The Blessings of a Soviet Education

That’s the title of this article by Michael Galak in the Australian web-zine Quadrant. He later immigrated to Australia, but here’s a sample of what he learned: “When I was living in the Soviet Union I did not believe the state’s newspapers when they told me Americans were thirsting to conquer the USSR. I did not believe Khrushchev when he said it was the Americans who triggered the Cuban missile crisis. No, I thought, if they are telling me the Americans are to blame then it must have been the Kremlin’s doing because lies were our leaders’ stock in trade. I did not believe Pravda when it said the murder of Israeli athletes in Munich was a legitimate blow against the oppressors of Palestine, which I knew didn’t exist. I did not believe them when I was told Israeli commandos who rescued the Entebbe hostages were instruments of a Zionist plot to take over the world. Most of all I did not believe that the Western proletariat was groaning  in poverty beneath the chains of capitalist bloodsuckers, whereas the Soviet workers lived and worked in freedom and prosperity. That one was a no-brainer. I could look out the window and see it wasn’t true.”

I’ve discovered that today’s teenagers, at least those I’m around the most, have learned the same lesson, albeit from the US media and not from the government per se. Based on in-class conversations and writing assignments they’ve turned in, they assume that any reportage is strongly biased and probably not trustworthy, although how untrustworthy varies. Since I didn’t pick that scepticism up until after I’d escaped from college the first time, I wonder how much comes from their parents, and how much is from the conflicting information on the TV news vs. the Internet vs. personal experience. And how much is just teenagers’ “the adults say this so I’m going the other way, nyah.”

I tend to be cautious about what I read/see in the news and in books, although I’m a lot more willing to give a book-author the benefit of the doubt until they throw something in that collides with what I already know. Or their worldview intrudes so blatantly that I may keep reading for general info but I’ll be very cautions about trusting the writer’s interpretation.

I trusted, for certain values of trust, the news media until I started to see things that did not fit my own observations and experiences. By now, I’m sorry to say, I assume false until I am proven otherwise, although I’m still pretty trusting about sports scores and the local weather. After all, the local weather guys have to face the prospect of being cornered in the grocery store, church, parking lot, shoe store, burger barn, or wherever someone catches them to remonstrate gently about their lack of accuracy. They are held accountable. Likewise the sports guys, to an extent. After all, do you want to be cornered in a convenience store by a group of angry parents demanding to know why you screwed up coverage of their sons’ or daughters’ great game in the State tourney? Didn’t think so.

Accountability. The Soviet Media were accountable to the government. They reported what the government told them to report. And their reporting collided so strongly with daily life experience, and everyone knew that it collided, that no one trusted the Soviet media. Or the reporting backfired, like the (possibly apocryphal) story about Pravda’s claim that things were so bad in the US that elderly people were eating cat food because it was all they could afford. The Soviet readers looked at each other and said, “Oh my. The US is so rich they have food just for cats!” Oops, massive propaganda fail.

We are quickly reaching that point in the US and in other parts of the West. Instead of looking out the window, although a lot of us can do that and say, “Hmm, no, the economy is not getting better here. Hmmm, if the housing market is so good, why have those four houses in a good neighborhood not sold in a year?” And now we can turn to associates in blogs and on social media and find out that no, the local media coverage of something is vastly different from what the Mainstream Media are claiming. Or yes, the guy really was yelling Allahu Akbar and trying to kill as many as possible before he finally committed suicide.

Plus the old 24-hour rule, which is especially important today with the emphasis on constant news broadcasts and “live breaking news”. For example, people very quickly tracked down the license plate and thus the registration of the car that hit the Antifa and BlackLivesMatter people on Saturday. And the first name I saw turned out to be the former owner, who 1) had sold the car and 2) had an iron clad alibi of not being in Virginia and who had multiple witnesses to say where he was, and photographic evidence. It was only several hours later that the actual driver’s name and information were released.

What can we trust today? Perhaps our lying eyes.

I miss the days when newspapers (in particular) and other information outlets were open about being the this party or that party paper, or the local gadfly that had its own agenda and went after everyone with wild abandon unless they agreed with the editor’s ideas. You knew up front what was coming, and you could sort and sift from there. They still might be wrong, but you know which direction they were more likely to be wrong from.

Or today, we read and see the Mainstream Media and just assume the opposite (unless it is sports scores and the local weather). Like the Soviet Union. “There is no pravda in Izvestia, and no izvestia in Pravda.”*


*There’s no truth in The News [international events newspaper in the USSR] and no news in The Truth [main Soviet Communist Party internal Soviet-events newspaper].”

Edited to add: Welcome Instapundit readers!

12 thoughts on “The Blessings of a Soviet Education

  1. Nope, don’t trust ANY media, although today Pravda is actually better coverage than the US MSM… Lyin’ eyes win every time now days… sigh

  2. That’s also the reason I use Yandex as a browser (see if I’m going to be spied on I’d rather it was by the Russians rather than my own government. Also I’d rather support a group of capitalists in the than Microsoft. I spent twenty years in the Navy as a CTM (Communications Technician, Maintence) and submarine officer. When I retired in 1988 the USSR was still standing now it’s tough to be certain whether our government is more capitalistic than theirs; or their corruption is worse than ours.

  3. I have turned my back on ‘The News,’ and no longer regularly seek out ANY news media. We are a long way from Walter Cronkite.
    On those occasions where I feel I HAVE to find out about something that’s going on, I filter what I read through skepticism.
    Mostly, though, I just use the time for something else.

    • “We are a long way from Walter Cronkite.”

      Not that long, because we know now Cronkite wasn’t that reliable, either.

      “Everything you read in the newspapers is absolutely true—except for the rare story of which you happen to have firsthand knowledge.”
      –Knoll’s Law of Media Accuracy (Erwin Knoll, editor, “The Progressive”)

      “…it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies—unless one counts journalists.”
      –George Orwell, “Homage to Catalonia” (1938)

      “It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
      –Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Norvell (June 11, 1807)

  4. Unfortunately I think everything in this post applies just a much to the MSM on this side of the pond in London & the rest of Europe.

    • From what little I’ve seen recently of the BBC, and from what I read on the German media web-sites or saw in the German TV news this past June, I’m inclined to agree.

  5. The news media is doing ANYTHING it can by clicks, views, over-sensationalizing any event as viewers cancel cable & unsubscribe to newspapers & their website. Independent media has been good at specializing (whether biased or not) and it has many benefits. The media collectively called Trump’s presser a disaster, I saw a man calling out the media for their collective silence at the fascists groups (ALL of them in Charlottesville) battling each other for dominance in the news cycle. I can easily see this but the old media can’t seem to (or doesn’t want to) discern their similarities.

  6. What follows is my own opinion, based on my own experiences – nothing more, nothing less.

    In one of his books about comics, Scott McCloud made a statement about why he didn’t think so-called “internet portals” were going to work. I have found that this statement encapsulates my experience with The News. To paraphrase –

    “There will always be at least one subject you know well enough to know when “.

    As a child I grew up a budding newshound – I was told once in junior high that I had newsprint ink for blood. The kind of kid who was as excited to read the newspaper when he got home from school as watch cartoons. Part of my childhood allowance went to pay for subscriptions to Time and Newsweek – and before you so it, this is the late 70’s.

    The first crack in the wall came during the 1980 Presidential election. I favored Reagan, having soured heavily on Carter (despite my father being a strong pro-union Democrat). So I watched with great tension as the race continued to look maddeningly close, especially as the election itself got closer to the actual day and it increasingly looked like momentum was swinging away from Reagan and…

    …you might say it wasn’t quite so close. I shrugged it off at the time, primarily because of the thrill of victory.

    As my childhood turned into my teenaged years, however, I began to notice other little slips. A local murder case where a particular detail wasn’t talked about after the first day. Repeated reports on how amazingly dangerous those new video games and roleplaying games were, when I was playing them myself and, while some of the reports were true, almost as many weren’t.

    By the time I could drive, I had realized that sometime over the last few years I’d almost completely quit reading the news magazines and stopped paying for hem. I was only reading the local newspaper for local stories, the opinion page, and the comics. While I still listened to the nightly news, I found myself questioning everything they said. The final straw for me was another local crime story while I was in college, one I had a close tie to. The reports in the newspaper and on TV were almost unrecognizable from the actual facts of the case – stunningly so.

    It wasn’t until many years later, when I read the quote that began this post, that I was able to properly explain why. I had seen, time and time again, that just about any time I knew the details, the news was wrong – and it made me question everything else they said. Remember the 1980 election? In hindsight, I can see why The News reported it the way they did, even when I should have known the facts were different.

    I think today’s kids have seen the way The News gets their stories wrong much more quickly, and therefore are learning that lesson earlier.

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