New York Times columnist Frank Rich has a new book out, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina.

It was reviewed for the New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Ian Buruma. The review begins:
As a former theater critic, Frank Rich has the perfect credentials for writing an account of the Bush administration, which has done so much to blur the lines between politics and show business. Not that this is a unique phenomenon; think of Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and master of political fictions, or Ronald Reagan, who often appeared to be genuinely confused about the difference between real life and the movies. Show business has always been an essential part of ruling people, and so is the use of fiction, especially when going to war. What would Hitler have been without his vicious fantasies fed to a hungry public through grand spectacles, radio and film? Closer to home, in 1964, to justify American intervention in Vietnam, Lyndon B. Johnson used news of an attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never took place. What is fascinating about the era of George W. Bush, however, is that the spinmeisters, fake news reporters, photo-op creators, disinformation experts, intelligence manipulators, fictional heroes and public relations men posing as commentators operate in a world where virtual reality has already threatened to eclipse empirical investigation.

Remember that White House aide, quoted by Rich in his introduction, who said that a "judicious study of discernible reality" is "not the way the world really works anymore"? For him, the "reality-based community" of newspapers and broadcasters is old hat, out of touch, even contemptible in "an empire" where "we create our own reality." This kind of official arrogance is not new, of course, although it is perhaps more common in dictatorships than in democracies. What is disturbing is the way it matches so much else going on in the world: postmodern debunking of objective truth, bloggers and talk radio blowhards driving the media, news organizations being taken over by entertainment corporations and the profusion of ever more sophisticated means to doctor reality.

Rich's subject is the creation of false reality.
The review is worth reading, having a lot to say about the state of the US media and their complicity in the current regime.

Today's New York Times Book Review contains this letter:
In his review of Frank Rich's "Greatest Story Every Sold", Ian Buruma wrote that "someone reporting on the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 would not have added 'balance' by quoting Joseph Goebbels."

In fact, American journalists reporting from Germany in the 1930's worried about providing balance in news stories about German Jews. A 1935 journalism textbook actually used "the Jewish persecution by the German Nazi government" to illustrate the need for "both sides in a controversial matter" to be "given a chance to have their position stated." Balance was necessary, the text explained, because the story is about a struggle "between rival groups, each of which is strong in its own right, and each of which is anxious to get as much propaganda across to newspaper readers as is possible."

Laurel Leff
West Hartford, Conn.

The writer teaches journalism at Northeastern University and is the author of Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper.
Rival groups. Remember when the poor soul who committed suicide in Guantanamo was waging "asymmetrical warfare"?

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