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Debating "Big Brother's" Role in America
New Anthology, Conference, Discusses Propaganda, Censorship During War
11/06/2007 5:24 PM ET
The United States government does not even need the kind of official information-control apparatus envisioned by George Orwell, since the American public does an adequate job managing censorship of the news media.

That summarizes the judgment of Mark Massing's contribution to a new anthology "What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics," edited by András Szántó.

Massing writes about how the US public has reacted to "bad" news out of Iraq with either outrage or disinterest, creating a hesitant media now accustomed to self-censorship, tailoring their output to the news that Americans most want to hear.

"In his reflections on politics and language, Orwell operated on the assumption that people want to know the truth. Often, though, they don't," Massing writes in the piece excerpted today on

In the case of Iraq, the many instruments Orwell felt would be needed to keep people passive and uninformed -- the nonstop propaganda messages, the memory holes, the rewriting of history, Room 101 -- have proved unnecessary. The public has become its own collective Ministry of Truth -- a reality that, in many ways, is even more chilling than the one Orwell envisioned.

Rather than concentrating on the common argument that the Bush Administration waged a propaganda war to mislead American voters into supporting the invasion, Massing accepts that notion as a foregone conclusion, focusing instead on the role of the American public as willingly embracing and even promoting ignorance of the difficult issues stirred up by the war.

It's an interesting idea, and one sure to generate discussion at am all-day conference tomorrow at the New York Public Library.


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