Gerald Baker: “The News Media Becomes Fluent in Newspeak”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Gerald Baker headlined “The News Media Becomes Fluent in Newspeak”:

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Part of George Orwell’s genius lay in his insight that manipulation of language was essential to the revolutionary project. If you can command popular compliance with a lexicon that reorders—or even inverts—the widely understood meaning of political terms, you can remake society as much as you can with any law, mandate or act of force. Thought is constrained by the limits of language, and so language becomes a vital tool for placing limits on thought.

We don’t have a Ministry of Truth in America. But our political and cultural institutions have no shortage of eager propagandists creating a new glossary.

Take freedom. Since free speech is such a subversive threat to the orthodoxy, the term itself needs to be tightly defined. Academic freedom in particular must be rigorously regulated. . . .

And we now have an approved Newspeak to measure success when it comes to how states have handled the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of the media have widely condemned Republican governors of Florida, Texas and Arizona for policies that are said to be imperiling the lives of their citizens. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was hailed as a hero last week by many of the same people when he announced that there had been no deaths in New York City. Mr. Cuomo’s state has recorded nearly three times as many Covid deaths as the combined total in those other three states.

It’s fair to acknowledge that President Trump too aggressively manipulates words for his own misuse. He has repeatedly made extravagant claims about his own successes. To claim, as he continues to do, that his administration’s handling of the pandemic has been essentially unblemished requires a degree of verbal flexibility well beyond the bounds of our common language. This careless rhetoric needlessly undermines the trust necessary for a healthy democracy.

But the president’s manipulations are generally more absurd than sinister. He is more Rufus T. Firefly in “Duck Soup” (1933) than Big Brother (“1984”).

The guardians of the new language have a more entrenched and more enduring power to reshape the way we talk and think about politics than Mr. Trump does. We are facing nothing less than a concerted, sustained and comprehensive effort to re-educate Americans in service of a radical ideological agenda.

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