In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell wrote, “he who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
He might have added, he who controls the news, controls the present.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin controls the news.
One of the very first things Putin did on taking power on January 1, 2000 was to begin to take control of the very new Russian free press. State broadcasters were brought under his control and over time, almost every free voice was crushed.
The invasion of Ukraine a year ago brought this total control of the media, and hence of news, to its ultimate and ugly conclusion. There are now no dissenting voices left in Russia, and Putin controls the news.
In doing so, he is able to create his own narrative both of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but more importantly, in a rationalization of that invasion, woven of a completely fictitious version of Russian and Ukranian history. The past now justifies both the present and the future.
For Russians, who depend on Russian news services, and TV news in particular to inform them of the world, there is deep support both for Putin and for the invasion. Their understanding of the world is built upon a lie. Putin; extremely well educated and informed, no doubt knows it is a lie, but to him it makes no difference. The lie is essential to his vision of rebuilding Russian or Soviet greatness at any cost. The lie is essential to protect the Empire.
In the same week that Putin and Moscow celebrated the first anniversary of their Special Military Action in Ukraine, global media mogul Rupert Murdoch was in court, admitting the truth that although he knew that although Trump had clearly lost the 2020 Presidential election, he allowed his Fox News stars and Fox News to continue to promote the lie that the election had been stolen.
It was a rather shocking admission. Murdoch (along with pretty much everyone else at Fox “News”) knew that Trump had lost the election, much as Putin knows that his invasion of Ukraine is based on a lie. Yet Murdoch’s ‘Empire’, much as Putin’s, was predicated on a lie; a lie that had to be believed by millions.
And it was.
They both were.
Like Putin’s alternative reality on the war in Ukraine, Fox’s ‘news’ programming created its own alternative reality in the minds of its millions of viewers. Fox News is by far the most watched cable news channel in America, much to the detriment of the nation.
To Russian TV news viewers, hourly fed propaganda created by Putin and his minions, there is no question but that the War in Ukraine, difficult, bloody and expensive that it might be, is without a doubt a righteous war, and one that must be executed and carried to its inevitable conclusion, no matter the cost. It is the very existence of Russia, threatened not just by Ukraine and it’s Nazi rulers, but by all of NATO, by all of the West that is at stake here; that Ukraine is not and never was a nation, but at best a satrapy of Imperial Russia.
To Fox News viewers, the election was clearly stolen. There is no arguing this fundamental truth. As the election was stolen, Biden clearly is not the President. He is an illegitimate interloper. In a June 2022 poll conducted by the Poynter Institute, fully 70% of Republicans believed that Trump had had the election stolen from him and that Joe Biden was and is an illegimate President.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the ‘truth’ that a large majority of Republicans deeply believe is that the election was somehow rigged. Where did this belief come from? It came from Fox News. And why did it come from Fox News, even when they clearly knew it was a lie? Because it generated good ratings. Because the Murdoch Empire was dependent upon those ratings. Without the lie, millions might migrate to other more right-wing networks.
In Russia, more than 200,000 people have now died to support the lie, and it appears there is no end in sight,
In the United States, all that has died is democracy and a belief in the integrity of the electoral process.
In 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev visited the United States. What most impressed him was the ease with which power passed from one party to the other at the conclusion of elections. The Carters welcomed the Reagans to the White House for a tea, then Carter accompanied Reagan to his inaugural, after which the Carters got on a plane and departed Washington forever.
One of the greatest problems for dictatorships is their inability to seamlessly pass on power. There is no plan of succession for Putin or Xi. They cling to power.
One of the greatest strengths of a democracy is the ability to pass power from one party to the other with no animus and no dissent.
This is what Trump and Murdoch have destroyed.
And for what?
For TV ratings.