October 20, 2013
By Clarice Feldman
In an essay "Freedom of the Press" George Orwell wrote presciently about the dangers of a press too bound to prevailing orthodoxy to print anything else:
"Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news -- things which on their own merits would get the big headlines -- being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that "it wouldn't do" to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is "not done" to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was "not done" to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
Substitute the American mass media and entertainment industry today for the British equivalents in the 1940 about which Orwell was writing and you will accurately describe the situation we find ourselves in, where from the purely political to the notions of proper nutrition, energy policy, transportation -- you name it -- there is a conventional orthodoxy, often unsound and lacking in factual foundation, which has an iron grip on the average mind of those who do not actively seek out alternative sources of information or whose work and life experiences have not shown them the prevailing conventional wisdom is bunk.
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