Archive for December 22nd, 2006

Cow One is not Cow Two

December 22nd, 2006

I‘ve written a slew of Christmas blogs, stories and memories.  This week’s blog is about S. I. Hayakawa and his book, Language in Thought and Action.  It was written in the late 40’s, and hadn’t made it to the general college curriculum until the 1960’s.   As a freshmen college student my impression of the book was that it was about thought and mind control through the use of disinformation. 

Si_haykawa"The original version of this book, Language in Action, published in 1941, was in many respects a response to the dangers of propaganda, especially as exemplified in Hitler’s success in persuading millions to share his maniacal and destructive views. It was the writer’s conviction . . . that everyone needs to have a habitually critical attitude towards language — his own as well as that of others — both for the sake of his personal well-being and for his adequate functioning as a citizen.  Hitler is gone, but if the majority of our fellow citizens are more susceptible to the slogans of fear and race hatred than to those of peaceful accommodation and mutual respect among human beings, our political liberties remain at the mercy of any eloquent and unscrupulous demagogue."

What took me back to former Senator Hayakawa’s book was the happenstances of this week’s reported events.  At a Holiday Party, I had the distinct misfortune of sharing a passionate conversation with someone who agrees with only about 1% of my personal views of the world. He was very upset that anyone would have accused Marines of having massacred citizens of Iraq. Just a few days later, it was publicized that the Marines were held for trial for that massacre by the Marine Corps.

According to an indictment approved Dec. 13 by a grand jury in Orlando, the brother-in-law of a former PA Congressional candidate was arrested on child pornography charges .

Finally, I received a telephone call from a reporter from a prominent Washington newspaper who wanted to write a story about his view of perceived inappropriateness of a relationship between our Congressman and two lobbying firms in Washington D.C.  This story emanated from our own area.  Someone from the Johnstown area called the reporter to initiate this slanted, investigative reporting. He freely admitted that to me.

Reporter_1 What struck me about all of these stories was not their content.  After all, sadly, soldiers have been accused of inappropriate massacres since the beginning of mankind and of war.  Although child pornography is upsetting to all of us, it was not the disturbing nature of that story that was bothersome, it was the lack of coverage of the story.  Finally, my perception of the very solid role lobbying groups have played in helping our area begin to emerge from near economic ruin to some infinitely small amount of economic viability was not the issue here. Rather, it was the blatant attempt on the part of the reporter to block out the truth, to turn the truth into his perception of truth, and it was about his lack of desire to hear the truth.

What brought back Dr. Hayakawa’s book was the way the different wings of the press handled or attempted to manipulate these stories.  Some papers decided either that they weren’t stories or that they were very little stories.  Some thought they were important BIG stories, and some tried to make stories out of nothing.

As someone who has had to respond to the press for nearly 30 years, I can tell you that, when you run into a sensationalist, it is rarely a pleasant experience.  You can always be sure that your words will be twisted and turned to his liking.  You can usually tell in the first thirty seconds where the reporter is going with the story, and when they constantly reject the truth in your statements and push and push toward their point of view, you quickly realize that it is NOT going to be a good or honest story, not a true story, not an accurate story. 

The part that made me most uncomfortable and has continued to make me uncomfortable is that our media, and many times our legal system doesn’t seem to care about the truth, the correct or honest answers, or the moral high ground.  They care about THEIR story, their slant, their spin, their political view.  They care about readers, and sales and settlements.

So, as S.I. Hayakawa said, "Cow one is NOT cow two."  Look carefully at the cows.  Decide what you’re seeing, and try to objectively differentiate the realities between them.  I had five witnesses in my office during the story with the Washington reporter, and that’s what thirty years has taught me.