Voices Online Edition
Volume XVII, No. 3
Making Words Count
Voters must be mindful of media manipulation
by Sheila Gribben Liaugminas
"The future of democracy depends on a culture capable of forming men and women who are prepared to defend certain truths and values", Pope John Paul II stated in his ad limina address to a group of American bishops on June 27, 1998.
The pope's address, on the need for clear teaching from bishops in a situation of moral relativism, is a gem of wisdom worth reviewing carefully before the forthcoming elections. (The complete address is available on the WFF web site.)
Our culture has become self-absorbed, believing that truth -- if it exists -- is relative and determined by each person according to "what's right for them". We are bombarded with this message daily.
So how to arrive at a secure democracy based on a culture of informed men and women who first know Truth and the values that derive from Truth, and then are prepared to do what is necessary to defend them? (Borrowing from Romans 10:14-15). They must first hear truth to learn it, and how will they hear it unless they are told, and how will they be told unless someone in a position of authority speaks it?
And who might that be? Sadly, it is not the Pope and the Church's teaching. Those who determine what is spoken and believed and acted upon, in our society are the media and politicians. Do they speak the truth? Are they even willing to accept it when it runs counter to popular beliefs? Clearly not.
For decades the responsibility for faith, morals, values, education, personal decisions, and especially for communication and language itself has been ceded to activists with an agenda to change -- and control -- the culture and society of our country.
Walter Lippman, the socialist-liberal journalist and advisor to every president from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, discovered that daunting power during his work as a government propagandist in the First World War.
In his book Public Opinion, Lippman wrote:
"Every newspaper when it reaches the reader is the result of a whole series of selections.... There are no objective standards here.... Now the problem of securing attention... is a problem of provoking feeling in the reader... In order that he shall enter he must find a familiar foothold in the story, and this is supplied to him by the use of stereotypes. They tell him that if an association of plumbers is called a 'combine' it is appropriate to develop his hostility; if it is called a 'group of leading businessmen' the cue is for a favorable reaction. It is in a combination of these elements that the power to create opinion resides".
The media all know they have this power, but do not accept the responsibility to use it honestly and fairly.
CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg commented on this phenomenon in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and in his book Bias. "The old argument that the networks and other 'media elites' have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it's hardly worth discussing anymore", wrote Goldberg.
"No, we don't sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we're going to slant the news. We don't have to. It comes naturally to most reporters... When you get right down to it, liberals in the newsroom see liberal views as just plain... sensible, reasonable, rational views, which just happen to coincide with their own... Everybody to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger', as far as the media elites are concerned".
"There is no intellectual honesty whatsoever in media descriptions of politicians", writes Ann Coulter, in her book Slander, "Journalism is war by other means". Hence, some senators, members of the House of Representatives, and public commentators are described as "conservative", "ultra-conservative", "religious right", etc., while even the most extreme leftist liberals are just announced by name.
Those who enshrine "tolerance" selectively apply it, and have zero tolerance for anyone who disagrees with them.
In an essay in Time magazine (6/15/98), Charles Krauthammer noted, "in our thoroughly secularized culture, there is one form of religious intolerance that does survive. And that is the disdain bordering on contempt of the culture makers for the deeply religious, i.e., those for whom religion is not a preference but a conviction".
Goldberg's accounts back that up:
"It's not just that so many journalists are so different from mainstream America. It's that some are downright hostile to what many Americans hold sacred... All of them think the same way on the big social issues of our time: abortion, gun control, feminism, gay rights, the environment, school prayer. After a while they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do. It's scary to think that so many important people who bring Americans the news can be so delusional".
The Power of Words
It is especially scary, because so many Americans base their opinions on biased, misleading information, and fail to realize that they are being manipulated. How? By the use of language. Control language and you control thought. The more that language is abused, the more easily that power can be abused. It has an ancient history.
In Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power, Joseph Pieper observed that Plato had a lifelong battle with the sophists, "those highly paid and popularly applauded experts in the art of twisting words, who were able to sweet-talk something bad into something good and to turn white into black".
If you re-tool the vocabulary to change or camouflage the meaning of words you can justify almost anything. I recently re-read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984. Considering where we are with abortion, harvesting fetal body parts, genetic engineering, stem cell research, cloning, mass deception and thought control, I found them chillingly prophetic in the account they each gave of a captive and endangered society.
How in the world did it become legal to kill babies? The stunning re-writing of the Constitution, which it required, probably stands as one of the most sweeping abuses of the control of language since Hitler's re-crafting of words to justify the genocide by calling Jews "parasites", robbing them of their human dignity in hideous ways. The Dred Scott decision declared that slaves did not have personhood, thus no Constitutional rights. Roe vs. Wade declared that although an unborn baby may have a heart and a brain and is biologically human, he is not a person, and thus has no Constitutional rights.
"The battle to restore protection to our pre-born brothers and sisters is in many ways a war of words", Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life observed. Since there is no rational defense for killing babies, leaders of the pro-abortion movement resorted to thought control -- propaganda.
One of the starkest descriptions of how this process works is in the now famous September 1970 editorial in California Medicine, the journal of the California Medical Association.
The CMA acknowledged that the traditional Western ethic has always placed great intrinsic value and worth on every human life at all stages, and that such ethic has always been embraced and held sacred by the Judeo-Christian heritage, making it the basis for most laws and social policies. But then they muddled through the "However" argument that a population explosion timed with "ecological disparity" and compounded by the "quality of life" issue, combined with "unprecedented technologic progress and achievement", have all together posed "new facts and social realities", ones that they felt were "within the power of humans to control". You can see where they were heading right from the start. It staggers the mind, especially what comes next.
"It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives... Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected".
No kidding. They really said that in black and white.
The editorial went on to anticipate "birth control and birth selection [extending] inevitably to death selection and death control whether by the individual or by society, [causing] public and professional determinations of when and when not to use scarce resources".
It ended on this eerie note: "It is not too early for our profession to examine this new ethic ... and prepare to apply it in a rational development for the fulfillment and betterment of mankind in what is almost certain to be a biologically oriented world society".
This editorial is just one example of the dramatic shift to the surreal, cultural free-for-all we are in now.
How could this happen? Because of what the Holy Father called "the skepticism regarding the very existence of moral truth and an objective moral law" in contemporary American society. In the same ad limina address quoted above he observed, "This attitude is quite prevalent in the cultural institutions that influence public opinion, and, it must be said, is commonplace in many of your country's academic, political and legal structures".
He could have added, in the powerful mainstream media.
Commentator Ann Coulter wrote Slander, a detailed, well-researched work, showing that our laws, government, social policy, education, etc. are being controlled by this media. "In politics power is information, and no special interest group in the history of the universe has wielded the power of the modern media in America", she writes . "What liberals really believe is that the power to influence elections by persuading voters should reside exclusively with the media". And it has worked.
"We live in a society in which people spend more time absorbing images than thinking", states Father Pavone. Images are powerful, and the power to create, control and to change those images is staggering.
Religion and Politics Do Mix
Feminists, abortion forces, gay activists, and the "tolerance police" -- masters of image control -- will not tolerate traditional religion anywhere in the marketplace of ideas.
"Every manner of political argument is ruled legitimate in our democratic discourse", wrote Charles Krauthammer in his Time essay. "But invoke the Bible as grounding for your politics, and the First Amendment police will charge you with breaching the sacred wall separating church and state".
By now, one hopes that people are fully aware that what the First Amendment actually intended was that our government would not be allowed to establish a "state religion" -- or prohibit the free exercise of religion.
This does not mean that one's personal politics cannot be grounded on the Bible or beliefs of their faith. Personal politics, as well as interaction with law, economics, academia, and all that constitutes the public square, derive from and rest on the foundation of faith. Our faith must inform everything we do. Everything. Our Founding Fathers knew that. The first written constitution that created a government and laid the groundwork for American democracy was The Fundamental Orders of 1639, which invoked "Almighty God" who imparted His "divine providence so to order and dispose of things". It declared that to maintain the peace and union of a collection of people, "there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God".
Nearly 140 years later, the Declaration of Independence avowed the dominion of God in its most famously recalled proclamation of self-evident truths concerning the equality of all men, endowed by God with the right to life, among others. The Declaration ends, "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor".
What was our sacred honor as declared by our Founding Fathers? And how does it exist at this point in our nation's history?
On Independence Day, 1997, a committed assembly of noted moral leaders in America issued a joint statement, We Hold These Truths, to address that honor and the means of its recovery.
"As leaders of diverse churches and Christian communities, we address our fellow citizens with no partisan political purpose", its opening stated.
"Religion and morality are not an alien intrusion upon our public life but the source and foundation of our pursuit of the common good. The great threat to the American experiment today is not from enemies abroad but from disordered liberty. That disorder is increasingly expressed in a denial of the very concept of moral truth... Abortion, crime, consumerism, drug abuse, family disintegration, teenage suicide, neglect of the poor, pornography, racial prejudice, ethnic separatism and suspicion -- all are rampant in our society". (Emphasis in original - text available on the web site, priestsforlife.org).
Pope John Paul, in the ad limina address quoted earlier, makes the direct connection of this disorder with the misunderstanding and misuse of conscience, free will and freedom.
"Culturally powerful forces insist that the rights of conscience are violated by the very idea that there exists a moral law ascribed in our humanity, which we can come to know by reflecting on our nature and our actions, and which lays certain obligations upon us because we recognize them as universally true and binding... Conscience is that inner place where 'man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience' (Gaudium et Spes no. 16)
"Freedom of conscience is never freedom from the truth but always and only freedom in the truth... When the Church teaches, for example, that abortion, sterilization or euthanasia are always morally inadmissible, she is giving expression to the universal moral law inscribed on the human heart, and is therefore teaching something which is binding on everyone's conscience... A society or culture which wishes to survive cannot declare the spiritual dimension of the human person to be irrelevant to public life".
Those who are faithful to the world's three monotheistic religions know that the first-cause relationship has always existed, that all things come from God and must be ordered to the natural, moral law.
The way an Orthodox Jew should approach these matters was well stated by Don Feder, Boston Herald columnist and author of Who's Afraid of the Religious Right? "The key question for Jewish conservatives... thus becomes: Are we merely Jew-ish or are we Jews?" Feder writes,
"Those of us who choose to be genuinely Jewish and genuinely conservative have at our disposal a Written and Oral Law that contains all the agenda we'll ever need.
"America allows the killing of one and one-half million unborn children a year in this country under the guise of reproductive rights. But abortion is the opposite of reproduction. And absent grave necessity, deliberately ending a nascent human life isn't right. We know who put the child in the womb. Unless and until events reveal otherwise, we must assume that He wants the birth of each unborn child".
For Roman Catholics, papal teaching, Council documents and the entire Catechism spell out in detail guidance for living out the faith in every aspect of life in the modern world.
One of those tenets is the sanctity of all life, from conception to natural death. Yet, many Catholic members of Congress and other elected officials have consistently voted for and supported abortion in all its names and forms -- including the insanely murderous partial-birth abortion.
How could this happen? A combination of semantic engineering and pressure from powerful abortion advocates partly accounts for it. Notice the effect of using positive words like "pro" and "choice", "freedom" and "rights" to describe their agendas, while the forces for life are called "anti-abortion", "anti-choice" etc. People of many faiths uncritically accept this "groupthink".
As Joseph Pieper puts it: "the place of authentic reality is taken over by a fictitious reality; my perception is indeed still directed toward an object, but now it is a pseudoreality, deceptively appearing as being real, so much so that it becomes almost impossible anymore to discern the truth... For the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions, satisfied with a fictitious reality created by design through the abuse of language".
In 1998, the bishops, concerned about this moral confusion, issued Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics, and reissued it in 2000. It warns of the urgency of the threat this poses to our democracy: "No one, least of all someone who exercises leadership in society, can rightfully claim to share fully and practically the Catholic faith and yet act publicly in a way contrary to that faith".
The bishops had called all Americans to conversion, including Catholic political leaders:
"Catholic public officials who disregard Church teaching on the inviolability of the human person indirectly collude in the taking of innocent life... No appeal to policy, procedure, majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible... Those who justify their inaction on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law, the law of God".
That is exactly why serious Catholics were so outraged when former president Clinton vetoed the bill that would have banned partial-birth abortions, and the Senate failed to override his veto. The disgrace was that Catholic senators made the pivotal difference. Catholic World Report editor Philip F. Lawler wrote in a cathartic editorial, "Plain Talk", words that spoke truth clearer than any in the obfuscation coming out of Washington.
"Now let us take a closer look at those votes", Lawler wrote. "When the critical moment arose, eight self-described Catholics chose to uphold the President's veto, and allow the killing of children just moments removed from birth". (He named them: Daschle, Dodd, Harkin, Mikulski, Moseley-Braun, Murray, Kennedy and Kerry of Massachusetts.)
"Seven votes were needed, and eight Catholic senators voted the wrong way. Thus the first federal legislation ever approved by Congress to stem the slaughter of unborn children was thwarted by the opposition of key Catholic legislators... The conclusion is inescapable: these recalcitrant politicians have cut themselves off from the beliefs and practices of the Catholic community".
"We get the public officials we deserve", wrote the bishops in their document. "Their virtue -- or lack thereof -- is a judgment not only on them, but on us. Because of this we urge our fellow citizens to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest".
The bishops urged us to choose the path of human freedom rooted in law and in the truth about the sanctity of life. "Freedom always implies the ability to choose between two roads; one which leads to life; the other, death". That comes directly from Moses, from the account in Deuteronomy (chapter 30) when he revealed to his people God's command, a law that he claimed was already written in their hearts. "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord your God, heeding his voice and holding fast to Him".
How strange and how grievously sad for a Catholic to go astray on God's perilous errands in this time of rampant corruption, immorality, neo-paganism, terrorism and the legalized killing of the weakest among us.
In late July, Catholic World News published a small but significant item in its daily news brief. It reported that, yet again, the House of Representatives had passed a bill banning partial-birth abortions, "but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, offered little hope that the chamber would review the bill this year, effectively killing it". With President George Bush ready to sign the bill, CWN reported, the pro-abortion Senate Majority "appear willing to let it die rather than allow their colleagues to even consider it".
Imagine. Gamesmanship in the highest halls of government, politics played for the purpose of exercising power -- just as the Supreme Court exercised raw power in re-defining personhood. And much of this being orchestrated by Catholics. How? Because they are elected to office, and then re-elected when their term is up.
A Turning Point
This power game has high stakes. The forthcoming elections are pivotal for the future of this democracy. And we each have an active role in putting into place the system that will restore the moral order.
"Legal reform and cultural renewal must both take place if America is to experience a new birth of the freedom that is ordered to goodness", said a 1996 statement from a consultation at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.
"We believe that a renewal of American democracy as a virtuous society requires us to honor and promote an ethic of self-command and mutual responsibility, and to resist the siren song of the false ethic of unbridled self-expression... We speak to promote the cause of an America in which women and men, together, rebuild the fabric of civil society by acknowledging our common responsibility to serve and protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us... Thus we respectfully ask our neighbors to consider the possibility of a connection -- cultural as well as legal -- between the virtue deficit in contemporary American life and the abortion license".
As Philip Lawler put it in his Catholic World Report editorial: "Now our society is deranged. (We do not mean to be harsh. We are killing our children; if we are not deranged, we are something much worse.) So those of us who see things clearly have an obligation to use plain language. Let us do so..."
The abuse of language by those in power has grown to grotesque and gigantic proportions -- and has done incalculable damage in deceiving and controlling how whole generations of Americans think and act.
Enough. Time's up. Take back the language. Take back the vote. Let's have plain talk. And let it be bold and unambiguous. Speak plainly and carry the truth -- that's a bigger stick than any in the dark forest of obfuscation. Respond to the sophists, and make your response count. You can do that in two ways. First, speak up, speak truth and don't be silent when faced with grave error. And second, vote. But vote with an informed conscience. And in the face of all of the cries and accusations about "single issue" voting, let it be known that yes, it all hinges on a single issue -- life.
A candidate's position on abortion, Roe vs. Wade, and "a woman's right to choose" is not simply a question of whether a medical procedure will be allowed. It is a question of what kind of government we want. A candidate's position on abortion clearly reflects whether he/she thinks government is the servant of human life or its master. And that has lots of implications beyond abortion.
The statement, "We Hold These Truths", by American moral leaders, examines some of those implications:
"The Court's justification of the abortion license under its debased concept of liberty has brought us to the brink of endorsing new 'rights' to doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia which threaten those at the end of life, the infirm, the handicapped, the unwanted. We are confronted by a radical redefinition of marriage as courts declare marriage to be not a covenanted commitment ordered to the great goods of spousal unity and procreation but a mere contract between autonomous individuals for whatever ends they happen to seek. Under a specious interpretation of the separation of church and state, our public schools are denuded of moral instruction and parents are unjustly burdened in choosing a religious education for their children. These are among the many urgent problems that must be addressed by a free and self-governing people... We are all responsible".
It is our responsibility to find out where the candidates stand on these issues, starting with abortion, and to vote for those who will promote what is good and oppose what is, plainly speaking, evil.
Know what the Catholic world view is, which dates back to Christ, and has not remolded itself to fit the changing times. Learn and discern what is objectively true. Be discriminating in your selection of news sources, and listen well -- to what they are saying and not saying -- especially to those who seem fair and reasoned, and present a balanced report of the issues. Do not be sidetracked by the chorus of powerful voices telling you that truth is different for everyone. This is especially true of the liberal media. Hold everything that you hear and read to your core Catholic values -- see how it resonates with what the Church teaches.
The media deserves scrutiny. As one who's been in the media for 25 years -- for over two decades reporting for Time Magazine out of the Chicago bureau, I urge you to note how the media select subjects and how they cover them -- what pictures they use, whether it seems slanted, or presents differing views. For the entire time I was with the news magazine, they -- and many other major news outlets -- kept returning to the same old, tired voices for their opinions on issues. Every time there is a story from the Holy See, they always go to dissident priests or, more often, ex-priests or feminist nuns for analysis.
For example, as Southern Methodist University brags on its website: "When the New York Times or the ABC News program Nightline needs an expert to discuss the latest news coming out of the Vatican in Rome, they often turn to SMU, home of America's best-known dissenting Catholic theologian, Charles Curran".
When listening to debates, note whether candidates or their campaign staff are actually answering questions. Think of all this during the election season. Don't let the media case your vote.
Freedom and Choice
By all means, vote -- and encourage everyone around you to do so.
When Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family was interviewed by the New York Times last July, he expressed great concern about a drop off in activism against the prevailing moral crisis. "There are huge numbers of people who consider themselves deeply religious folks but who can't spare 20 minutes every other year to influence our representative form of government", Dobson said. "I find that breathtaking".
Cardinal Francis George, in a column in the Chicago Archdiocesan newspaper The New World (10/25/98), wrote:
"The God we worship is a God of life and love, a God who justifies us and makes us holy by sharing His life with us. Therefore political questions which influence our nation's policies on respect for life and its preservation from conception to natural death are the defining issues before us. This is not a narrow or 'single issue' approach. Was slavery a 'single issue'? Is the economy a 'single issue'? Respect for life is no more a single issue than is concern for freedom... [T]he Lord will in some sense ask us after we die how we voted on [election day]. The choices we make when voting enter into our own salvation history; they affect our life with God".
We will need personal holiness to rebuild a moral society on a foundation of objective truth. And we must vote, in force, to effect a change in government, restoring true justice and order.
"Your country prides itself on being a realized democracy, but democracy is itself a moral adventure, a continuing test of a people's capacity to govern themselves in ways that serve the common good and the good of individual citizens", Pope John Paul II wrote in his ad limina address in June 1998.
"The survival of a particular democracy depends not only on its institutions, but to an even greater extent on the spirit which inspires and permeates its procedures for legislating, administering and judging... It is imperiled when politics and law are sundered from any connection to the moral law written on the human heart. If there is no objective standard to help adjudicate between different conceptions of the personal and common good, then democratic politics is reduced to a raw contest for power. If constitutional and statutory law are not held accountable to the objective moral law, the first casualties are justice and equity, for they become matters of personal opinion... A climate of moral relativism is incompatible with democracy. That kind of culture cannot answer questions fundamental to a democratic political community: Why should I regard my fellow citizen as my equal?; Why should I defend someone else's rights?; Why should I work for the good? If moral truths cannot be publicly acknowledged as such, democracy is impossible".
Reclaim democracy. Require that our leaders defend life, stand for family values and pursue social policies that are properly ordered to justice and true freedom. Choice is the major and pivotal issue in this and every election. So let's have choice.
As the bumper stickers read: "Choose as if life depended on it". Only it's more than a slogan. It's the urgent truth.
Sheila Gribben Liaugminas is a Chicago journalist and a member of the editorial board of Voices. She is married and the mother of two sons.
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