely because they have high ideals
and a sense of honour that they cannot live with the realities they
find.

Becoming
a whistleblower often entails a very high price to themselves, involving
a combination of severe doubts, conflicting loyalties, loss of income
and status, ridicule, and later on personal suffering, harassment
and even – have no doubt about this — the risk of assassination.
Many who may sympathize with the whistleblower are constrained from
doing the same thing — for many reasons, perhaps because of family
commitments, a mortgage to pay, a yearning for a quiet life, stability,
fear of reprisals.

u2018Whistleblower'
is a word laden with ambiguity, and this is often exploited by government
and media alike, for while it conveys on the one hand admiration
for the person who may have stuck up for his principles or for universal
ideals, and uncovered corruption, malpractice, exploitation or abuse
of power, it also leaves, on the other hand, a none too subtle hint
that in blowing the thing open, the whistleblower perhaps ratted
on former friends and colleagues, or betrayed an explicit oath of
loyalty or implicit conspiracy of silence. These things are calculated
to make him feel really bad, whatever his conscience may have told
him about u2018doing the right thing.'

The
truth, to put it mildly, is not a guiding passion for professional
politicians and bureaucrats. Truth is subversive, and inconvenient
to those who hold and manipulate power. They will invent all sorts
of rational arguments as to why it is unnecessary. Or, worse still,
why it should be withheld from the people for their own benefit.
It is "better that they do not know."
As Al
Martin has said:   "I’m reminded of the words of George
Bush who said, u2018The truth will get you broke.' Or I am reminded
of the words of Oliver North who said, u2018The truth is useless. You
can’t deposit it in the bank. You can’t eat it. It’s absolutely
useless.' And
anyone who is interested in the truth doesn’t have any money."

So,
there is a ready community of opposition (from the left and right
of the established political spectrum and from the career bureaucrats
who service their purposes) to what is perceived as being too much
delving into the truth. To reveal the truth not only undermines
those who temporarily hold positions of power and influence, and
shows them up in front of the people they have been bombarding with
propaganda about how well they are performing their duty, either
as democratically-elected representatives or as public servants:
it also puts in question the very legitimacy of the two-party rotation
system which enables them to take their turn at the trough, the
myth of disinterested public service, and all the cultural baggage
of u2018democratic participation' that goes with these things. In opposition
to all this, the search for truth and the struggle for liberty posits
a world where the highest value is put on individual moral responsibility.

In
the population at large, there are certain psychological factors
at play in the search for truth, involving a spectrum of degrees
of ignorance and deception (or self-deception). At one end of this
spectrum you have those who remain blissfully ignorant of what is
going on. In the vast middle range of the spectrum you have the
state's entitlements clientele, and others in various stages of
denial or wishful thinking — from those who are afraid, to the well-meaning
innocents who feel that all those disagreeable things can't possibly
be true, or are just too horrible to contemplate, and those who
are in deeper denial — they know certain things are true but don't
want to admit it, or are likewise afraid to do so.

At
the opposite end of the spectrum you have those who are actively
engaged in the cover-ups and the disinformation, tacitly aided by
the countless numbers of faceless people in government and party
politics who maintain a conspiracy of silence. These conspirators
— for that is what they are too – have an interest in hiding the
truth because, when it does come out, it reveals how shoddy and
immoral are their machinations for staying in power and abusing
power, to say nothing of how inefficient they can be at accomplishing
their own plans, and indeed any plans by the state to regulate the
natural order of human activity by forcing good intentions down
people's throats. People rightly get angry when those who have told
them they could be trusted turn out instead to have been engaged
effectively in thievery and deception.

In
summary, is it any surprise that whistleblowers' revelations are
labelled crazy conspiracy theories or lies by those who have a vested
interest in preserving the evils those whistleblowers are denouncing?
And is it any surprise that they should continue, for these very
reasons, to be intriguing and fascinating as vital elements in our
understanding of history as it is being made?

The
Media

Of
course not all conspiracy websites are owned and maintained by whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers have a particularly strong sense of mission to reveal
the truth, but there are others belonging to a strong American tradition
which profoundly mistrusts the central (federal) government and
the officially sanctioned versions of events. They include mavericks,
independent-minded people who unwaveringly remain true to their
principles, some libertarians, some protectors of civil liberties,
leftists, ultra-conservatives, perhaps reactionaries – you name
it, everyone with just the tiniest sprinkling of political and economic
incorrectness is probably in there somewhere.

However,
it is this very diversity of potential conspiracy theorists which
enables the media to have a free rein in labelling, at its own convenience,
any particular view as being eccentric or conspiratorial, and therefore
as something which serious-minded people ought not to take into
consideration.

There
is a common misperception of the nature of the media, and of the
journalist's position therein, namely that the media are somehow
fearless in pursuit of the truth. It arises from a delayed collective
reaction to the fact that intrepid journalists, and especially radio
commentators, some of them the stuff of legend like Ed Murrow, used
to have the courage and the freedom to venture much further in their
investigative reporting and to reveal much more of the truth than
they can today. That sort of intrepid journalist no longer exists,
or if he does, his range and scope for in-depth investigative reporting
are much more severely curtailed. How did this happen?

I
am no expert on the media, but in the historical context it is obvious
that regulation, and crucially the introduction of the need for
broadcasting stations to be licensed by the government, had the
effect of restricting the operation of free markets in media. In
any society the first effect of such regulation, through so-called
u2018competition' for licenses, is that licenses become a largesse to
be distributed by the government, implicitly or explicitly in return
for u2018favourable' reporting and undertakings not to criticize the
established order which enables that government to exist, on pain
of having your license revoked.

In
the more modern, partially de-regulated (but now consolidated) media
world, there is a similar constraining effect from commercial advertising,
on which the media depend for their revenue (and ultimately the
journalists for their jobs). A journalist may not stick his or her
neck out too far in reporting contentious issues, for fear of offending
the advertiser, who will promptly take away his custom. If he does
so, the TV network may very easily punish the journalist with dismissal.
Naturally this has little to do with how good or bad the reporter
is at the job, or even whether what he or she has to report is true
or false, but merely with whether he or she has overstepped the
mark of acceptable discourse in the context of the politics of the
advertiser. At best, this makes for anodyne television. At worst,
it produces blatant propaganda in the interests of those who hold
on to and manipulate power or who have a particular agenda (or product
line) to promote.

Thus
it is that individual writers and reporters in the mainstream media,
however well-established their reputation, become unable or unwilling
to speak the full truth of all that they know – for the simple reason
that they are likely to lose their job if they do so. Increasingly,
they learn to become more and more cautious, and so lose the earlier
cutting edge which made their reputations, and the mainstream media
news programmes become virtually devoid of substance, failing to
explain events in depth and to provide real information.

Once
this happens, it is a just a short step to the media's function
being only to fulfill a propagandizing role, using above all the
techniques of self-censorship — in other words, omitting information
which the editors know in advance is likely to be critical of the
established political and economic order, and so confining debate
to those topics which will not seriously undermine key facets of
that order — such as the electoral system which favours two-party
rotation in power, conventional economic and monetary theory or,
in more recent times, politically correct discourse.

Where
omission fails – and it sometimes does, particularly where competing
economic interests are at stake – the mainstream media may resort
to the tactic of rushing in to damn a PC heresy as u2018wacky' or an
inconvenient truth as u2018conspiracy theory,' once again to exclude
it from debate and narrow the range of argument to politically and
economically acceptable ideas.

This
is nothing more than a tactic in the game of manipulation of power,
but because it is carried on the voice of a medium which advertises
itself as being authoritative, it is initially highly effective
with the often mesmerized and barely conscious u2018audience.' It is
used to discredit the person of the originator of a particular
interpretation of events in the minds of the audience, rather than
to attack his argument – the classic ad hominen attack which
casts doubt on certain personal attributes (intelligence, sanity,
motivation), and does not even begin to enter into a discussion
of the arguments or admit that what he has to say might have some
substance of truth to it.

This
u2018denial of entry' effect is enhanced by subtly creating in the minds
of the audience the notion that not only is the conspiracy theorist
somehow an oddball — through the use of such pejorative terms as
‘fruitcake’ and ‘nut’ (is it significant that
these are edible things?) – but also that the members of the
great TV audience should not want to be associated with the conspiracy
theorist because it will make them look silly too.  So it plays
on people’s fear of contamination by association, and of looking
stupid in the eyes of others, as in ‘Hey, you’re not one of
those who believe all that conspiracy stuff, are you?’

All
this is effective, and often mind-numbing stuff, but the appeal
of character assassination for its own sake is very limited and
short-term. In the end, when the content has no substance, and when
viewers, who are not fools, see and hear the same official or approved
line constantly rammed down their throats, they do eventually rebel:
some switch off, others zap to something else. How many times did
you have to watch the twin towers fall, or read "America strikes
back" in the lower left-hand corner of the TV screen, before
it made you sick enough to switch permanently away from, or just
switch off, the major u2018news' channels? Others still, who want information
and have critical intelligence, have long since started to look
elsewhere, and if they want to read really interesting stuff, and
indeed challenging or subversive stuff, and hear the truth, they
find the only place to be these days is the Internet.

Which
is why — at least for the moment – the Internet is now the home
of what the mainstream media love to call u2018conspiracy theories.'
But, subject to the caveat that readers must carry out for themselves
a critical evaluation of the information they find on those websites,
it is today far more likely that the true facts, and indeed the
history and background to current events, will be found in among
those conspiracy theory websites rather than in any mainstream news
bulletin or documentary report. Internet usage has grown exponentially
over the last few years, so there is correspondingly much more general
exposure to that essential history and to those truths. And, as
the records of increasing traffic for websites such as LewRockwell.com
show, people are all the time getting hungrier for even more truth.

November
20, 2002

Richard
Wall (send him mail) is a freelance
translator, specializing in the social sciences, who lives in Estoril,
Portugal. This
article is the second in a 3-part series on the subject of “Conspiracy
— Fact or Fiction.”

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