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Bill Bonner on Newspapers...

People feel the need to be "informed." They read the paper as if it were a kind of daily hygiene - like brushing their teeth or dumping out the ashtray. Good citizens must keep up with things, they tell themselves. In school, we remember being encouraged to watch the news on television so we'd be able to discuss current events. Our teachers were doing their jobs, indoctrinating another crop of world improvers.

Even the word "newspaper" is a conceit, if not a fraud. It pretends that the news industry is a clean pane of glass through which we look out at the spectacle of the world's events. But it is not a pane of glass at all; it is a microscope in which particular events are magnified and distorted. "News" that neither encourages journalistic prejudices nor inflates the journal's profits, is invisible.

The British press focuses on "events" that are tawdry and puerile. The press lords must think the typical reader is a lout - if not before he begins reading the newspapers, soon after.

The American press, alas, is more earnest. That is why hardly a day passes without a story about Israel on the front page of the International Herald Tribune, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. "Israelis fail to find strong center," was the International Herald Tribune's front-page news yesterday. We have no reason to think that events in Israel are always more important than those in Indonesia or Argentina. But, the paper seems to have a rule: Israel gets a cover story almost each and every day.

We are not so naïve as to fail to understand why: the New York Times, owner of the International Herald Tribune, knows its market. They are in showbiz, too. In their theatre, Israel plays a central role. Maybe what happens to Israel is important to New Yorkers, as say, what happens to Ireland might be important to Bostonians. We don't know, but news, like sausage, is not news until it is run through the grinder and is mixed with the media's magical herbs, preservatives, and special seasonings. Like sausages, you can only take the papers seriously when you don't know what is in them.

This story from the London Times was nowhere to be found in the International Herald Tribune: "Expose on Jewish role in US policy is disowned."

"After a furious outcry from prominent American Jews," the report tells us, Harvard has withdrawn its support from a study done by one of its own professors showing how Jews affect U.S. foreign policy. The poor man who wrote the report, Professor Stephen Walt, must feel like he's picked up a hand grenade. He was carefully examining the U.S. political scene to see how it worked, when the thing went off in his face. According to the Times report, he's been kicked off the job as academic dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government as a result:

"No one disputes that the Jewish lobby is an influential force in U.S. politics and that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most powerful organizations in Washington. AIPAC is described in the report as 'a de factor agent of a foreign government [that] has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress.'

"Pressure from Israel and the [Jewish] lobby," the report continues, "was not only a factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical...the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure."

At any given moment, people are committing murder, mayhem, and elections all over the globe, but it is the "news" from Israel that is the news that counts - in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune at any rate. After a lifetime of reading about it, even non-Jews begin to care - which is fine by us. We only point it out to mock the "news" itself. It is not "news" that sells papers, but papers that sell news. Every headline is written by a hack with his own dog in the fight.

Sometimes the papers sell news that is so far removed from the actual events that even they are eventually embarrassed.

"Network of pedophiles: Searchers at Outreau look for the body of a little girl," was the headline in Le Monde. "The police began searching, Thursday, the 10th of January, in the gardens of the working class section of Outreau, near Boulogne-sur-Mer, for the body of a young victim of a Franco-Belgian pedophile network."

At least Le Monde was fairly reserved about it. The rest of the press was howling in all caps about the gruesome details. Not only was the poor little girl tortured, raped, and murdered, it seemed like half the town was in on it.

Sexual orgies...bizarre rituals...confessions...breakdowns...first there are a couple of adults charged and then, the papers and the local prosecutor got their blood up. Then, a taxi driver...a baker and his wife...a priest! Boy have we got a story now. Five, 10 - the list of pedophiles was beginning to look like the phonebook.

And why not? The child shrinks were on the case, too. They couldn't believe the kids didn't know or wouldn't say what was really going on. They encouraged the kids to rat out their parents, their neighbors, their priests, and their guardians. They cajoled them. They pressured them. They wanted them to remember - to think hard. "Is it possible that someone put his hand on you? Wouldn't you like to tell us something? No? Try harder..."

Finally, the kids played along.

"You say a 'grand'[tall] man did something to you?" Believe it or not, the investigators went to the phone book, found a man whose name was "LeGrand" and had him arrested.

The prosecutor was a fool. But behind him was such a strong, foul wind from the news media, he could barely keep his feet on the ground. Every day brought fresh gusts: "Pedophile Films Found in Belgium," "Pedophile Ring Arrested," "New Arrests of Leading Citizens." The headlines alone practically had the accused dangling from the gallows, even before any formal charges were filed.

The media wallowed on with new, dazzling details: "18 children...now it is certain...have been the victims of sexual abuse, by their parents, by their neighbors, and by their friends...The children's testimony was sufficiently precise and detailed as to sweep away all doubt and eliminate any possibility of manipulation." Prominent figures were "recognized in the photos," averred the scribes confidently.

Over and over again, the press referred to the "pedophile ring" as if it were a fact as established as gravity. The pedophiles raped and murdered. Hadn't practically every paper in the country said so? Pretty soon, people began to believe that not only it was true...it was ubiquitous. "Things like that, it happens all the time," said a lawyer to the TV cameras, gravely.

In fact, it never happened...even once.

That didn't stop the criminal justice system. Like Janet Reno, the prosecutor became a stooge for the press - and the mob. Someone - anyone

- had to go to jail for such a crime. In this case, 18 people did. Many of them served years in jail; three of them attempted suicide...one succeeded.

And then, the entire Affaire Outreau imploded: the main accusers recanted. They admitted that they had made the whole thing up. There was no pedophile ring. There was no little girl who had been murdered. There was no orgy of rape and murder. It was all a lie. The accused were innocent.

The government opened the cells, apologized, and gave each of the wrongly accused inmates over $1 million in indemnity.

But the hacks? From them, hardly a word of contrition or regret was heard. As far as their own role was concerned, they seemed to have been afflicted suddenly with a case of collective amnesia. Instead, out came new

headlines: "Judicial Scandal," announced Le Monde. "Lives Ruined," pronounced another. And then, Le Monde deigned to bend its head: "A Media Tempest Turns into a Judicial Shipwreck," it noted.

The gusts keep coming...

Bill Bonner

The Daily Reckoning


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