Thomas Sowell With A New "Journalism Award"
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Mon Dec 27 20:06:50 MST 2004
The Joseph Goebbels award
Thomas Sowell (back to web version) | email to a friend Send
December 24, 2004
Events of this past year have shown the need for a special award
in journalism for those who think that the purpose of reporting
news is to cause the public to adopt the political views of those
who do the reporting. Therefore this column announces the first
annual Joseph Goebbels award for that journalist who best
exemplifies the spirit and the practice that Dr. Goebbels
For people too young to remember or too unschooled in history to
know, Dr. Joseph Goebbels was the minister of propaganda in the
Nazi regime back in the 1930s and 1940s. Facts never distracted
him from his mission nor did a lack of facts inhibit his zeal.
Had there been such an award in 2003, "Baghdad Bob" would have
been the clear winner for his repeated bold assurances that
American troops were nowhere near Baghdad and never would be. That
man could have had a great career in advertising. Holding the same
official position as Dr. Goebbels, Baghdad Bob would have been the
perfect first winner of this award. But such are the lost
opportunities of history.
Since 2004 was an election year, there have been many highly
qualified competitors for the Joseph Goebbels award in our own
country. One can easily imagine them, like a man in an old New
Yorker cartoon, standing before the Pearly Gates and explaining to
a skeptical Saint Peter: "Those weren't lies. That was spin."
No need to prolong the suspense. This year's Joseph Goebbels
award goes by a narrow but decisive margin to CBS News anchorman
Dan Rather for his planned broadcast on "60 Minutes" -- just days
before the election -- to discredit President Bush's National
Guard service 30 years earlier. Leave aside for the moment the
fact that discrepancies in the documents he relied on have
convinced experts and many others that they were forgeries. Why
was what George W. Bush did or didn't do 30 years earlier "news"
It was news by Dr. Goebbels' standard -- something that could
lead to desired political reactions by the audience. Waiting until
it would have been virtually impossible for an effective answer to
be made before election day was in the same Goebbels spirit. Had
the documents been real, Dan Rather would still have been a strong
contender for the award. The fact that virtually everyone, with
the notable exception of Mr. Rather, now regards those documents
as fake -- instead of simply "not authenticated" -- makes Dan
Rather the clear winner of the Joseph Goebbels award for 2004.
It is not necessary to believe that Rather knowingly used phony
documents. It seems more likely that the political opportunity was
too juicy to resist just because some document experts pointed out
some problems with the typing and other details. It is the purpose
that is decisive, so that even honest people are eligible for this
award. We have to be inclusive.
Dan Rather's closest competition for the Joseph Goebbels award
was Ted Koppel, whose "Nightline" broadcast went to a Communist
country to get witnesses to speak on camera -- with a Communist
official present -- to discredit what the Swift Boat Veterans had
said about an incident involving John Kerry during the Vietnam
Not one of the American eyewitnesses, who could have spoken
freely in a free country, was interviewed in this "Nightline"
That's strong competition for the Joseph Goebbels award but
Rather wins narrowly on the basis of potential impact, which is
after all the whole purpose of propaganda. However, with Dan
Rather retiring in 2005, Ted Koppel might well qualify for next
Any number of journalists would rate an "honorable mention" in
this year's contest -- or perhaps "dishonorable mention" might be
more appropriate. ABC reporter Carol Simpson was one of many who
have said that they went into journalism in hopes of making this a
better world. That's what Joseph Goebbels thought he was doing.
His idea of a better world was undoubtedly very different from Ms.
Simpson's but both saw journalism as a vehicle for achieving their
Perhaps there could be a lifetime achievement Goebbels award for
those who entered journalism for political reasons, rather than to
convey information and let the audience decide. But there would be
too many claimants and the award would therefore lose its
©2004 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
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