Denial as National DefenseMarch 19th, 2009

I┬áheard a conversation on the radio with two well-known local newspaper reporters who’d been laid off. The interview turned to the imminent demise of newspapers across the country, and the host and guests reached consensus that the Internet and cabl e television are to blame. There’s no point in paying for a paper when you can get the news electronically, they agreed.It was a call-in, and a listener suggested that newspapers are failing, not because of other media, but because they no longer dispense true facts, instead pandering to readers and advertisers with gossip and other diversions, censoring out anything that might alienate the audience. The host didn’t give the reporters a chance to respond, but they would probably have denied the listener’s accusation.

They should have responded by talking about what doesn’t get mentioned in the news. Facts like the number of foreigners killed by our soldiers, the dishonesty and cowardice of our leaders, the fragility of our economy, the proliferation of injustice, the staggering volume of waste, fraud and abuse in commerce and public administration, the degradation of values and standards, and the corruption of journalism that has allowed all this to flourish in the shadows.

News-mongers have discovered that audiences turn away when inconvenient truths slip into their reports, and so they edit them out. It’s a clear case of news so bad it can’t be reported. If that seems self-contradictory and illogical, it’s part of a pattern of unreason that has infiltrated our social institutions. We have crimes so heinous you can’t punish them. Wars so futile you can’t stop fighting them. Failure so catastrophic you can’t acknowledge it.

Sigmund Freud had a term for this, and it’s become part of our daily discourse: Denial. To spare the reasoning mind a measure of trauma, neurotic people have the abililty to deny reality. Often enough, they do it in vast numbers. In the USA, we have been denying sudden climate change for a generation, even as its effects became manifest. This summer, as a result, there will be less ice over the Arctic than ever before in human history, a potentially catastrophic condition. We could have recognized the damage we were doing while there was still time to reverse it, but it would have required a painful transformation of our way of life, and so we denied instead, and the media facilitated. Even when denial is lethal, it affords temporary refuge.

If the news media were an instrument of mass denial, you would expect them not to worry much about competition from truth-tellers. In fact, they don’t. Take the “debate” over health care that is supposedly taking place right now. Whether it’s on network TV or printed in the newspaper, the discussion invariably excludes government health insurance, favored by the public and in use in most of the rest of the industrialized world. To discuss it would be to acknowledge a government so corrupt that it would favor private enterprise–in this case, the insurance industry–over public health. Citizens are discussing government health insurance–Medicare for all–but the media are turning away from those discussions to accommodate denying audiences. Reasoning minds are cancelling subscriptions.

The demise of newspapers and journalism is mainly attributable to the abandonment of truth and reason by journalists. They have been cheerleaders for the glories of war and the wonders of wealth, editing out all contrary views. Thinking people don’t credit them anymore. The embedded mass media consider us idiots, and we feel the same way about them. We know what happens when a nation abandons reason and hides in denial and fantasy. It’s the same thing that happens when an individual does it. Failure. Destruction.