Ministry Of Truth
Showcasing some of the finest examples of how traditional and social media strive to bring us unbiased and reliable information, since 1984.
"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"
George Orwell, 1984
This week the Ministry Of Truth was abuzz with the news that Twitter “fact-checked” President Trump. In case you are wondering, we were not surprised—this was a long-planned crucial step in our strategy.
We are not usually inclined to boast, but what you see unfolding now is the Ministry Of Truth at its best. An acrimonious, multifaceted debate already rages: were Trump’s tweets really misleading? What about China’s tweets blaming Covid-19 on the US Military? Was Twitter’s intervention politically biased?
Then Pandora’s Box of legal arguments: does this mean that Twitter is no longer a neutral platform, like a telephone company that bears no responsibility for the content of the conversations running on its lines? Is Twitter now an editorial outfit and as such exposed to all the legal consequences? Or is President Trump trying to impose censorship in the name of free speech?
Much to our delight, Trump’s draft executive order on social media has been called “an Orwellian document” . This is a delicious irony that you can only appreciate if you have truly mastered Doublethink, “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
The executive order will be challenged in the courts, the storm will rage and then blow over.
In the meanwhile however, a key principle will have been established: Our truth is The Truth. Trump has been fact-checked based on the Washington Post and CNN! Our media are the facts—the Truth.
The power lies not in fact-checking—it lies in creating the facts. The Ministry Of Truth will celebrate this weekend—celebrate with us, comrades!
For the second week in a row, the Ministry Of Truth recognizes Bloomberg—though not the man himself, like last week, but just the news outlet. Bloomberg Businessweek goes after Sweden, with a feature titled “Sweden Is Not The World’s Top Model”. We applaud this. Sweden has tried to break out of the herd, eschewing a Big Brother-mandated lockdown in favor of voluntary social distancing. This is indeed a dangerous experiment—in freedom. As such, it must be condemned and proven to be of deadly consequence. Especially as several voices, including a rogue blogger on this very website, have defended Sweden’s strategy with numbers showing its Covid-19 fatality rate is lower than those of many countries which have gone in full lockdown: Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, the U.K., France.
Bloomberg ignores all this, and focuses on the only numbers that matter: those that prove our case. Sweden’s fatality rate is higher than neighboring Norway and Denmark. No need to mention any other country. This makes brilliant use of the proximity bias: our intuition tells us that it must make sense to compare a country to its immediate neighbors.
Of course no scientific evidence suggests that Sweden’s susceptibility to the virus is more similar to Denmark’s than to France’s, but most readers will assume there must be. And most readers will come away with the conviction that Sweden is faring worse not just than Denmark and Norway, but than most other countries (the Ministry Of Truth has verified this with an unrepresentative poll.) Repeating this false argument over and over, in a chorus joined by the New York Times, the Washington Post and others, makes it truth.
One word of warning, though. If the Ministry Of Truth were running a “Red Team, Blue Team” exercise on this, the Red Team would raise the sly objection that comparing Sweden to only its immediate neighbors is, dare we say it, rather racist. It suggests a “you all look the same to us” attitude. All the more so as the “Top Model” reference in the title has a faint whiff of sexism to it. The Ministry Of Truth aims for purity, and such mistakes should be avoided in the future. For now, we will let it pass, as the goal of discrediting Sweden’s freedom experiment takes precedence.
Freedom is Slavery.
Patience, Comrades, Patience!
This is a difficult conversation, but it must be had.
We are not (yet) back in 1984. We will get there, of course. The Ministry Of Truth’s methods are tried and trusted, and victory will be ours. The day will come, as our Book shows, when the mere mention of the Enemy (be it Eastasia or Eurasia) will be enough to whip the entire readership and population in a frenzy of rage. We shall still deploy the full range of out tactics and techniques, but it will be salutary to periodically condemn the nefarious acts of the Enemy.
Alas, we are not there yet. Bloomberg magazine, in this opinion piece co-authored by Michael Bloomberg himself, argues that President Trump is making Covid-19 even more deadly, through the Environmental Protection Agency. The title itself suggests such a complex logic that invites the reader to short-circuit to the only important connection: Trump – Deadly!
The article’s line of argument is simple: (1) science tells us more pollution makes covid-19 more dangerous (it is a respiratory disease, after all); (2) Trump has, “in the space of about a month”, “repeatedly undermined rules limiting air pollution” ; (3) ergo: “Tens of thousands of Americans will die as a result.”
This is a brilliantly simplistic argument, that one day will be perfectly effective. Today, however, too many people will realize that while covid-19 is with us, economic activity is condemned to languish and as a consequence we enjoy the crystal-clear air captured in countless Instagram photographs. It will take more work before people can gaze at the pristine horizon and agree with Bloomberg that a suffocating miasma hangs over us. While we get there, we must rely more heavily on the more subtle techniques advocated by the Ministry Of Truth.
Timing is everything. Patience, Comrades, patience!
Love Conquers Covid's Fear
Professor Neil Ferguson, a leading UK epidemiologist, the mastermind behind the Imperial College projection model who bears a great deal of responsibility for the UK’s and US’s decisions to shut down their economies. He has consistently argued extreme social distancing has to be maintained until we found a vaccine—we all need to stay holed up in our homes. In my blogs I have harshly criticized Professor Ferguson, because I think his model and projections are rubbish—worse than useless.
This week, Professor Ferguson’s fame reached the gossip columns, as it transpired he was (is?) having an affair with a married woman, who violated the lockdown to rush into his arms. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board lumps him with politicians like New York’s Mayor de Blasio, who flouted the rules to go to the gym, or the mayors of Chicago and Beaumont Texas who got their hair and nails done. The Journal concludes that Ferguson and the like of him should own up to their hypocrisy and revise their lockdown orders.
Quite the opposite! Professor Ferguson has suddenly and unexpectedly risen in my estimation. I find it inspiring to see that even in this age of fear, love and lust still conquer all. And if Professor Ferguson insisted on locking everyone else in their homes not because he believed in his projections, but to clear the coast for himself and is lover, hats off! Also, the affair brings back the fond memory of Winston Smith—yes, even the Ministry Of Truth gets sentimental at times.
Ferguson’s amorous escapade has no bearing on his science—his models and predictions are rubbish for entirely different reasons. Think back a couple of decades, and imagine a scientist who offered proof that smoking causes cancer but could not himself stop smoking—would that invalidate his findings?
Still, one of the most rudimentary techniques taught at the Ministry of Truth is indeed to criticize an individual’s character in order to undermine the credibility of his arguments. So we feature this article, and the one below, as an encouragement to the Wall Street Journal—not one of our star pupils, truth be told (no pun intended). The Ministry Of Truth ranks this as “Good effort but must try harder (and shows little talent).”
You Only Read The Title Anyway
Here the Wall Street Journal deploys another basic Ministry Of Truth teachings: if you fail in the story, succeed in the title.
As I noted in a recent blog, Sweden refused to follow the herd and did not shut down its economy, preferring a more moderate regime of voluntary social distancing. Most critics have argued it would pay a huge price in additional deaths—as the blog shows, that does not seem to be the case. And this article notes that, as logic suggests, Sweden’s economy is suffering less than others. That, however, is a subversive message: Sweden’s strategy is delivering a better economic outcome without causing more deaths? That might lead more countries to think with their own head. Unacceptable.
Luckily the Wall Street Journal saves the situation with a more right-thinking title: “Sweden has avoided a coronavirus lockdown; its economy is hurting anyway.” Now that’s a much better message: Sweden took an extra risk with the lives of his citizens, and has nothing to show for it.
Crude, but effective. Deserves a passing grade, but the WSJ needs to do much better.
Here the title is enough to secure a spot in the Ministry of Truth limelight. According to The Atlantic, the U.S. state of Georgia is about to embark in an experiment in Human Sacrifice.
Now, the first question that comes to mind is: since human sacrifice is one of the oldest practices, going back at least 5,000 years in ancient Egypt, in what sense are we still at the experimental stage? Surely by now we have perfected it, and if Georgia desires to engage in it, it can draw on a treasure trove of experience and go straight to adopting the state of the art.
Very little remains unknown about human sacrifice.
Human sacrifice looks like this:
Not like this:
The title sets the bar high, but the rest of the article lives up to it. The Atlantic argues that by moving to gradually reopen the economy, Georgia is ready and determined to sacrifice human lives on the altar of profits. It opens with the heart-wrenching story of a bar manager who "thought he would be able to ride the coronavirus crisis at home until things are safe" and instead is now forced to decide whether or not to reopen. As he runs the numbers and weighs the options, he finds that “We can’t figure out a way to make the numbers work to sustain business and pay rent and pay everybody to go back and risk their lives,” This quote leaves me puzzled. I would understand a bar manager who worries that not enough customers will show up as long as President Trump keeps calling Covid-19 "the plague". But a bar manager who worries if he can pay his workers to risk their lives? Has the neighborhood gotten a lot more dangerous, or is he planning to send his bartender into war? Surely a mask and some basic precautions will be enough to keep the risk manageable, especially if the bartender is younger than 65.
The article goes on to argue that "Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic." Has it?
This chart shows Covid-19 cases and deaths per million of population. Georgia is the red dot, which looks pretty close to the middle of the pack. New York has been hit especially hard; New Jersey too ; maybe Michigan. But with 96 deaths per million, Georgia's death rate is about half of the US national average. If your income is about half of the national per capita income (about $65,000 / 2 = $32,500) you're not especially well paid, you're just doing ok.
The article warns that "Public health official broadly agree reopening businesses will kill people". It describes Georgia's devilish plan to lull people into a false sense of safety and lure them into hair stylists and nail parlors, where scissors and razors are being solemnly sharpened.
There is a lot more in this outstanding piece, and for its daring flair The Atlantic earns a special commendation from the Ministry of Truth.
"It could easily have been true."
The Independent launched the headline you see above: "California teenager dies of coronavirus after being denied treatment over lack of insurance". It was widely reshared because it seems to convey two important messages: (1) the coronavirus kills young people; and (2) lack of medical insurance in the US can kill you (always a favorite theme for European audiences). Except that if you read the article, you find there is no confirmation that the young man died of coronavirus. Apparently the LA County's Department of Public Health initially attributed the death to coronavirus, then changed its mind. The Independent changed the online title to "Coronavirus: Teenage boy whose death was initially linked to Covid-19..."
A few days later we find out that the teenager (i) was not uninsured; and (ii) did not die of covid. This Time article sets the record straight, but its own twisted twist: First, it titles that “The story is more complicated”. Well, the true story is complicated, but the originally reported story was simply false, and that to me would be a better title. Second, Time argues the story went viral “because it easily could have been true”. But it wasn’t. Every prejudice and discrimination thrives on spreading stories that “easily could have been true”. Time clearly thinks that is fine--and the Ministry of Truth's guidelines fully agree. Reinforcing the credibility of a false story while purporting to correct it is also an elegant tactic that the Ministry of Truth applauds and recommends.